Monday, 29 March 2010

The Dissolution of the Modern Monasteries?

In the 12th century the university replaced the monastery as the primary centre of learning and as a bastion of the ascetic ideal. Scholars replaced monks as guardians of sacred texts; often working alone for long hours in small cells!

In the late 20th century, universities became refuges for those on the left seeking an institutional base from which to launch a critique of contemporary capitalism. We might say that universities today are 'monasteries of the left'.

When viewed in this way, the post-modern attempt to turn universities into knowledge factories amounts to a second wave of monastery dissolution, and this is likely to continue unabated in the medium term.

Do universities have a future? If so, do they need to move away from the monastic model?

Neil Turnbull

1 comment:

  1. I like the parallels drawn between monastries and universities here, though it goes without saying that both institutions are in many ways context specific, products of a particular historical period. That said, religion and politics tend to run together, and there is little doubt that left wing thought and, indeed, thought in general, potentially poses a threat to political systems past and present.

    I guess that the influence of the business dimension upon the contemporary university is one of the decisive factors when trying to understand the nature and development of the university system, both now and in the foreseeable future. Pressures generated by the need for alternative forms of external funding in the face of mass education means that many lament a perceived decline in research--quantity rather than quality. Hence the "knowledge factory".

    It is difficult to determine how one might resist the hegemonic tentacles which stretch throughout the university system at present, if one wished to do so, whichever political party wins the next election. Is resistance even possible, beyond purely individual efforts to "speak out" which are destined to remain voices in the wilderness?

    I personally see no reason to suppose that universities don't have a future, so long as they continue to comply with the expectations and demands placed upon them. But whether this trajectory is inevitable is another question...