Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s group is of central importance and includes the tendency to judge the practices of other groups by one’s cultural standards.
The concept of a cultural universal has long been discussed in the social sciences. Cultural universals are elements, patterns, traits, or institutions that are common to all human cultures worldwide. There is a tension in cultural anthropology and cultural sociology between the claim that culture is a universal (the fact that all human societies have culture), and that it is also particular (culture takes a tremendous variety of forms around the world). The idea of cultural universals—that specific aspects of culture are common to all human cultures—runs contrary to cultural relativism. Cultural relativism refers to an awareness of the wide diversity of beliefs, norms, values and cultural practices that exist. Cultural relativism was, in part, a response to Western ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism may take distinct forms, in which one consciously believes that one people’s arts are the most beautiful, values the most virtuous, and beliefs the most truthful. Franz Boas argued that one’s culture might mediate and thus limit one’s perceptions in less obvious ways. He understood “culture” to include not only specific tastes in food, art, and music, or beliefs about religion but instead assumed a much broader notion of culture.