Main Content

You Are Here

General Assembly 2000 Event 357
Presenters: Rev. Peter Morales, Rev. Patricia Jimenez

Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Patricia Jimenez facilitated a

discussion and workshop on increasing our cultural awareness as part of

our Journey Toward Wholeness. The workshop was based on Milton

Bennett's article entitled "Towards Ethnorelativism: a Developmental

Model of Intercultural Sensitivity."

The author puts forth a continuum framework that describes the

level of maturity with regards to how one relates to cultural

difference. The presenters feel that it is important to look at

differences as "cultural differences" rather than "physical

differences" so that we can more easily break down barriers that divide

individuals and groups from deeper connection.

The attendees placed themselves in groups of three to discuss

the following questions: "What is a time when you have felt different?

And what did you learn from that experience?"

Rev. Morales then described the developmental model. The first

three stages are considered Ethnocentric: Denial, Defense, and

Minimization. The last three stages are considered Ethnorelative:

Acceptance, Adaptation, and Integration. Detailed descriptions of each

stage and the steps necessary to transfer to the next stage can be

found below.

With a new way to think about cultural awareness, the

participants returned to their groups to discuss the following


  • Where do you see yourself and your congregation on the typology?
  • What kinds of things can we do to help each other and our congregation move through this experience?

A lively discussion was generated around these questions. Participants shared experiences of their difference. Some were bi-cultural by birth or living bi-cultural lives due to marriage. What they shared was a sense of "moving between worlds." Some participants objected to the "Adaptation" phase and felt that minority groups were being encouraged to change in order to accommodate a dominant culture.

Rev. Jimenez helped put the workshop into perspective when she

asked the question: "Why do we do this work?" There were a variety of


  • "to make justice"
  • "to acknowledge inherent worth and dignity"
  • "so that we don't live in isolation"
  • "to connect with others"

Rev. Jiminez agreed with these responses from the participants and

reminded us that if we don't know people, we can not love them. Love

within interpersonal relationships is what makes us grow and is a

foundation for stable healthy communities.

Rev. Peter Morales is Senior Minister of the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, and a member of Latina/o Unitarian Universalist Networking Alliance (LUUNA). Rev. Patricia Jimenez is a hospital Chaplain in Lansing Michigan. She is also co-chair of LUUNA.

A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity

The Ethnocentric Stages


  • Isolation: Individuals may actually experience

    actual physical isolation from anyone who is different; or it may mean

    that individuals may have no way to describe cultural difference,

    meaning that differences are simply overlooked. Or, individual may see

    wide categories of cultural difference, such as differences between

    Asians and Westerners, but not see differences, for example between

    Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese.

    Movement toward greater sensitivity is facilitated by simple

    exposure toward difference, with attention being drawn toward


  • Separation: The intentional erection of

    physical or social barriers to create distance as a means maintaining a

    state of denial. Racially distinct neighborhoods, ethnically select

    clubs, religious, economic, political and other type of groups or cults

    also create strong social (and sometimes physical) barriers. Included

    in this category is intense nationalism. Implicitly in the category of

    denial is the relegation of people who are different into "the other," perhaps even subhuman.

    Development from this stage takes the form of such activities as "cultural awareness" activities such as International Night,

    Multicultural Week, history lectures, or political discussions. These

    activities need to be well structured and facilitated.


  • Denigration: Difference is recognized, but it is

    evaluated negatively, for example negative stereotyping, and may be

    applied because of differences due to race, religion, age, gender, for


    Movement beyond this stage is both by the institutionalization

    of hatred (for example, the Ku Klux Klan), and the tendency to retreat

    to denial. Development can be facilitated by framing it as temporary,

    and by building cultural self-esteem.

  • Superiority: Cultural differences

    perceived as threatening are relegated to a lower status position. An

    individual's own perspective is seen as better, than another. People

    who have been oppressed may sometimes be found at this stage. One of

    the difficulties here is that this attitude of superiority can be seen

    as healthy self-esteem. The drawback, however, is that cultural pride

    can become an end in itself rather than a movement

    At this stage, development is facilitated by allowing but not overemphasizing, the benefits of cultural pride.

  • Reversal: This particular view involves a denigration of one's own

    culture. People of oppressed groups (and immigrants) often experience

    subtle, and not so subtle, pressure to disavow their cultural roots in

    favor of becoming "real". Americans.

    The best way to deal with comments from people in this stage is to point out the attitudes of reversal beforehand.


  • Physical Universalism: People in this stage

    make the assumption that all human behavior can be understood as

    elaboration of biological behavior, and also tend to interpret any

    cultural differences that they may see (usually unconsciously) from

    their own perspective.

    Movement at this stage may be aided by presentations in anthropology, sociology, psychology, and communication studies.

  • Transcendent Universalism: Individuals in this stage are comfortable

    with the greatest acknowledgment of cultural differences. Cultural

    differences are see as "part of the plan," and the principle or

    supernatural force assumed to overlie cultural difference is usually

    derived from one's own world view. Individuals at this stage may

    believe that they can get along simply by "being themselves."

    To get to the next stage takes a major paradigm shift. Cultural

    awareness may be generated through discussion, exercises, and other

    methods of self discovery. When individuals can place more of their own

    behavior in a cultural context, they are less likely to assume that

    the behavior is universal. Using individuals from other cultures as

    resources may be useful.

The Ethnorelative Stages


  • Respect for Behavioral Difference: Individuals

    begin to see alien behavior as indicative of profound cultural

    differences. People become aware of difference in non-verbal behavior

    as well as differences in verbal behavior.

    In order to move beyond this stage it is important that individuals recognize a understand behavioral differences as relative.

  • Respect for Value Difference: At this stage, individuals accept the

    different worldview assumptions that underlie cultural variation in

    behavior. In addition to accepting the worldview of another, the

    individual is also able to acknowledge her/his own cultural worldview

    as relative. Values and assumptions are seen as a process, creative

    acts, rather than as static.

    Practical application of this understanding is helpful to

    facilitate transformation into the next stage. For example, cross

    cultural simulations can be used to show how relations can be improved.


  • Empathy: In this context is defined as the

    ability experience some aspect of reality differently from what is "given" by one's own culture. An individual attempts to imagine or

    understand from anothers perspective.

  • Pluralism: Indicates that not only does the

    individual understand that cultural differences exist but that the

    person has actual experience within that complete cultural frame. An

    individual will actually operate with two or more internalized cultural

    frames of reference.

    Training in the practice of empathy, interaction with people of

    other cultures, and any activities that allow for real-life


    For people who have been oppressed by a dominant culture,

    adaptation is the stage at which bicultural identity can be solidified.

    Members who may maintain their own culture and who can successfully

    operate in the dominant culture are pluralistic. However, individuals

    may face a dilemma: they risk being perceived as betraying their own

    cultural roots.


  • Contextual Evaluation: An individual attains

    the ability to analyze and evaluate situations from one or more chosen

    cultural perspectives. Implied by this ability is both the skill to

    shift cultural context and the necessary self-awareness to exercise



  • Constructive Marginality: Is the final stage where

    an individual has no cultural frame of identity. There are not

    unquestioned assumptions, in intrinsically absolute right behaviors,

    nor any necessary reference group.

Adapted from Education for the Intercultural Experience by Milton J. Bennett.

Reported by Jesse Washington.