Established in March 2017 through a bequest by the Ramsay Foundation, the Ramsay Centre’s objective is to reinvigorate the study of Western civilisation in Australia.
The Centre aims to have its program taught in two to three universities initially, mainly in NSW and the ACT. It will offer undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, resulting in no bill for the taxpayer.
At the heart of the Ramsay Centre is a passionate belief that all Australians should have the opportunity to learn about the history and achievements of Western civilisation. In a promotional video for the Centre, CEO Professor Simon Haines reflects on the civilisation’s key achievements, including dramatic scientific, political and economic advancements that have improved humanity, such as antiseptics, the rule of law and democracy.
Former Prime Minister John Howard also appears in a promotional video, highlighting how The Enlightenment and the Judeao-Christian ethic have shaped the freedoms and rights individuals enjoy in Australia.
Critics of the Centre, however, see a pernicious side to the program, arguing that it “whitewashes history” and privileges a Western culture forged out of colonialism, imperialism, racism and patriarchy. Political professor Robert Manne, who gave the program a cautious nod, warned in a wide-reaching article in The Monthly that the program must not ignore these “dark chapters of Western history”.
Also causing concern among some academics is the privileging of “great books” in the Western canon at the expense of what they say is a more rounded, less ethnocentric view of the world and history. Such critics fear a "triumphalist" view of Western civilisation will eschew the 'isms' named above.
Campus Review spoke to the Centre’s CEO Professor Simon Haines about the Western Civilisation program and the many misconceptions he feels need to be cleared up.Do you have an idea for a story?
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