In contemporary social and political discourse, the concept of “the West” plays a role that is both centrally important and difficult to define. It is most frequently used to designate an entire civilization, in a way that does not quite map onto what is suggested by its first dictionary meaning as a cardinal direction. Deciding what exactly is and is not included under the umbrella of the West, or whether the term usefully describes anything at all, is a daunting normative task involving a series of discrete historical and definitional judgments. For example, is the West defined more by medieval Christendom, or by the subsequent intellectual and spiritual movements that attacked it, such as the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment? Is it possible or coherent to include all these conflicting movements under the same designation? Geographically, how important is the ancient split between the Latin and Orthodox churches, and does the Cold War-era exclusion of Russia from the West still hold today? Champions of the concept see defending it and the values it stands for as the foremost ideological task of our time, while critics suspect it of being little more than a portentous tribal designation for societies whose heritage happens to be both majority-Christian and majority-white.