World Culture Project | A Catalyst for Global Culture Change

| Published: | Last Updated: May 12, 2022 | ,

Schafer Champions Culture Change As Means of Uniting Humanity

D. Paul Schafer of Ontario, Canada is the founder and director of the World Culture Project (WCP). For more than thirty years, Paul has tirelessly advocated for a systemic global culture change that is broad, deep, and emphatic. Since 1988, WCP has championed the concept that culture–not economics– is the real foundation of existence and the key to dealing with world problems and creating more harmony, happiness, equality, and order.

World Culture Project Paul Schafer Profile
Paul Schafer

Based on the belief that culture and cultures have a central role to play in global development and human affairs, the World Culture Project was initiated in 1988 to commemorate the World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1997). It was officially designated a World Decade for Cultural Development activity by UNESCO in 1989.

Paul has worked in the cultural field for more than five decades as an educator, advisor, administrator, and researcher. His roles have included Assistant Director of the Ontario Arts Council; a founder and Director of York University’s Programme in Arts and Media Administration; arts and cultural policy positions with York University and the University of Toronto, and several advisory missions for UNESCO to different parts of the world.

Paul was originally trained as an economist, and taught economics at Dalhousie University and Acadia University before entering the cultural field, specializing in international development, principles of economics, and the history of economic thought.

Paul has authored numerous articles and a series of books on culture and the arts in general, and as well as on Canadian culture and arts. Paul’s most recent book “The World as Culture “ was published on the occasion of his 85th birthday.

If the topic of culture is of interest, and you are a seeker of ideas on how humanity can overcome the many issues it faces, you will are sure to find this conversation with Paul thought-provoking and inspiring!

A Half Century Devoted to Culture Change

Meg: You have spent more than fifty years dedicated to bringing to life a very clear vision and purpose. What has inspired your dedication and commitment to exploring the role of culture change?

Paul: I think we all live a “cultural life” as a whole that is composed of many different parts, despite the fact that we do not look at things this way at present. This is why I am so enamored of your belief that “People Are Culture,” as well as all the wonderful work you are doing to make this belief more evident and accepted today. I think this explains why Ruth Benedict, the distinguished American cultural scholar, believed that “cultures are personalities writ large,” or conversely in this case, “personalities are cultures writ small.”

Over the years, I have discovered that cultural scholars have had an enormous amount to say about the current adversities we are all facing and have become the main factors and forces in our lives. For many years now, I have “lived in the whole, the good, and the beautiful” as Goethe advised, and have benefitted immensely from “following my bliss” as Joseph Campbell proposed. It is through thoughts, ideas, and ideals such as these that have made it possible for me to deal with all the problems and difficulties I have encountered in life, be they in the past, the present, or hopefully in the future.

The real challenge in life in my view is for us to live a full and fulfilling cultural life in this sense that balanced and harmonious relationships are created between all the different parts, regardless of whether we are talking about this in terms of our bodies, minds, spirits, and souls, or all the economic, social, political, technological, environmental, artistic, recreational, and other activities we are engaged in over the course of our lives.

I have come to believe that if possible, it is very helpful to have a basic cause in life and pursue it as consistently and passionately as possible. I think this helps us to “get out of your own skin,” identify and empathize with others, manifest compassion and empathy, find happiness, and want the best for all people, countries, and cultures in the world and humanity and the human family as a whole.

Inspiration Behind World Culture Project

Meg: What was the inspiration behind the World Culture Project?

Paul: The World Culture Project started in 1987 when the United Nations and UNESCO announced that the ten-year period from 1988 to 1997 would be officially designated the World Decade for Cultural Development. Since I had come to the conclusion during my intensive studies at Scarborough Campus that culture and cultures – rather than economics and economies – should play the central role in the world of the future, this provided me with an ideal opportunity to do something concrete to commemorate culture in general and the World Decade in particular.

The problem was that there was virtually no literature on the centrality of culture and cultures in world development and human affairs, and therefore the World Culture Project was designed to fill this void. As a result, I slowly started to cut back on my academic and administrative responsibilities at Scarborough Campus and spend more and more of my time, energy, and attention researching and writing about the centrality of culture and cultures in the world.

The World Culture Project was created in 1988 and officially designated a World Decade for Cultural Development activity by UNESCO at that time. For purposes of the Project, culture was not defined in the conventional and partial sense as “the arts, humanities, heritage of history, and cultural industries” – which was the most recognized, accepted, and utilized definition of culture in the world at that time – but rather in the holistic and anthropological sense as a “complex whole” or “the total way of life of people.” As such, it is concerned with the way people, communities, groups, and countries visualize and interpret the world, organize themselves, conduct their affairs, elevate and embellish life, and position themselves in the world.

With this definition of culture in place, I divided the Project into an International Component and a Canadian Component so I could examine the holistic definition of culture in general terms, as well as apply this to a very specific country and culture in the world, namely Canada and Canadian culture.

Canada’s Leadership in Multiculturalism

Interestingly, it was about this time that Canada, Canadians, and Canadian culture were starting to move away from the powerful influences that British and American cultures were having on them and beginning to create an identifiable character and importance in the world of their own. While American cultural products were continuing to flow into Canada at an amazing rate and still do today, a different worldview was taking shape in Canada, one based more on “multiculturalism” and recognition of many diverse peoples, cultures, and identities and less on “uniculturalism” and a single cultural identity.

This was confirmed legally with the passage of the Multicultural Act in 1988 that confirmed Canada as the first multicultural country in the world in an official, political sense. This made selecting and focusing on Canada, Canadians, and Canadian culture as a specific country and culture in the World Culture Project very relevant and timely. This was because globalization was starting to spread rapidly in the world and many Canadians felt that Canada’s commitment to multi-culturism was at the cutting edge of where the world was and should be going in the future, as well as giving them a sense of national identity and belonging that had been lacking in Canada and among its citizenry for a very long time.

World Culture Project Reach Toronto
Monument to Multiculturalism by Francesco Pirelli, in front of Union Station, Toronto, Canada. – Photo: Paul DexCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the ten-year period from 1988 to 1997, I researched, wrote, and published a number of major monographs on matters such as these in the World Culture Project series, including The Character of Culture; The Challenge of Cultural Development; The Cultural Personality; The Character of Canadian Culture, Canadian Culture: Key to Canada’s Future Development; Canada’s International Cultural Relations: Key to Canada’s Role in the World; Culture and Politics in Canada: Towards a Culture for all Canadians; and others.

Treatise on Culture Change Transitioning Away From Economic Model

Meg: Was this when you wrote your first major book on culture – Culture – Beacon of the Future?

Paul: Indeed it was. After searching for a long time for a publisher of this book, it was finally published in 1998 by Adamantine Press in Great Britain and Praeger Publications in the United States in their Studies on the Twenty-first Century. I had worked on this book for almost twenty years and it was the culmination of everything I had learned about culture and cultures up to that point in my life.

This book was designed to make the case for culture change; specifically, that culture should play a central rather than marginal role in the new century and new millennium that were rapidly approaching. I felt strongly that culture should act as a real “beacon” in the future with the ability to illuminate a vital, viable, and beneficial path to the future as well as warn of impending danger and ensure that all the necessary safeguards and precautions were put in place to prevent this danger like all good beacons.

By the time this book was published, I had commenced work on another major book that was concerned with making the transition from what I called “The Age of Economics” in Part I of the book to what I called “The Age of Culture” in Part II of the book.

I worked on this book for almost ten years since it was designed to undertake an intensive analysis of the origins, evolution, mechanics, and assessment of the economic age we had been living in for more than two hundred years and commenced with the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in 1776 mentioned earlier, and then examine in considerable detail the signs, foundations, functioning, priorities, and flourishing of a cultural age.

World Culture Project Edinburgh Scotland
Adam Smith bronze statue on the market square in front of St Gilles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland.

I wrote this book because I didn’t feel the age of economics was capable of coming to grips with the many problems that existed in the world at that time or were looming up on the global horizon, most notably the environmental crisis, colossal disparities in income and wealth, the various conflicts that existed in the world and were evident between people, groups, and countries with very different worldviews, value systems, lifestyles, traditions, and overall ways of life.

Revolution or Renaissance?

After another lengthy search for a publisher, this book was finally published as Revolution or Renaissance: Making the Transition from an Economic Age to a Cultural Age by the University of Ottawa Press in 2008. The intention behind the book and its title was to imply that if humanity remained in the economic age in the future this would result in a violent and disastrous revolution; however, if it moved out of this age and into a cultural age, the result could be a more peaceful, equitable, and exciting renaissance.

Once this book was published, I worked very hard trying to generate interest in it because I felt it had to do with the most crucial problems in the world at that time and going forward in the future, especially if these problems got out of hand and were not confronted and addressed. However, I quickly discovered that there was very little interest in this book, largely because most people and virtually all political, governmental, and international leaders and organizations I was in communication with didn’t have the slightest interest in the need for or nature of a different kind of age in the years and decades ahead.

This made me aware of how deeply people, organizations, countries, humanity, and the world as a whole were entrenched in the economic age and, as a result of this, committed to increasing the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services and creation of material and monetary wealth as rapidly and fully as possible.

Meg: This must have been very disappointing for you. How did you find the motivation and energy to continue your work in the arts and cultural field and search for publishers of your articles and books on these matters?

Paul: This was indeed a very disappointing time in my life. In fact, it was so disappointing that I fell into a deep depression and found it exceedingly difficult to get out of it. Fortunately, my family, friends, and involvement in many arts and culture activities earlier in life played a major role in helping me to cope with this problem and get back on track. This resulted largely from joining a senior’s community choir in Markham, starting to practice the piano once again, enrolling in a Chinese brush painting class that met once a week, taking long walks in the forest near our home, and especially doing Tai Chi and Qi Gong every morning with a wonderful group of Chinese Canadians at the local mall.

There were two other developments at that time that helped me a great deal as well. The first was coming across an astute and reassuring statement by Albert Einstein that justified my conviction that we have to move out of the economic age and into a cultural age. It was, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used to created them.”

The second was that I was beginning to realize how deeply committed I was to the cultural cause and that all the energy and motivation I needed for this would have to come from within rather than without. I felt like a long-distance runner who finds himself all alone and has to complete the race to the very best of his ability despite all the hardships, setbacks, and disappointments that are encountered along the way.

Serendipitous Collaboration

Meg: Where did things go from here?

Paul: After writing numerous articles on culture and the arts that I found much easier to get published than books in such journals as World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution, Futures: The Journal of Forecasting, Planning, and Policy, The Arts Paper, Culturelink, the Institute for the Spiritual Development of Man at Volodymyr Dahl East Ukrainian University, and many others, I finally got the break I needed most in my life to continue my research, writing, and publication of my books and carry on with my real mission, passion, and cultural cause in life.

It happened when I met a good friend of mine one day who I knew years earlier. It was David Stover. He had been in the publishing business for a long time, was President of Oxford University Press Canada for a number of years, and had decided to strike out on his own and create his own publishing company called Rock’s Mills Press. He had written an enthusiastic endorsement for Culture – Beacon of the Future when it was published in 1998 and had also read Revolution or Renaissance in 2008 and was very impressed with it. He said he would be pleased to consider publishing any books I was working on or hoped to publish in the future.

This was the one break I needed most in life. I had long felt that what I needed more than anything else was a publisher who believed in me and my work and I could work closely with on the publication of my books. This led to a profuse outpouring of books published by Rock’s Mills Press from 2014 and 2022, including The Age of Culture, The Secrets of Culture, Celebrating Canadian Creativity, Will This be Canada’s Century?, an expanded version of The Cultural Personality, THE TRUE NORTH: How Canadian Creativity Changed the World, THE ARTS: Gateway to a Fulfilling Life and Cultural Age, and, most recently THE WORLD AS CULTURE: Cultivation of the Soul to the Cosmic Whole which was published on my 85th. birthday, January 26th., 2022.

A Legacy of Life Dedicated to Culture Change

Meg: Several people have said that this last book is the culmination of your lifetime of work in the arts and cultural field and your real magnum opus. Do you agree with this?

Paul: While this may be true, I should mention that I am working on a couple of other books at present that expand on the principal ideas and arguments set out in THE WORLD AS CULTURE. Nevertheless, it could be true in the sense that I put everything I had into researching and writing this book because it is designed to trace the evolution of culture as an idea and reality from Cicero’s belief that “culture is the philosophy or cultivation of the soul” more than twenty centuries ago to “the cosmic whole” and the writings of Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin, and many other cosmological and cultural scholars very recently.

A strong case is made in this book for the centrality of culture and cultures and the need to cross over the threshold to a cultural age in the future. This case is documented in detail by providing numerous quotes from the thoughts, ideas, ideals, and writings of countless cultural scholars, historians, and practitioners over the centuries.

I believe we have barely scratched the surface of the rich potential culture possesses in the holistic sense to come to grips with the horrendous and life-threatening problems that exist around the world today, especially climate change, global warming, and the ever-deepening and frightening environmental crisis, deplorable inequalities between rich and the poor people, classes, and countries, numerous tensions and conflicts between different genders, races, tribes, ethnic groups, people, nations, and civilizations, a great deal more polarization, fragmentation, division, and discord in the world, the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, the perpetual threat of a nuclear war, and the need to create much more harmony, happiness, sustainability, inclusion, equality, and humanity in the world.

Momentum of Culture Change Cause For Optimism

Meg: You seem very optimistic in your writings about dealing with these problems. Can you tell me more about where your optimism comes from and how it can be realized in the future in practical terms?

Paul: My optimism derives largely from the fact that more and more people and organizations in the world are realizing that the aforementioned problems cannot be solved by the economic age we are living in at present because it is designed to produce goods, services, and material and monetary wealth and is not designed to come of grips with problems as vast, severe, complex, multidimensional, and life-threatening as these.

I think this is why culture is being seen and treated more and more these days as the “change agent” that is required to produce systemic and not just piecemeal, partial, or incremental change. How often have we heard the term “change the culture” used in public and private discourse over the last few years. Everybody is talking about this these days, governments, corporations, educational institutions, health care agencies, police forces, hospitals, long-term care organizations, and on and on it goes. When we talk about this today, it is not the conventional perception of culture mentioned earlier – although this is a quintessential part of it – but rather the contemporary perception of culture as the complex whole or total way of life of people.

As spelled out in THE WORLD AS CULTURE in detail, this means making a transformational change or paradigm shift from placing the highest priority on a very essential “part of the whole” (namely economics and economies) to “the whole” and the need to create harmonious relationships between the parts and the whole (culture and cultures). This change or shift will make it possible to focus attention on the creation and development of the whole and wholes or culture and cultures first and foremost, and therefore the things that tend to bring activities together rather than split them apart and consequently to “unite” rather than “divide.”

This is also true for placing the highest priority on the “big picture, and with it, on all people, countries, and activities and not just on some select and privileged people, countries, and activities. Not only will this produce more unity than less division in the world, but also it will create more equality and inclusion and less inequality and exclusion in the world.

It will also create more harmony between human beings, other species, and the natural environment as well as the material and non-material dimensions of development and life. This is because many of culture and cultures’ most essential and symbolic activities – the arts, humanities, heritage of history, and the cultural industries – are labour-intensive and qualitative in nature than material-intensive and quantitative, and, as such, make far fewer demands on the natural environment, other species, the world’s scarce resources, and the finite carrying capacity of the earth. And this isn’t all.

It will also produce higher and wiser goals, objectives, and ideals for humanity, thereby bringing to the fore a great deal more compassion, empathy, and spirituality in the world, the redistribution of income and wealth on a much more equitable basis, and far more sensitivity, respect, and appreciation for all the diverse peoples, cultures, and countries in the world.

What we are talking about here is creating values, value-systems, lifestyles, and ways of life for people and countries that are much more in tune with the direction humanity and the world should be headed in the future. Clearly developments in these areas, and others, are also desperately needed to produce the environmental, historical, global, and human context that is imperative to guide the development of economics, economies, and economic growth in the future and give them a human face.

This is what Johan Huizinga, the distinguished Dutch cultural scholar, had uppermost in mind some time ago when he said, “The realities of economic life, of power, of technology, or everything conducive to man’s (people’s) material well-being must be balanced by strongly developed spiritual, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic values.”

The same holds true for bringing an end to the practice of treating culture and cultures as means to other ends, the icing on the cake, and part of the superstructure of society and putting in their place the practice of dealing with culture as an end in itself, the whole cake, and the driving force that is necessary to create the age of culture and enable it to flourish.

The more deeply we delve into this matter, the more we realize that culture and cultures are the real foundations, centerpiece, and essence of human existence, people’s lives, communities, countries, and the world as a whole. This is what THE WORLD AS CULTURE: Cultivation of the Soul to the Cosmic Whole and all my other books on culture and the arts are really all about and designed to accomplish. Let’s capitalize on this by making the world a better place for all people, countries, and cultures in the world, as well as the humanity and humility that are needed to go forward into the future.

The Power of Early Education To Inspire Life Direction

Meg: You have spent almost sixty years working in the arts and cultural field. How did you get involved in this field in the first place?

Paul: Fortunately, I had wonderful parents who believed that I should have an excellent education in the arts in my childhood and youth. While they both came from farming stock and had no education in the arts themselves, they had the foresight to provide me and my brother Murray with art classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario), piano lessons paid for in monthly installments, a variety of theatrical performances, and making arrangements for us to sing in a choir at Grace Church on-the Hill in Toronto for many years.

While this turned out to be one of the most cherished and valuable experiences in my life, I also presented a project on Marco Polo to my class in elementary school that had a powerful effect on my entire life as well. I was enthralled by Marco Polo’s travels with several family members to China – one of the oldest and most fascinating cultures in the world – as well as the many places he stayed in China and all the diverse peoples, groups, and cultures he encountered there and being an emissary for Kublai Khan in Burma (now Myanmar), India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. I was particularly captivated by his trip to China along the historic “Silk Road.” The very names of the places he visited during this trip enticed and excited me – Constantinople, Tabriz, Bukhara, Kerman, Samarkand, Lanzhou, Cambaluc (Beijing), and many others.

World-Culture Project Marco Polo Traveling
Marco Polo travelling, Miniature from the Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”. – Photo: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Over the years, I have often thought about Marco Polo’s trip to China and how wonderful it would be if all people in the world could take a trip like this and come into contact with people, cultures, and countries with very different worldviews, values, customs, traditions, traits, and ways of life at an early age or indeed at any age.

The most remarkable thing of all is that this it is now possible to do this through videos, films, and especially virtual, digital, and technological devices for virtually every country, culture, and civilization in the world, thereby exposing us to phenomenal accomplishments in the arts, architecture, cuisines, art galleries, museums, cultural centers, historic sites, and so forth that are very different than our own. Surely there would be much more peace, harmony, cooperation, and compassion in the world if we took advantage of learning experiences like this and the incredible experiences Marco Polo had many centuries ago.

Meg: With experiences like these in the arts and culture when you were young, why did you decide to enroll in commerce and finance and then economics when you when to university?

Paul: There are a couple of reasons for this. My brother Murray was a composer by this time and I thought I might be able to help him financially as a “starving artist” in much the same way that Vincent van Gogh’s brother Theo helped Vincent when he was unable to sell his paintings. I was also keenly interested in the world situation and wanted to make a contribution to it in some way when I graduated from university. In order to do this, I felt it was necessary to learn as much as I could about economics and how it came to dominate the world and virtually everything in it. This eventually resulted in my graduating from the University of Toronto with an M.A in Economics and then teaching economics for several years at Dalhousie University and Acadia University in Nova Scotia and specializing in international development, the history of economic thought, and principles of economics.

World Culture Project Paul Schafer and Murray Outside Grace Church
Paul Schafer and Murray Outside Grace Church – Photo: Paul Schafer

At that time, I thought I would stay in economics and teach this subject for the rest of my life. However, as time wore on, I began to have serious misgivings about economics, largely because of the devastating effect economies and economic growth were having on the natural environment even six decades ago.

As I looked more deeply into this matter, I discovered that the natural environment was ignored when economics was created as a discipline with the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in 1776, as well as the way it evolved in the centuries to follow. Since I didn’t believe it was possible to insert the natural environment into the ideological underpinnings and theoretical and practical foundations of economics after the fact, I decided to leave economics and commence the search for another way to contribute to global development and world affairs.

This was a very difficult time for me because I was at a total loss to know what approach to take to realize this. After floundering around for some time and doing a lot of soul-searching, I finally felt something – or someone! – tugging at the back of my neck and saying, “you should be in culture and the arts, not economics.” But how? Was it possible to turn my avocation with respect to culture and the arts into a vocation?

Meg: What happened next?

Paul: After going through a very challenging time in my life, I finally managed to get a job at the Ontario Arts Council. While I didn’t have any academic credentials in the arts or culture as other staff members did, by this time Murray was a well-known Canadian composer and this ended up in helping me in a round-about way rather than me helping him.

This, combined with the fact that I was involved in the arts and culture in my youth and had a real passion for them made it possible for me to land the job at the Ontario Arts Council. This eventually led to working at the Council from 1966 to 1970 and being appointed Assistant Director of the Council in 1967 and Director of the Council’s Centre for Arts Research in Education in 1968.

One of the most important projects I was involved in at that time was assisting in the development of a program in arts administrators at York University. This eventually led to the creation of the graduate Program in Arts Administration in 1969 as the first academic program in the world for training students in arts administration and cultural policy.

In 1970, I was asked to become Director of this program and accepted this invitation because I felt I had contributed as much as I could to the Ontario Arts Council and this program was badly needed in the arts and cultural field in Canada and many other parts of the world. This resulted in teaching the two required courses in arts administration and cultural policy – The Administration of Cultural Resources and International and Canadian Cultural Policy – as well as undertaking some basic research and writing several articles on these matters.

Meg: You didn’t stay at York University for very long. Why did you leave York University in 1974?

Paul: By the time I had worked at York University for four years and the Ontario Arts Council for four years, I was feeling much more comfortable in the arts and cultural field in both the professional and personal sense. While I had learned a great deal during this time, I felt I needed to get more practical experience and exposure to the arts and culture in other parts of the world, as well as to work with a few organizations that were deeply involved in these areas. So after finding a suitable director for the Program in Arts Administration at York, I decided to leave the university and set out on my own.

Fortunately, UNESCO decided to publish two articles I had written during that time – Towards a New World Order: The Age of Culture and The Age of Culture: Prospects and Implications – in its international journal Cultures. This led to UNESCO sending me to New Zealand and Sierra Leone to conduct cultural missions in these two countries and writing major reports on my experiences there.

During this time, I also wrote the first publication on Canadian cultural policy – Aspects of Canadian Cultural Policy/Aspects de la politique culturelle – published by UNESCO in 1976, as well as the first publication on Canadian cultural relations abroad – Canada’s International Cultural Relations/Les relations culturelles du Canada avec l’étranger – published by the Department of External Affairs (now Global Affairs Canada) in 1979.

Meg: This sound exciting! Where did things go from there?

Paul: It was shortly after this that Nancy and I got married and had our first daughter Charlene. Since we agreed that one parent should always be at home when children are growing up, my days working as a self-employed person came to an end because Nancy was the logical person to be at home when Charlene was very young.

As luck would have it, I was asked by several faculty members at Scarborough Campus of the University of Toronto to assist them in creating a new Cooperative Programme in Arts Administration there, as well as teaching the two courses in this area that were required to obtain a degree in this field. As it turned out, they also needed a person to serve as Coordinator of this Programme, as well as another Cooperative Programme in International Development they were creating there at the same time. This was a very demanding responsibility because I ended up teaching the two courses in arts administration and cultural policy as well coordinating the creation and development of two new cooperative programmes.

Shortly after this commenced, I discovered that the University had an incredible collection of books on culture and cultures in its library. Since I had no formal training in this area, this turned out to be a real blessing and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I ended up spending ten years at Scarborough Campus of the University of Toronto and learned an enormous amount about the character and complexities of culture and cultures as well as the thoughts, ideas, ideals, and writings of countless cultural scholars, historians, and practitioners in the process. While I didn’t know it at the time, this was to play a dominant role in my life in the years and decades to follow.

More information on matters like this is available on the World Culture Project website at: www3.sympatico.ca/dpaulschafer

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