Friday, December 01, 2017

Secularisation versus Theological Control of Academic Learning

Dr Mubarak Ali, a veteran historian and scholar, posts (30 November) on the International News: Medieval European Universities HERE 
In 387 BCE, Plato (d 348 BC) founded an Academy at Athens for the teaching of Philosophy. In this respect, he deviated from his teacher Socrates (d 399 BC), who preferred to impart philosophy by adopting the methods of dialogue and conversation. 
Greek philosophy was based on rationalism without any interference of deities. … Throughout the Roman Empire, Plato’s academy continued to be the centre of philosophy and students from all over the Roman Empire used to go there to study. 
In 311 CE, the Roman Empire converted to Christianity …In medieval Europe monasteries and cathedral schools emerged, which were controlled by the Church authorities. The curriculum was designed to strengthen religious beliefs. … 
Therefore, in twelve centuries, two universities emerged. One in Paris and the other in Bologna. 
Paris University became the centre of theology while Bologna focused on medicine and law. Both were completely under the supervision of the Church. …
Later on, 30 universities were founded throughout Europe. Latin was the medium of instruction in all these universities as these institutions were controlled by religious authorities. There was no academic freedom nor religious tolerance. Adam Smith (d 1790) who studied at Oxford, went on to say that he had learned nothing from his professors. According to Edward Gibbon (d 1794), he wasted his two (6!) years at Oxford. 
… The division of the Christian world between Catholics and Protestants also changed the character of the universities. The more radical change, however, occurred as a result of Enlightenment and the scientific revolution, which liberated the European universities from the clutches of the Church and gradually converted them into secular institutions. …
As the state surrenders its responsibility to ensure education, private universities are emerging as commercial institutions to educate students for the corporate sector. In many private universities, there is little to no emphasis on social sciences or humanities both of which are important elements of an enlightened education. Bereft of these subjects, students are taught IT and Management which make them into robot-like humans without feelings and sensibilities. When education remains no longer relevant to society it becomes a tool for exploitation which can then harm the cultural and moral values in society. 
The Enlightenment changed everything.
It reduced religious interference in university education and syllabii. It did not remove them altogther because democratic freedom also protects those individuals prone to remaining advocates of their theological creeds. Which is a principle not generally reciprocated by the theologicaly inclined.
What was then and now possible was the open contention of competing systems of thought. One thinks of the treatment by those religious academics who were instrumental in preventing David Hume from his appointment by both Edinburgh and Glasgow Unversities to become a professor at both Universities. 
More recently, Edinburgh named a new university building as the ‘David Hume Tower’, which can be seen as a sort of belated apology. This incident is well covered in an excellent recent book by Dennis C. Rasmussen, 2017, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the friendship that shaped modern thought, Princeton University Press.


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