Historically, European interaction with the non-western world has often been colored by ethnocentrism, exploitation, and violence. During the Crusades, the Latin Church sanctioned a series of religious wars from the 11th to the 16th centuries, seeking to recapture Christian territory, defend Christians in non-Christian lands, gain political and territorial advantage,...
Historically, European interaction with the non-western world has often been colored by ethnocentrism, exploitation, and violence. During the Crusades, the Latin Church sanctioned a series of religious wars from the 11th to the 16th centuries, seeking to recapture Christian territory, defend Christians in non-Christian lands, gain political and territorial advantage, and combat paganism. The capture of Jerusalem from Islamic rule can be seen as the first experiment in European colonialism. Other lands and properties were also seized from pagans on religious grounds. These events resulted in lasting mistrust between the Latin Church and the Islamic and Orthodox religions. However, another consequence of the Crusades was increased trade and contact between Western Europe and the Islamic world, leading, some argue, to improved perceptions of Islamic culture among Europeans.
Western Europe’s interactions with non-western Empires during the early modern period (late 15th century to the late 18th century) reveal their weaker position compared to the Turkish Ottoman Empire (which stretched from Europe into the Middle East and North Africa) and even the Persian Safavid Empire and the Indian Mughal Empire. These non-western powers held geopolitical advantage as powerful, wealthy, and militarily advanced civilizations. In this era, Western Europeans would often travel to these regions for trade. The Ottoman Empire especially was often perceived by the West as an object of both fear and fascination, due to their power, advanced accomplishments, and intellectual pursuits.
When Western European colonizers began to migrate to and settle in other lands, there emerged an unequal relationship with the kingdoms of Africa. Many African communities were forced into colonial trade with more economically developed European countries, exchanging raw materials and slaves for manufactured goods. Few Europeans settled in Africa, however, largely due to fear of disease and strong native resistance. The effects of the transatlantic slave trade continue to be felt. Approximately one to two million died in transit to the New World, with about 12 million slaves entering the slave trade in the Americas.
In general, these moments in history reveal a Western Europe that has maintained its distinct cultural identity, often defined in contrast to the cultures of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.