14 thoughts on “Week 14a: Islamic Ed.

  1. I found the comparison between Islamic Madrasas and European Universities very interesting. While western universities seemed to start out with the right idea–a group of people interested in learning getting together wherever they found the most support–they seemed to lose something when the Pope/King started to legitimize them. Although the money and protection granted by political and religious authorization was invaluable at the time, I can’t help but think that learning must have also been impeded in some way. The idea that the Archdeacon had the right to give medical licenses (that cannot be the right term, but you get the idea) to doctors seems insane; it makes much more sense that another “doctor” should make this decision, as in the islamic system. Although the Islamic system clearly paves the way for illegitimate teaching as well, there had to be certain institutions known for their academic rigor, while others were probably more religious, and others focusing on some other aspect of learning. I think allowing for more schools of though is always better than allowing for one.

    While the western system led us to universities as we now know them, I think it would have been wonderful if Islamic Madrasas were able to find legitimacy in some other way. It took a while for Europe and even the U.S. to get to the point where students could chose between a religious or “secular” education. Had the Islamic Madrasas found validation without religion, and WITHOUT corporations being classified as people, I think there would have been an immense gain. Perhaps knowledge could have increased more quickly, instead of being somewhat hindered by religious beliefs, as the more average person would have access to more intellectual knowledge, instead of just the few great thinkers to which we now attribute the rise of modern calculus, physics, chemistry, etc…

    I do realize that this is easier said than done and that I am asking for a perfect eduction system, one which I am not even sure would look like. I do think it would have been awesome though.

    • Isn’t is odd how much credit the corporation is given in Makdisi’s essay. This corporate theory is rather popular. I’ve run across it before in other contexts. I’d be interested in knowing what you think an ideal education would be. No doubt, that’s a tall order, but it’s worth thinking about… especially in terms of primary and secondary education.

  2. Here’s what I got:

    Western Education System: bringing like-minded people together to study various subjects in a structured and achievement oriented environment.

    Muslim Education System: learn about what you care about, travel to find teachers who can teach you about what you care about, become a teacher yourself if you would like to share your knowledge.

    Gallatin (sort of) achieves the same thing as the Muslim system of education. We, as students, are allowed to become experts in whatever we choose, travel to do so (throughout schools), collect “approvals” (passing grades) from professors in order to teach what we have learned (in our colloquiums). The Gallatin school is a collection of faculty members and students with expertise in a huge range of disciplines. It’s an awesome system with a ton of passionate people–but it’s not perfect for every student or teacher. There’s plenty to be said for the kids at Stern who like structure, and go on to be extremely successful at something business-oriented. Additionally, University students all over the West have the opportunity to study abroad, transfer credits between schools, or earn various degrees from various places.

    The real structure of Western Education is primarily in grades K-12, where kids are just taught what they’re taught based on where they live (private and charter schools excluded).

  3. When reading about the differences between medieval Islamic and western European educations, I was struck by the emphasis placed on both the process of becoming an educator and the relationship between the teacher and student. The European style reminded me more of what is seen in the U.S. today, specifically in high schools. The relationship is less personalized and has more to do with getting as much information into the student in the shortest amount of time. Though that changes in college, specifically in Gallatin, I have found myself in plenty of lecture halls not once interacting personally with the professor the entire semester. In terms of the Islamic process, I was intrigued by the way Pedersen and Makdisi explained the teacher-student relationship. The relationship is described as sometimes being contentious, and the teacher being more at the whim of the student. The article describes several instances where the student would possible treat the teacher with disrespect. Having the teacher be seen more as someone you employ to further your education rather than an educated higher-level being is a big difference between the two. In most cases today, the teacher is usually given the benefit of the doubt over the student, and there is usually not much room for disputes between the two. Does this difference have to do with payment, in terms of how the students treated their professors?

    • I am both intrigued and rather fearful of your interest in this topic.
      Interesting question.
      In Bologna the students ruled things (at least in the early years) and they hired and fired teachers. In Paris the teachers ruled and the students did not.
      Pedersen/Makdisi definitely describe a more student driven educational system… but that seems to require a lot of caveats. Teachers held the power of authorization and determined the topic of instruction, but students didn’t have to sign up of the teacher, they could go elsewhere, perhaps just next door, and find another teacher/madrasa.
      I’d be interested in knowing more about the economics of these arrangements. It sounded like wealthy patrons funded a lot of the madrasas, but it wasn’t all that clear.

  4. On p. 259 of the “Madrasa and University in the Middle Ages”, Makdisi contrasts Christian institutional systems with those of Islam by claiming that while Christian institutions were hierarchical and organized, the Islamic system was individualistic and personalized. That is all well and good, but does that mean that the Islamic system lacked both hierarchy and organization? Setting aside the question of hierarchy for the moment, the question of organization is especially interesting to me. Admittedly, this is because my concentration is Emergence and my colloquium is on Tuesday, but nonetheless. The larger institutional structure Makdisi is describing in the Islamic tradition is highly emergent; he describes a global pattern of ulama within Baghdad. Individual students, responding to their own criteria (interests, hopes, desires, beliefs, etc.), cluster around the ulama that have the most to offer. (This is what Makdisi is referencing when he says that patronage operates in the Islamic system on no greater level than the individual level.) However, necessarily, individual students with similar interests will align themselves with the same ulama; the more this happens, the more distinct become patterns of interests/fields of study across the university that are not altogether unlike the institutionally delineated departments within a single university. As opposed to being decreed from the top down, “departments” within the Islamic system emerge naturally out of the behavior of the students; departments from the bottom up, if you will. This method of self-organization is different from the organization characteristic of the Christian university, but it is no less organization.

    • Your analysis makes sense. Also, if everything must conform to the basic tenets of Islam, it seems that there is some sort of organization imposed from the start… from the top down as well.
      I get the impression that it is horribly difficult to describe the educational system in medieval Islam, in part, because it was not a system. The fact the people tend to self-organize is an interesting way to look at it.
      We are all in this class. What do we all share? Why are we here?

  5. I found the comparison between western and muslim education to be interesting. I also noticed how roundabout (and confusing) the explanation of muslim education was. They state, and it seems self evident from their writings that there is a lack of over-arching primary sources capable of providing a clear picture of education in the muslim world. I also found it fascinating how western university is based on a safety in numbers principle. With the explosion of tuition in modern universities, national student unions of some sort doesn’t sound like a bad or far off concept.
    I also noticed an interesting nuance in regards to “khan” where Pederson describes the khan as being set up for out of town students. “The Kahn Academy” is one of the biggest online educational institutions and I believe it got its name because the founders name is Khan, but there seems to be a definite correlation there. I really liked the quote about true comprehension in education, and the shift from strict dictation and memorization to one of deeper thought. “learning is a city, one of whose gates is memory and the other is understanding”. Once the written literature became more widespread, teachers focused more on commentary, and students could ask questions. This moments seems like a very important shift in education that we still are dealing with today.

    • Yeah… the context of the western university sounds like a really dangerous place. Everybody needed to be a part of some mafia/guild/corporation for protection.

      The idea of a student-run college sounds good right about now. Why is tuition so expensive? What is going on there?

      Yeah, the shift from memory to understanding. I assume you still have to remember something. The stories of what people like al-Ghazali and Avicenna had memorized is mind-boggling. I still wonder if what we mean by memorize is the same as what they meant by memorize. I can barely remember a telephone number long enough to write it down.
      Interesting books written on premodern memory. One by Francis Yates. Another by Lull.

  6. Interesting to see, as you pointed out, the very clear reference to Varro that Alberti makes when talking about location and weather and, what we understand it to be, microscopic organisms such as bacteria and viruses that breed in wetter spaces. I assume through observation, it was decided as a hypothesis that just happened to be mostly correct? either that or we are, as usual, in a way, projecting (such as with “The One” and quantum physics.)
    The podcast was informative. I found many parallels in the questions posed by the commentator to topics discussed in class and to things I’ve encountered in my interests outside of class. Friday, I was walking with a friend and we passed an advertisement for the museum display of the human anatomy, titled Bodies: the Exhibition. She was totally freaked out (and I was just as shocked that she had yet to encounter any advertisements for this show until now) by the image of a man without skin, showing his bones, tendons, musicales, and organs. She found it to be rather insensitive and had a difficult time even looking at the image. I tried to explain that it was informative and scientific, but she continued to be offended by the image. This is much like the issue discussed in the podcast pertaining to the problems that the church and many others had with dissection, that this act was seen as vile. Much of what had been discerned initially by Galen, was in fact, incorrect. It took much more investigation to come to our modern understanding of the human body.

    • No kidding, your friend has been in a cocoon to not see all those Bodies advertisements.
      There was a controversy when the show first opened, that the bodies were of political prisoners. I’m not sure how that played out. Are those the bodies or casts of bodies, and does the difference matter all that much?
      A form impressed on clay as Aristotle might say.

      And the reference to microscopic animals is quite amazing, even though such information was not all that useful in the 1st c. BC without the optical tools to see them. But all the same, Varro speculated on it and Alberti picked up on it… and 200 years later Leeuwenhoek finally saw them in his little microscopes like the ones we used in class.

  7. I found it interesting to read about the differences between the madrasa and the university, but felt more like the comparison was forced. The context of each establishment was so different–two centuries apart even–that to juxtapose them together gives the impression that they are more alike (in being learning institutions) than they are. I don’t know what it would have been like to present each separately, but I found the structure of Makdisi’s piece to be distracting. Otherwise, I was really intrigued by the idea of the university being more of a community than an establishment, and the question of how such a community could sustain in growth came to mind.I was somewhat familiar with the background of the university in the Christian west, especially the Church’s fear of heretical tendencies, so it was helpful that Makdisi included that hierarchical organization of the Christian university.

    • I’m guessing that the 2-century separation was to line up similar stages in intellectual development – the height of Islamic learning with the height of western Christian learning.

      I’m still puzzled by Makdisi’s claim that the madrasa was more a building than a community. He never really fleshed out that idea and the Pedersen/Makdisi essay was even less helpful on that issue. They jumped form mosque-schools to madrasas to other undefined institutions of learning with nary a warning or qualification. I was very lost half the time.

  8. I think it is important to take a step back and understand what we mean by the congregation of people who have the objective of learning. Do we mean pure academic subjects, math, language, astrology etc? Or can we include religion? The original purpose of the madrases were for Quranic education and additional topics, like shari’ah, and Hadith. Now if we can suppose that people needed to learn trades in the old times such as brick making or carpentry, people would have taken apprenticeships to learn a trade, which would seem to be a somewhat collective recognition of schooling. So, now what do we mean by schooling? Learning a list of objectives? I would say yes. What sets the history of the university apart is that it is collected locally, without the dependence on religion (nevermind NYU just designated a new building as the Catholic center, not a fan of that).

    I’m also not convinced of the argument of corporation vs building. I don’t get it. Madrases have a hierarchical structure as do/did western schools.

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