August 26, 2012
Eliot on Education and Religion
In my Catholic Social Thought course, our first class was occupied by what I call "meta-issues" -- questions involving the nature of the course, its place in a law school curriculum, and its relevance to the lives of future lawyers. One of the difficult questions involves the relationship of academic inquiry, academic freedom, and the authentic association of an institution of higher learning with Catholicism. We read Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and we also read material in some tension with it; I particularly like a couple of Stanley Fish's chapters in Save the World on Your Own Time as one type of counterpoint.
This evening I read an interesting old essay by T.S. Eliot called, "Modern Education and the Classics," which I may use in the future. Modernists like Eliot and Pound can be useful on these sorts of questions, as they were occupied with their own varieties of 'aggiornamento' ("make it new!"). Here is one helpfully complicating passage, at least to introduce some doubt against the general skepticism that any relationship does or could exist between education and religion:
Questions of education are frequently discussed as if they bore no relation to the social system in which and for which the education is carried on. This is one of the commonest reasons for the unsatisfactoriness of the answers. It is only within a particular social system that a system of education has any meaning. If education today seems to deteriorate, if it seems to become more and more chaotic and meaningless, it is primarily because we have no settled and satisfactory arrangement of society, and because we have both vague and diverse opinions about the kind of society we want. Education is a subject which cannot be discussed in a void: our questions raise other questions, social, economic, financial, political. And the bearings are on more ultimate problems even than these: to know what we want in education we must know what we want in general, we must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life. The problem turns out to be a religious problem.
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" to know what we want in education we must know what we want in general, we must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life. The problem turns out to be a religious problem."
I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with the first to parts. (Partly because I'm not sure what it means to "know what we want in general", in a way that makes that especially useful for knowing what we want in education.) But is Eliot saying that this is _necessarily_ a religious problem? That seems either false, or else likely to make "religious" so expansive as to be vapid. I can see how it would be a religious question _for him_, given his beliefs, concerns, etc., (and would be for those like him) but is he saying something stronger than that?
Posted by: Matt | Aug 27, 2012 1:41:26 PM
Matt, thanks for the comment. You are right, I think, to interpret this problem as being about religion for Eliot, which is to say that (in Eliot's view) it was a religious question for Christians. This is why I think it is a useful passage for a class in Catholic Social Thought.
I think I also agree that it would be "vapid" to interpret the quote as being about "religion" generally. But this is not a unique difficulty. "Religion" "in general," I often find, is a tricky category about which to make generalizations.
Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Aug 27, 2012 1:50:12 PM
I think caution is necessary when Ezra Pound is studied, especially when the study is of his philosophy and not his poetry.
Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Aug 27, 2012 2:15:56 PM
Thank you for the caution, Professor Wertheimer.
Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Aug 27, 2012 4:30:26 PM
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