A Missing Piece: Monasteries as Centers for a Literate Christian Education in Late Antique Palestine

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Chee, Michael
History of Education , Byzantine Education , Late Antique Education , Religious Education , Christian Education , Monastic Education , Monasteries of Palestine , Early Byzantium , Christian Paideia , Monastic Literacy
Research into the history of education provides powerful insights for answering a philosophical question of central importance: namely, what is the purpose of education. While recent research has emphasized looking to the past few centuries, investigating the educational practices of ancient societies is also valuable. The education available in the Byzantine Empire is particularly useful to examine. This society existed for a millennium and contributed substantially to the development of many aspects of the world as we know it today. In contradiction to its importance, however, its study has been neglected by historians of education. The education of the early Byzantine Empire (4th-6th centuries) is particularly interesting to explore, as society shifted in religious belief from pagan pluralism to Christianity. This religious transition led to questions on the nature and purpose of education as compromise was sought between the two religions. Such a struggle for educational compromise parallels contemporary Canadian society, where, as well-attested in the literature, a formerly Christian society is adjusting to one of pluralism and religious tolerance. Education in the early Byzantine Empire is presented in the literature as the bailiwick of the elite. Even as society Christianized, historians of education emphasize that educational practices remained those inherited from a pagan past. This assertion is complicated, however, by scholars of early Christianity who identify the rise of Christian monasticism and its “educational” capacity. While the pagan educational practices are well described as literary in nature, the means of monastic education is ambiguous. This study reconciles these two scholarly traditions, drawing on monastic primary sources to describe the literate education available within Christian monasteries of Late Antique Palestine. It then goes further, exploring the impact literate monks had on the Christianization of Byzantine society, and recursively, the impact this newly Christian society had on monasticism. This thesis contributes significantly to an understanding of the intersection between education and religion. Value is also to be found in the form of education that is revealed – an education not concerned with advancement and worldly gain, but one of self-improvement and spiritual growth.
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