Friday, April 24, 2009

Christianity in Iraq VI : Christian Education in Iraq, London, Saturday 25th April 2009

Presented by : The Centre of Eastern and Orthodox Christianity, Department for the Study of Religions, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. In conjunction with : The British Institute for the Study of Iraq. The Anglican and Eastern Churches Association (AECA). Venue : The Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh St., Russell Square, London, WC1H 0XG. 


From its earliest days, the course of Christian education in Iraq has been determined by political events. The 'School of Edessa' emerged following the flight of Christian refugees circa 363 C.E. when the Romans ceded Nisibis to the Sassanids. A century later, political turmoil saw re-location to Nisibis and the creation of its famous school. This move transmitted Hellenistic learning (also biblical exegesis and other traditional subjects) into Mesopotamia and provided the springboard for the founding of several other 'schools' including one at the Sassanid capital. 

The intellectual activities of Christians came to the fore under Islam. Hira, a major centre of the Church of the East, was the birthplace of Hunain ibn Ishaq, the most renowned of all Christian translators of Aristotelian philosophy. In their transmission of Greek works via Syriac into Arabic during the 'Abbasid period, Syriac scholars not only realized the Hellenistic tradition within Mesopotamia, but also made a seminal contribution to the scientific and philosophical achievements of the Muslims. 

In the medieval period, education was largely conducted via traditional avenues within the monasteries. However the 19th century witnessed the establishment of schools, a by-product of European influence, a trend that continued after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Such institutions (foremost were the Jesuits) educated Iraqis of all faiths, but came to an end the Ba'ath party ordered the closure of all private schools in 1974. The 21st century has seen a burgeoning of institutions, epitomized by the foundation of Babel College in 1990. The vicissitudes that have beset Iraq since 2003 have caused its relocation to Erbil in northern Iraq, but this move, following well-established precedents, has kept alive the ancient tradition of 'schools' in Iraq. 

Programme 2009

Morning Session 10.30 am - 1.00 pm
The morning session will consist of a series of papers exploring historic aspects of education. Speakers include : 
Prof. Adam Becker (New York, USA)
Christian institutions of learning in Late Antique and Early Islamic Iraq
Dr. Philip Wood (Oxford and SOAS)
The competitive patronage of education : Nisibis, Ctesiphon and their rivals in the 'Chronicle of Seert'
Dr. Isabel Toral-Niedhoff (Berlin, Germany)
Religious and secular education in pre-Islamic al-Hira. Multiculturalism in Late Antique Iraq
Dr. Dan King (Cardiff, Wales)
'Without Aristotle there is no understanding of the Scriptures'. The Nature and Purpose of Higher Education in Syriac in Late Antiquity

Luncheon 1.00 - 2.00 pm 
The Brunei Gallery Cafeteria

Afternoon Session 2.00 - 4.30 pm
The afternoon session will focus on education in Iraq during the 19th-21st centuries, challenges faced by Christian schools during the Ba'athist régime, as well as the changes brought about by events following the 1st Gulf War and post-2003. Current education programmes in the diaspora will also be discussed. 

Speakers from various Iraqi communities include : 
Dr. Joe Seferta (Birmingham)
A Survey of Education in Iraq : from 1970 to the Present : Challenge and Change.