Islamization of Knowledge

Social Science’s Need for a Cultural Symbols Paradigm

Abstract: The thesis of this paper is that human beings are remarkably distinct from other living beings (animals, birds, insects, etc.) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) machines (computers, robots, etc.) by what we would like to call cultural symbols. The latter refers to such cultural components as language, science, knowledge, religious beliefs, thought, myths, cultural norms and values.

The Concept of The Culturo-Symbolic Soul Cultural symbols are seen in this paper as being intrinsically imbued with transcendental/metaphysical qualities whose impact and role in shaping the behavior of human individuals and societies are viewed as crucial.1 The centrality of cultural symbols both in the making of the most human distinct identity and its social action justifies the priority which must be given to their analysis and comprehension. This epistemological outlook on the nature of human cultural symbols should be the privileged frame of analysis for the social scientist who aspires to establish a more credible intellectual paradigm, that could help disclose the nature of the latent yet powerful moving forces which trigger the behavior of individuals and the dynamics of societies.

In other words, the cultural symbols that the human species possesses must be the main source that psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists ought to consult and refer to in any ambitious scientific endeavor which seriously aims at improving the levels of understanding and explaining the behavior of the individuals as well as that of human collectivities. In short, being central to the very identity-making as well as to the behavior of social actors in any society and any culture, human cultural symbols could legitimately be called the Culturo-Symbolic Soul of human social actors.2

Giving cultural symbols a prominent role in the study of the social actor’s and his/her society’s behavior restores the essential humanistic touch to the mainstream work of behavioral social sciences. That humanistic dimension has been lost considerably under the impact of both Behaviorism and Structuro-Functionalism. The former often studies human behavior according to S-R contingency or the rules that govern animal behavior. Modern Structuro-Functionalism, on its part, examines social action as shaped and determined by no more than the constraining social facts (faits sociaux) and the social structures.

The major thesis to be developed throughout the pages of this study aims essentially to accomplish two goals: to establish a theoretical framework on the nature and the role of cultural symbols as key forces to the determination of single or collective human behavior. Viewed in this way, the insights of human cultural symbols are expected to enhance the social scientist’s scientific credibility. In other words, at this level, we aspire to make a social science contribution to basic research in the field of human cultural symbols, and try to apply our theoretical perspective in an empirical manner on a sample of behavior drawn from different societies, cultures, and civilizations.

The full and conclusive success in combining the theoretical and the applied levels in the behavioral social sciences remains, however, an ideal. The measure of one’s theory’s highest credibility is nothing more than coming closer to the realization of a genuine synthesis between the applied and the theoretical in the world of the behavioral social sciences. To articulate our developing theory on the universe of cultural symbols, we need first to present a transparent analysis of the essence of cultural symbols’ transcendental nature. Their transcendental hidden dimensions have manifested themselves in a rather tangible way as we have increasingly distanced ourselves from approaching them through positivist lenses.

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