The Case for Contamination

Lauren Shade

Research Paper | Appiah Analysis Part One

INR 3061: Conflict, Security and Peace Studies in International Relations

Florida International University


Contamination is all about combination. It’s the combination of ideas and values and cultures but most importantly, it is the combination of perspectives. In Appiah’s analysis, he argues the case for contamination and uses religion as an example. Because of this, religion plays a large role in Appiah’s analysis as religion is something that crosses borders and connects humans in a fundamental way. However, religion is just one of the examples that Appiah uses in his argument. He also includes cultural traditions, globalization, and the extreme protection of “cultural diversity.” With all of these examples in mind, I believe religion plays a particularly important role in Appiah’s analysis because of the stakes that surround it. Religion is responsible for many wars. Maybe as responsible as it is for bringing millions of people together, and it is essential that we look to it when we speak of the human condition and how to better it. In many ways, religion is a direct result of the human condition. It’s dependent on the human condition. Contamination doesn’t just call for the exchange of perspectives but that religious persons be as open to the perspectives of others, including those of other faiths, as it is intimate.

Appiah has a firm set of beliefs about contamination’s role (or lack thereof) in religion. He shows us the consequences of a lack of diverse perspectives in religion by giving us examples of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists such as the Ummah, who are fundamentalist Muslims, follow a strict and literal teaching of their holy book, which excludes individual thought and the current affairs of Islam. Rather they reject mainstream Islam and want to go back to a more rudimentary and exclusive version of the ideology.

According to Appiah’s analysis, though these types of followers are not necessarily dangerous, they threaten contamination and the exchange of ideas and perspectives. Appiah states, “Living cultures do not, in any case, evolve from purity to contamination.” (Appiah 6) He goes on to say that instead of seeking to change the minds of people, which will not be as efficient because people rarely “persuade others who do not share our fundamental evaluative judgments” (Appiah 6) we should strive to change perspectives. Perhaps one of Appiah’s strongest statements is that groups like the Ummah who believe only in their version of the truth are intolerant and intolerance leads to violence.

What I believe Appiah is trying to say here is that there is no budging when it comes to groups like the Ummah. There is no room for growth, with fuels society and culture, when one group shuts out another group. I agree with Appiah, but we see things a little differently.

It could be argued that the opposite of intolerance—tolerance—leads to the opposite of violence. If that is the case, peace would be the opposite of intolerance. I want to suggest that while peace may result from intolerance so can a loss of self and individuality. With the blending and “contamination” of other perspectives, one could argue that ideologies are fundamentally changed, and while change is, in most cases, good, some people are not adaptable and change can equate to uniformity. What is the limit of change? Who controls this change?

I would like to use the example of globalization to make my point. Though globalization offers many perks that benefit us as a society, some people will argue that they’re losing their sense of cultural identity for a more singular one. Arguments can be offered in favor and against this, so I won’t argue which is best rather which one benefits the human condition more.

As a result of the blending of cultures, we have been able to create innovative cures to diseases, connect to people and things around the world, and more. There are also protests in the United States where groups of people chant about things like “cultural appropriation.” People are punished for taking one object or practice from a culture they don’t belong to and making it their own. What I think is happening is that cultural diversity is encouraged but diverse perspectives aren’t. The two reap different results. I believe contamination should exist, but I can’t help but ask if there really is a current environment where it would flourish to the best of its ability.

Though I believe that the mixing of perspectives or “contamination” isn’t only necessary but our duty, I wonder if it offers any solution the human problem. Human suffering is a part of life as is the search for contentment and meaning. In a chaotic universe, we are caused unrest and seek to be freed from this, states Dr. Wuaka in his video presentation of The Human Problem. I think when arguing the case for contamination we should consider the human problem and how contamination affects it or if it affects it at all.

While Appiah considers the necessity of exchanging perspectives to prevent things like war and smaller acts of violence, I think that there is something that hasn’t been spoken about. As we learned in chapter two, religion isn’t just about salvation or a relationship with God but about power. Power, and the control and struggle for and against power, are the cause of the wars Appiah mentioned in his analysis, and I believe this struggle will continue to exist with or without contamination. To rephrase, I agree with Appiah’s argument for contamination but I also think that you can have preservation without demanding purity. We should, as a society, want to preserve some things just as we preserve the meanings of the Holy and the Sacred and we preserve old teachings and books. There is nothing wrong with preservation if it isn’t imposing.

All in all, it is a thin line to tread between growing and maintaining the traditions of a group’s ideology, which makes them unique to others without creating cultural purity or fundamentalist thinking. We have a long way to go before contamination can be used to its full extent, but we should encourage diversity and inclusion as well as thinking that doesn’t align with our own, judging it not by how it is different but by how it benefits the human condition, which is our true unity.



Appiah, Kwame A. The Case for Contamination. New York Times, 2006. June 13, 2017. Blackboard Link.

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