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A reluctance to judge or intervene in the beliefs and behaviours of cultures other than our own has been a fundamental principle of the multicultural conversation of our times. Increasingly, however, this culturally relativist attitude has come under pressure from the challenges posed by immigration, globalisation, and fundamentalism (both political and religious). How are people to respect or respond to such controversial practices as child marriage, female circumcision, animal cruelty, caste discrimination, and other forms of perceived social injustice?
Following a brief outline of the history and development of the idea of cultural relativity, from Boas through Benedict and Mead to the present day, an analysis of the most prevalent and contentious contemporary challenges to this principle will be offered, together with a wealth of examples and case studies. Three possible approaches to resolving these problems will then be presented and described, and their applicability in various cases will be considered.
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