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06 January 2014

Curb Religious Extremism through Knowledge

For much of his lif e Charlemagne (800814), also known as Charles the Great was illiterate, but he was an enthusiastic promoter of literacy in others.

Throughout his empire, he used the church and the well-organised clergy to undertake the task of spreading literacy. Realising the importance of education, the authorities of the church extended him full support and cathedral schools were founded in church buildings where the curriculum was designed to make the young students devout Christians.

Later, the famous theologian Thomas Aquinas (d.1274) integrated Aristotelian philosophy with Christian beliefs, which became known as Aristotelian scholasticism. The curriculum emphasised knowledge of the absolute truth by revclation and not by any other means and methods while the association between Aristotle and Christianity became quite profound.

The curriculum was based on the belief that only tradition and past values could stabilise the society as these are tried and tested. Aristotelian scholasticism endorsed traditional ideas and that these should be respected, honoured and observed without any endeavour to change or challenge them with innovation.

Throughout Europe, this curriculum was enforced in all universities and the CambridgeUniversity charter stated that students should not deviate from, criticise or reject it. Reading any other literature which contradicted the prescribed curriculum was prohibited. As a result, the students blindly f`ollowed existing traditions and customs without creating new ideals and thoughts. The main objective of` the education system was to strengthen the Christian faith and prevent any kind of`questioning or rebellion.

For the many years that this system prevailed, students remained occupied with religious activity and were not allowed to investigate, probe and research for new venues of knowledge.

Consequently, the universities failed to respond to the challenges of time.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the European society went through a radical change due to political, social and economic development.

Although new ideas, scientific inventions and technological innovation were needed to meet modern day challenges, yet the universities continued to follow the outdated and obsolete educational system and the dogmatic church authorities ref`used to alter the curriculum.

To meet the demands of their time, scholars and philosophers decided to establish their own research institutions and societies under royal patronage. In 1660, the Royal Society of` London was established and committees of scientists andscholars from the fields of physics, chemistry, agriculture, engineering and architecture were constituted. The members of these committees undertook respective research projects, presented their papers in discussions and research journals were published in order to disseminate scientific knowledge to the general public.

These scholars and scientists challenged outdated ideas and a new vision emerged paving the way f`or intellectuals, scientific and technological revolution which transformed the European society.

Considering the above as a case study, there is a lesson for us to learn. Our public universities have f`ailed to produce new ideas, thoughts and concepts required to understand the ongoing problems in our society. Instead ol` producing creators of knowledge, they have produced consumers. Our universities continue to l`ollow old and rusted curricula which have no relevance to our society.

On the other hand, private universities, like tuition centres, are commercial set-ups which have no concept of training young minds to undertake social responsibility, nor to equip them with new ideas. Since social sciences and humanities are not included in their curricula, they produce robots without thinking minds. Students are educated according to the needs of the market and after completing their education, they only want to pursue material interests and have no desire to enlighten the society or to change their environment. Sadly, private universities are producing an incompetent, educated class empowered with only self-interest and materialistic values.

There is a need to establish independent research institutions in order to understand our problems and transform the society. Unless the society supports independent research institutions that will provide relevant knowledge to reconstruct and reshape political, social and economic structure, there is not much hope of` survival in the competitive world of knowledge.
by Mubarak Ali : http://epaper.dawn.com/DetailImage.php?StoryImage=05_01_2014_424_003
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