Most people accept this branding unquestioningly. I find this branding terribly misleading, revisionist and a perpetuation of Eurocentric thinking that is today responsible for much of the problems that we in the freethought movement in India face. Here are my reasons (briefly, because this is a very complex subject and we can go on about it). Please note that this is incomplete, and that I am very open to being corrected on some of the more speculative aspects of this post.
The traditional West and East were Eurocentric "Old World" concepts that were adopted by all "Old World" cultures. The fact that these are Eurocentric concepts explains why there is a middle east (also called "near east") and a far east (for a Japanese resident during the 12th century, Central Asia and the middle east would have actually been the middle west or near west, and Europe the far west - Ignoring Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas because at that time they were not taken into account by the major "old world" cultures). West and East in this context was a genuine attempt by people to describe the world itself, even with all the flaws. But this is not how the words apply today in the context we are concerned about.
What is "Western" and "Eastern"today?
Today the original meaning of The West and The East have been adapted
to mean something else. There are pretty good explanations for why what is known today as the "West" is sufficiently distinct from the rest. But in essence, what it really means is "Caucasian/European, and anything with Caucasian/European origins".
This is obviously an oversimplification, but let's not get into that (yet).
Is Science a solely European Idea?
No it is not. Without a doubt, almost all of what is part of the modern tradition of science
has been developed over the past 400 years, mostly in Europe. But without the contributions of Africa, India and the Middle East that were responsible for many of the fundamental concepts that led to the development of modern science, there would be no science as we know it (this will be a major part of the focus on the documentary
A major point of contention is that in the "West" today, references to the European scientific enlightenment are almost always never placed in the context of the political, social and economic conditions that made it possible. As has been noted by many postcolonial scholars, it was European colonialism, with its cheap (indentured and slave) labor, stolen natural resources and enormous quantities of stolen wealth that created the right conditions (wealth, political stability, leisure time for retrospection rather than struggle for survival, intellectual gains from around the world, etc) required for science to flourish. On the other hand, those years of colonialism were devastating to the "east" (not to mention Africa and South America) turning them from the wealthiest regions of the world with plenty of time and resources for intellectual development, to a poverty-stricken third world where religion and superstition were the only solace for a deprived people. Very few people in the West are cognizant of this. Indeed, very few in the East are.
My last point on this is that today China and India produce more scientists than the US (and Asia combined churns out more scientists than all of Europe and North America put together
). Of course, the quality of the science is still very poor (much better in China than in India, btw), but we're definitely catching up. The projections predict that in a few years China will produce more peer-reviewed scientific papers (in recognized journals) than the US, which is by far the leading country in producing science papers.
Is Mysticism "Eastern"?
Do I even have to get started on this? Of course mysticism is not solely an Eastern concept. There are terrible Western superstitions and mysticisms that we in the East have been made to suffer through. We can talk about things like Western astrology (which is and has always been far more popular worldwide than any eastern mysticism) and homeopathy (which is now deeply entrenched in India) for example.
We must note that the East was responsible for creating a lot of mystical nonsense in ancient times. However, much of the nonsensical old Eastern mysticisms had analogues in the old Western philosophical traditions. Unfortunately, because of the history of oppression that the East faced from the West, and subsequent lower level of scientific progress, the East has responded by drumming up its nonsensical mysticisms (think Deepak Chopra and his predecessors)) while the West has moved on. People like to think in simple black/white dichotomies. The East became known as the spiritual part of the world, and the west as the materialistic part of the world, forgetting that both West and East had developed both "spiritual"/mystical and material/naturalistic philosophies (there is plenty of non-mystical, materialistic reasoning in our own ancient Indian philosophy, which is now mostly ignored in the Western universities where the best philosophers in the modern world chart the intellectual history of philosophy itself). What this has resulted in is that every time some idiot in the West wants to appeal to some superstitious nonsense, s/he appeals to Eastern mysticisms that are not understood in the West, rather than the lesser known Western analogues that the West has successfully "disappeared" (Frijtof Capra and Robert Lanza come to mind, but we can go back in time and find the same thing). It is an easy marketing strategy. The consequences are devastating to our Eastern cultures.
Today the West, through its highly unregulated market-based economics, churns out much superstition by the minute. The biggest mystical bestsellers (think The Secret, for example), including those that claim to be influenced by Eastern mysticism, have all originated in the West and made their way to the East. All the BS about aliens is from the West. When someone talks about mystical medical claims that originate in the East, these are labeled Eastern Mysticisms or Eastern medical pseudoscience. When it comes form the West, it is labeled alternative medicine or bad/quack science not Western Mysticisms or Western medical pseudoscience. In the US in every town and city you can see the business of Western mysticism prospering- Tarot card readings, séances, palm readings, psychic readings (this is a big one), communicating with the dead, etc etc etc. There are so many Western mysticisms that it has to be seen to be believed. Nevertheless, it is the East that holds the title of being all about mysticism, and science is labeled as being "Western".
I conclude by saying that not only are the terms "Western Science" and "Eastern Mysticism" not accurate or useful, such language conspires to favor the West in the continuation of its social, cultural and economic domination over the East. Taking into consideration everything from language to social norms, the East has to compete with the West in a highly biased climate, the lingering effects of colonialism. Together with the problems of poverty and revisionist pride that also owe much to colonialism, the continued characterization of science as "Western" and superstition as "Eastern" is a major injustice to an already highly oppressed part of the world.