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Explain what cultural relativism is and what its importance is when studying another culture. 

Cultural relativism is an objective understanding of another culture, unhindered by the rules and structures of one's own culture. Its importance when studying other cultures lies in objectivity and demonstrating the required sensitivity.

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In a nutshell, cultural relativism is understanding a culture other than your own objectively, without laying the rules of your own culture into your understanding. I would argue that empathy—the ability to experience life from somebody else's framework—is an essential component of being able to practice cultural relativism in one's research.

Its importance in studying another culture lies in the depth of understanding that you are able to obtain about that culture. If you do not approach a new culture with an open mind, you will be far less likely to be able to understand the details and the traditions which make up that culture.

Let's look at arranged marriage, for example. As a Westerner studying this issue, you may feel completely confused by this, because in American culture, we choose our own spouses, and any other approach may seem unfathomable. If we remove the Western mindset from our understanding, however, it becomes easier to understand the purposes that arranged marriages can have within a societal structure, such as allowing the consolidation of family property.

Cultural relativism is of particular importance when studies are being done about cultures which have been oppressed or marginalized. For example, if one was doing a study about Aboriginal Australians, one would have to acknowledge the disrespect with which this culture has been treated in the past and use the principles of cultural relativism to approach the study with the necessary care and sensitivity.

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Cultural relativism is the notion that cultures must be examined based on their own context and merits, not judged by the customs and codes of other cultures.

This is particularly important when studying minority cultures, colonized cultures, or other traditions that have been oppressed by a dominant class. Throughout history, these cultures have been doubly oppressed by a dominant culture that judges their "otherness" as a deficit and therefore a reason for oppression or erasure.

Relativism, however, stems from the philosophical belief that there cannot be an absolute, universal standard when it comes to ethics or philosophy. Applying cultural relativism allows scholars to study cultures outside of their own without making a moral judgement. Overall, this increases tolerance, inclusivity, and the possibility for cultural exchange.

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Cultural relativism is the idea the standards of a culture should be contextualized within the culture and not compared against the standards, values, or norms of another culture. Every person has unique cultural experiences that influence their personal worldview. Their biases extend to perceptions of other cultures. A global society in which all of us acknowledge biases before entering into a cultural exchange is critical to building a relationship with a culture different from our own.

How people of a specific culture respond to their environment should be judged by the standards and perspectives of the culture the person belongs to, not from the worldview of a differing culture. Where this becomes particularly tricky is in the fact that most people are not of a singular culture but identify with subcultures, which sometimes conflict with their primary culture. An easy example is a person who identifies as an American as their predominant culture. Within the framework of their dominant culture, that same person may identify with a subculture such as a religion, political affiliation, hip-hop fan, etc. A person is the sum of their parts.

The critical part of understanding cultural relativism is the word "relativism." Relativism is a philosophical term implying that there is no one absolute standard by which something can be judged. When applied to culture, it means that ethical, moral, or personal standards exist in relation to culture. The inherent cultural bias of individuals can lead to the application of cultural norms to other cultures that do not have the same standards. The end result is, on one extreme, cultural misunderstanding and, on the other, extreme intolerance.

When studying another culture, it is critical to acknowledge personal cultural biases. Preconceived notions of behavior may not apply to a particular culture. If one word can summarize how to best to overcome cultural bias, the word “empathy” comes to mind.

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Cultural relativism is the idea that no one culture is superior to another.  As Boas, quoted in enotes reference: cultural relativism states

"...civilization is not something absolute, but ... is relative, and ... our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes" (enotes reference, cultural relativism). 

In other words, if I believe in God, because I do or because I was raised in a culture that believed, that does not make me superior or inferior to an atheist or person who doesn't believe in God. A person can believe whatever he or she feels is right, but should not impose the culture on others.

Cultural relativism is important in studying other cultures because first and foremost we have to realize we have a bias when we study another culture.  Boas also said, "scientists grow up and work in a particular culture, and are thus necessarily ethnocentric" (enotes cultural reference, methodology).  We cannot let that bias interfere with the study of the culture, because just because the culture is different from our own does not make us superior or inferior.  You can compare and contrast cultural points, but you can not pass judgement upon them.

This can be difficult when we see a culture that seems to limit people's rights, those which we consider important and universal. Universal does not exist in the lens of cultural relativism.

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