Religion, Education and the Role of Government in Medieval Universities: Lessons Learned or Lost?

Religion, Education and the Role of Government in Medieval Universities: Lessons Learned or Lost?

By Kimberly Georgedes

Forum on Public Policy, Vol 2:1 (2006)

Introduction: Religion, education and government were very closely connected in the Middles Ages, as indeed in nearly every age except the modern world, beginning perhaps as early as the Reformation, but with continuing secularization of education through the Scientific Revolution, but more importantly, the Enlightenment. Here I propose to give some historical background to modern developments concerning the role of government and religion in education, particularly as related to the university. To this end I will briefly examine the relationship between the Church and secular governments and how they influenced the universities and education in Medieval Europe.

I will also examine the impact of the rediscovery of both Roman law and Aristotle on the rise of the universities and on the university curriculum itself (including not only the close relationship between faith and reason, but also the strains between the two as well), and how this might have influenced or had an impact on both church and state. Finally, I intend to discuss what lessons we might learn from this period with regard to our own. Thus, there are really two questions I am addressing here. The first concerns the role of religion and government in education, especially as it pertained to medieval universities. The second concerns the differences between medieval and modern American universities, and whether we have learned anything from past experience.

This is a rather large, and somewhat unwieldy topic. As a result, the examination will be only cursory and informative as opposed to ground breaking or innovative. I have also assumed a minimal knowledge about the Middle Ages on the part of the delegates, by which I mean no offense to anyone. In any case, perhaps this paper will provide some impetus to discussion.

My task is perhaps best accomplished through a general comparison of medieval and modern American universities (my own experience). However, before I do that, I should give some background.

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