for a New Civilisation
in the New Millennium
made by Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios Metropolitan inaugurating the
International Ecumenical Assembly of Christian Universities on 16th
Educational Reform is a part of social
Our Present Education System is a Child
of the European Enlightenment
A Closer Look at the European
A New Vision
Let me at the
outset thank the organisers of this Ecumenical Assembly for their
bold, timely, wise and insightful initiative in calling together such
an assembly of Christian Colleges and Universities all over the world.
The educational institutions run by Christians seem to be steadily
losing their reputation, as they gradually fall, not only in standards of
character and academic excellence, but more basic, in a Christian vision
which inspires and empowers. As leadership passes, both in the Church
and in Christian institutions, from men and women of vision and commitment
to bureaucrats and fundraisers, the vision fades and everything becomes
pedestrian and painfully prosaic. Christian higher education is a casualty
to this process. The educational endeavour of Christians all over the
world stand in need of total rethinking and radical renewal powered
by a fresh vision; doctoring up the old ideas and prevailing structures
will simply not do. I hope we can begin to see that vision here.
I am particularly
privileged to be here, because I have pleasant memories of the not
insignificant role I was asked to play, along with Fr. Mathias and
Dr. Dickinson, in setting up what is now known as AIACHE, and to co-chair
that most memorable inaugural Assembly of the Board of Christian Higher
Education at Tambaram, Madras in December 1966. This seems to be the
only genuinely ecumenical institution that has survived the tosses and
turns in the climate of ecumenical cooperation in the last three decades.
Credit goes to the more than two hundred Christian colleges of India,
and to the leadership of people like Fr. Theo Mathias and Dr. Mani
Jacob; I salute them and congratulate them for this new initiative
on a global plane.
In what follows,
my intention is not so much to please as to provoke; I am aware to
the dangers in such an exercise. Frankness can be easily misunderstood
as rudeness; but then undue politeness may also do violence to the
truth. So let me begin with some fundamental statements on which it
is easier to agree; I note that many in my audience are more endowed on
the administrative aspect of higher education than on the vision that
should power it.
Educational Reform is a
part of Social Reform
The first affirmation
I have to make may seem somewhat platitudinous. I have come to realise
that educational reform is rather futile, unless it is an integral
aspect of social reform. The idea that educational reform can precede
social reform and can even engineer social change has proved to be
largely a false assumption. I myself have learned to focus on social
reform as the larger matrix in which educational reform has to seek
A closely related
second affirmation that I would like to make is that the present crisis
in higher education is in the first place a cultural crisis, and cannot
be fully understood except in terms of some cultural changes which
have overtaken us in a scientific-technological, urban-industrial,
Let me illustrate.
Recently I was doing some reading for a paper on the ethics of genetic
engineering in the sumptuous library of a prominent American University
founded by Christians. When I got tired of a lot of dry technical
stuff on the subject of my investigation, I turned for some diversion
to a university catalogue that was lying by in the Reference section
of the library. I was intrigued by the preponderance of courses on
business management and money making. I decided to pull out from the
shelves a catalogue from the university of the 1950's and make
a comparative analysis, I saw that the trend was away from courses on human living together, on human
cultural history, on humanist concerns in general. Of course there
were the usual new courses on women's concerns and on the environment,
which I welcomed. But the financial well being of the university
seemed to depend on the large number of new courses on money making
by trade, commerce and industry as well as by financial wizardry.
This simply reflects the trend in society towards commercialisation
and commoditisation of all values, and of education itself.
To me this is an advanced stage in the deterioration of human society,
and consequently of higher education as well. I am reminded of the
New Left fulmination of the student revolts of 1968 in California
and France. I remember Daniel Cohn-Bendit's Marcusian thesis that
the present urban industrial civilisation is totally dependent on the
universities and other institutions of higher technical education which
supplied the enormous fund of trained manpower needed to run that
rotten society. The leader of the revolting French students was arguing
that the easiest way to demolish that society and pave the way for
the new, which would of course, by the inexorable laws of Marxist
dialectics, arise spontaneously from the ashes of the old, was to
destroy the University as such. And I remember that students in the
University of California on their own, as well as the students at
French Universities like Nanterre and Sorbonne in league with the
trade unions, made a bold and temporarily successful effort to take
over the universities and run them. Those were the roaring Sixties
and the frustrations of that over-optimistic decade of the post-war
baby boom younger generation seemed to have thrown a wet blanket over
all aspirations of that generation for a new society.
Well as we
stand at the threshold of a new millennium, some of those aspirations
seem to be rekindled in the minds of many. Let me confess to you that
I am very skeptical about the theme of this Conference: "Preparing
the Humankind for the Next Millennium through Ecumenical Partnership
in Higher Education" for a number of reasons. Quite apart from the
clumsiness and awkward grammar of the formulation, the very assumption
that we Christians can prepare Humanity for its task in the next millennium
smacks to me of rabid Christian cultural hubris. Equally fallacious
is the assumption that it is higher education which is going to do
that preparing. Higher education today is an entrenched vested interest
within the structure of the old. It can neither transform society,
nor even transform itself.
again the famous Kothari Commission report of the Sixties on Reforming
Higher Education in India. I have great respect for the two main creators
of the report, Mr. Kothari, one of our most eminent scientists and
humanists of that generation, and Mr. Jai Prakash Naik, a devoted
Gandhian and a self-sacrificing servant of the India. They were
both good friends of mine. In the very opening pages of that report
one finds however the strange contention that education should be
regarded as an investment. The authors of that report probably meant
that if we put more money and resources into education, that investment
would bring in profits for the nation in terms of accelerated socio-economic
development and overall increase in the Gross Domestic Product.
That may be
true, but is there not a basic and unforgivable distortion in making
the production of more commodities the driving purpose of education?
The same philosophy is reflected in that odd name of the Indian Ministry
of Government within which the educational concern is presently lodged
-- Ministry of Human Resource Development. Whose property are
these "Human Resources"? Who disposes them for the "development" of
who or what? Education and Culture, the main components of this
Ministry -- are they resources for someone or something else,
or are they ends in themselves?
Our Present Education
System is a Child of the European Enlightenment
In that context I
would like to introduce the main argument of my brief address this
morning. The English words Education and Culture in their current
sense are creations of the 18th century European Enlightenment, and
embody in themselves some of the basic assumptions of that European
Enlightenment, which shape the present global civilisation within which
we are living. If we want to know what needs to be done about Education
and Culture today we need a thorough examination of these assumptions,
for which I have no time here. I have made an attempt in my last two
books: "Enlightenment East and West” published by the Indian
Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1990) and in "A Light Too
Bright - The Enlightenment Today" published by the State University
of New York Press, Albany, New York.
In 1784, five years
before the French Revolution, there was an interesting debate among
prominent German philosophers in the pages of the Berlinische Monatsschrift.
In the September 1784 issue of that wissenschaftliche journal, the
famous Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn wrote:
words Enlightenment, Culture and Education (Aufklaerung, Kultur, Buildung)
are still newcomers in our Language (German). They belong at present
to the language of the elite (Baichersprache). The common people understand
nothing of all this. Should this be taken to mean that the substance
of it is still quite new to us? I do not think so... Education, Culture
and Enlightenment, are modifications of social life, effects of the
drives and desires of human beings to better their social existence."
we note that all words receive a new sense with the Industrial Revolution
and the Bourgeois Enlightenment. Mendelssohn is right in saying that
the substance of the three words is not new to the Europeans in the
18th century. But it is a fact that 18th century Europeans gave a totally
new connotation to the three words. And it is that new 18th century
European connotation that most of the educated people of today are
familiar with, in any part of the world. We will refer to that new
connotation in a moment.
Second we note that
the three words Education, Culture and Enlightenment in their modern
sense came into being jointly and simultaneously, as ideals to be
pursued by the bourgeoisie, and to be kept away from the masses. Moses
Mendelssohn in that article of September 1784 made the clear distinction
between Human Enlightenment (Menschenaufklaerung) and citizens' or
Bourgeois Enlightenment (Buergheraufklaerung). The two are in conflict.
If all are enlightened, who will do the dirty work? With enlightened
workers how can the Industrial Revolution make any progress? One had
to wait till Marx and Engels six decades later to hear about a Workers'
Enlightenment or Arbieteraufklaerung.
Thirdly, there is
no way of seeing a new vision on higher education in general or Christian
higher education in particular without looking at the new meaning Europe
gave to Education, Culture and Enlightenment in the 18th century.
A Closer Look at the European Enlightenment
The concept of Enlightenment
is a classical Indian concept, most clearly developed in the Buddhist
tradition. It meant a new perspective on reality that comes about
in the wake of years of discipline, prayer and meditation, leading
to the overcoming of all dualisms: subjective-objective, knower-known,
humanity-world, matter-consciousness. It is samyag - sambodhi, the
joyful resolution of all contradictions and conflicts, which puts
an end to all questions, doubts and perplexities, as well as to all
lust and greed and desire, which are at the root of suffering. It is the
experience of the Person, the individual seeker, as he overcomes all
individualism, and realizes his/her unity with the whole of Reality.
Basically, it is ananda, pure joy and self-fulfilment through transcending
like the modern Secular Enlightenment, was a reaction against the excesses
of religion. BE ruled out, like the SE, all reference to God, as irrelevant
to truth; both proscribed external authority, especially the authority
of religion and scriptures, both emphasized self-reliance in making
judgments and decision; both were opposed to ritual and dogma. There
the similarities seem to end.
between the two seem to be well reflected in the civilisations which
they engendered. The Buddhist Enlightenment, which was also in a sense
secular like the European one, did not separate “fact” and "value";
in fact it did not recognize something called "fact" existing independent
of the observer. So it did not abstract something called "value" out
of reality. The fact-value separation is the crux of both the secular
and the so-called scientific.
There is growing
perception today within modern science itself that it does not really
produce knowledge of truth in the deeper sense, but yields only useful
operational constructs. Christians are slow in understanding the implications
of that perception. In fact it questions the truth-value of science
as a whole, science which till a while ago claimed a monopoly on truth.
Once we recognize this, we will learn that there is no way of reconstructing
higher education without questioning the foundations of our civilisation;
these foundations were generated by the European Enlightenment and
its Grand Secular Heresy. I shall call them the EE and the GSH. The
EE affirmed the autonomy and self-sufficiency of the Human, its freedom
from all external authority, from religion and from tradition.
The GSH in
turn reinforces this repudiation of external authority and the enthronement
of human reason as supreme. Modern Science flourished in this context
and manifested its technological prowess that enabled the nuclear
holocausts of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, huge engineering feats, and space
travel to cap it. We were impressed by the achievements of science/technology
and also in the process taken in for a while by its claims to a monopoly
on all knowing and doing.
I wish to submit
to you the thesis that there is no way to reconstruct higher education
without exposing the false assumption of Modern Science, the European
Enlightenment and the Grand Secular Heresy which audaciously proposed
that we limit our attention to the world open to our senses. It is
clear that the EE was wrong in its repudiation of all tradition and all
transcendent reference in our knowledge. It is also clear that the
GSH was wrong in marginalising, privatising and individualising religion,
and in limiting our perspective of the material and the empirical.
It is clear that Modern Science has led us astray in pretending to have
a monopoly on true knowledge, relegating not only religion, but also
art, literature and traditional perspectives on religion to the margin
of the human consciousness and the academy.
If Christians have
the guts to stand up to the Establishment, they should join with the
followers of other religions like Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism,
Jainism and Taoism to challenge the secular assumptions of our civilisation
and the European Enlightenment which engendered it. We should not be
browbeaten by intellectuals, misdirected political leaders, who advocate
and propagate secularism as an unquestionable dogma and a panacea
for all our social ills. A Christian University which challenges the Grand
Secular Heresy is likely to be mercilessly persecuted. But if Christians
cannot risk some persecution for the sake of the truth, what authenticity
can their faith have?
As I stated above, the European
Enlightenment gave a new meaning to the word Culture. The same applies
to its Indian equivalent, the Samskrita word samskara. Let us
not forget that the very name of Samskrita language denotes the language
of the cultured elite, as distinguished from Prakrita, the language
of the hoi polloi.
samskara nor Kultur nor even the English Culture carried
the modern corporate anthropological sense of the term: a whole way
of life of a people: practices, rituals, symbol systems, institutions,
material artefacts, literary and religious texts, ideas, images and
beliefs. It meant in its pre-Enlightenment use, cultivated refinement
of the individual person in art, music, literature, philosophy, learning
and skills -- not a corporate ensemble of institutions, beliefs and
Enlightenment created the corporate concept of culture because
the Masters of the European Enlightenment wanted to keep the Enlightenment
to the "Cultured Elite", the educated bourgeoisie, the gebildete
Staende, the ausbildete Mensch. Education was the door to that
Our whole concept
of modern education is tainted with the elitism of its origins in the
European Enlightenment. For the bourgeoisie the contrast was not between
the rich and the poor, but between the cultured and the uncultured.
Higher education was especially conceived as the royal gateway for
entry into the cultured elite; so was secondary education, the gymnasia
meant for the children of the privileged.
Of course the
early years of the European Enlightenment coincide with the Golden
Age of German Culture -- the 40 years from 1780 to 1820. Strangely
enough this was a time when Germany was helplessly divided and politically
powerless. At a time when West European powers in general were adventurously
expanding into the world in a merciless and uncultured imperialist
aggression, Germany chose to excel in Culture, ie in philosophy, music,
literature and the arts led by Kant (1724 -1804), Goethe
(1749-1832), Schelling (1775-1804), Schleiermacher (1768-1834), Schopenhauer
(1788-1860), Hegel (1770-1831), Herder (1744-1803), Novalis (1772-1801)
and so on. It was that German Kultur that the educated classes
were to imbibe, in order to be initiated into the privileged and
Marx and Engels,
who came in the wake of the Golden Age of German Culture and Creativity,
wanted to take Culture and Enlightenment away from the grip of the
bourgeoisie, by introducing the base-superstructure kind of edifice to
reflect the nature of society. Culture was not the product of the elite,
but of a social base where the workers, using science-technology as
means of production and regulating the relations of production through
the political economy, create the superstructure of thought and art,
culture and enlightenment. Culture, as belonging to the Super-structure,
was largely shaped by forces and relations operating at the base level,
not by individual geniuses. The latter are created and sustained by
the social forces.
children of the European Enlightenment, Science was supreme; religion
was an anachronism to be superseded, a hang-over from the feudal system.
Scientific progress is the motor of society, an idea which Jawaharlal
Nehru shared with them. Not only is ideology produced by comprehensive
generalisations from science; even art is only "illustrative science"
to be put at the service of the march of social progress. Marx suspected
not only religion but also classical culture as an "opiate of the
masses". Culture was created by science and technology, a workers'
culture opposed to traditional humanistic culture. Based on that,
later leftists began talking about a "scientific culture", a "scientific
ethos" and a "scientific temper", all of which Nehru and the Nehruvians
Marxism in this century, before
its tragic collapse, adopted a more healthy view: "the harmonious integration
of scientific, technical and humanitarian culture, the peculiarities
and social functions of each being fully retained". (A Ya. Zis, "On
the Question of the Correlation Between the Structures of Philosophical
and Artistic Thought" in "Marxist-Leninist Thought Aesthetics and The
Arts", Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980, p. 118).
It was in 1959
that C. P. Snow, from an avowedly anti-Marxist perspective, sought
to drive a wedge between "Two Cultures", a so-called Science-based
culture and a so-called Art-based one. That effort, despite the wide
publicity it received for a few decades, has now fizzled out. We really
cannot make that cutting apart of Arts and Science.
But a new vision
in Christian higher education must take the problem of culture at
greater depth. It is not sufficient to deal with the "Emerging Agenda
of Peace" -- that is Caring for the Creation, Sustainable Development,
Women's Empowerment, Global Interdependence, North-South Cooperation,
etc., all of which fall short of questioning the existing elitist
European Enlightenment Culture.
One of the fundamental
propositions I want to make here in relation to Culture and Higher
Education is the simple observation that religion is integral to culture,
and all the so-called cultural values of a secular society have religious
roots. Apart from these two hundred years when the Grand Secular Heresy
prevailed unchallenged, culture, including European culture, has its
matrix in religion -- not just Judaism and Christianity, but also Gnosticism,
the Mystery Religions, Neoplatonism, Byzantine and Slavonic religious
heritages, and even Islam which catalysed the Second European Renaissance
without which the European Enlightenment could probably not have occurred.
It is important
therefore for the new Vision in Christian as well as other Higher
Education to take some bold and imaginative steps to break the monolithic
dominance of western culture in higher education. This is not simply
a question of having a Department of Religions in each Christian college
and teaching a few courses on Asian religions. The whole perspective
of higher education at all levels has to shift from the secular mono-cultural
to a multi-cultural, multi-religious (secularism can also be recognized
as a dogmatic and unscientific religion among the others) basic perspective
of the foregoing is that philosophy should find a new role in the University
curriculum -- not just "modern" philosophy, which is under constraint
to repudiate all tradition and traditional or contemporary religions.
It should be a philosophy which can help the students to ask some of
the basic questions about the meaning of life, the nature of reality,
the transcendent foundations of the manifest universe, fulfilment in
life, the nature of our symbiosis with each other and with the universe
in which (not outside which) we exist and so on. The university cannot
ladle out ready-made answers to these questions. But it must help the
student to ask these questions without embarrassment and to find their
own personal answers.
But a philosophy
which is dry, academic and unproductively conceptual will not do the
job. The university should enable cohesive religious communities to
co-exist, interact and learn from the worship and practices of other
religions and ideologies.
We cannot just
bring back traditional religion in the university curriculum in the
pre-Enlightenment form; not even the form in which religion is in
the curriculum of many western and other universities. We cannot just
reverse the process of secularisation and restore the pre-Enlightenment
curriculum. I have no time here to dwell in detail about how religions
in the plural are to be reintroduced in the university curriculum.
At this point I can only say two absolute conditions: it cannot be
just one religion, the religious context in the university should be
as inclusively pluralist as possible. Secondly, it cannot be abstract
or academic religion, reduced to so-called teachings or philosophies.
It should be the interacting confluence of various religious communities
committed to faithful practice of their religion.
I need to bring this address
to a conclusion. I will do so by throwing at you some aphorisms about
what could happen in the next century and the next millennium.
It is clear that the modern state is a creation of the Enlightenment
culture, and it will be folly to count on the state to bring about
the necessary changes in education, higher or lower.
modern state is not the shaper of tomorrow. As a socio-economic institution
of common life, it is condemned to oblivion, sooner or later. There
are new power units emerging; they are the larger units of economic
production, corporations both national and trans-national; power is in
their hands; they are predators, judging by the record of most of them.
But it will be folly on the part of the common people to either ignore
them or ostracize them as enemies. They have to be befriended without
being ourselves captured and enslaved by them. The better side in
them has to be appealed to, despite initial frustration. They have
to be made accountable to the general public and to do some creative
and innovative experiments in higher education as well as in children's
is unrealistic to expect most Churches to understand the nature of
the problem and do the needful. But they are also national and transnational
corporations, with some power, though run mostly by unimaginative and
uncreative bureaucrats. But once the Christian people get the idea,
they can be the most powerful allies in the cause of creative educational
reform. To this end a large number of seminars, international and
inter-cultural as well as inter-religious, need to be held in various
parts of the world to reflect deeply on the nature of God's calling
on the Churches in the educational field -- not to the existing ones,
but to see the problems of Culture, of Science and the Secular and
to devise new pioneering experiments. The best we can do here is to
produce a document, or at least the framework for a basic document
which can serve as a discussion starter for these seminars and consultations.
Schools, colleges and perhaps also universities, such as we have them
now, are also products of European civilisation and are already on
the verge of obsolescence, what with the ongoing Communication Revolution
and all that. What we will soon have are educational communities connected
by electronic devices, with all the attendant problems. The teacher
and the professor will probably become less pivotal, as also the classroom,
the lecture hall, the library, books and notebooks (except of course
computer note-books). The fall in the level of conviviality will be
substantial. With that new problems of human community could arise.
Probably we can think of ways of crossing these bridges when we actually
come to them.
5. Whatever we do, let us not confine reflections to just a group of
Christians, however brilliant they may by. Let the inter-cultural,
inter-religious pattern begin with these consultations and seminars.
Well. I must
thank you for your patient listening. I stand to correction where
my thinking is wrong. You will help me at that point during these days
together. I plan to spend more time with you this week because I am
passionately interested in the subject. But I am no expert. The great
expert, Christ Our Lord, is with us. It is the Spirit of God who can
lead us into all truth. May God bless you all.