Friday, 28 May 2021

Secularizing Knowledge - The Unintended Reformation - The Sixth Chapter Review

Chapter Five: Manufacturing The Goods Life

This chapter is about how Universities and the sharing of knowledge changed because of the Reformation. Governments liked Universities because it gave them access to trained and educated men who they could use in their administrations. Men who were not tied to the church, but who could still operate at the same level as educated churchmen could. The Reformation threatened all of that, so the Universities were put under the governments protection and control. This was true in both Protestant and Catholic countries, but was more true in Protestant ones.

What continued was what was called the 'Republic of Letters', whereby scholars would correspond with other scholars regardless of where they lived or what they believed. Over time it became the custom to ignore religious writing and to concentrate upon everything else. The scholars became self censors. God had at the start of the 'Republic of Letters' been the most important topic, but he and religion were so fraught with difficulties that they were purposely dropped as acceptable topics. 

Between 1520 and the French Revolution, Theology was regarded as the most important subject at any University. Which meant that it needed to be protected the most. Catholics and Protestants both thought it too important to be subject to attack from the other side. Protestants also did not want to be attacked by other Protestants. So governments protected Theology departments and made sure that they could not be attacked. The best way to protect them was to stop people from having access to them. Gradually the subject went from something that every student had to study and it was the main source of study. To an elite that most students were not allowed access to unless they were devoting themselves fully to it. 

But what that did was it lead to mental atrophy, to the ivory tower. Theology had become a subject that was inward looking, it was not concerned with the real world or it's workings. This was true in both Catholic and Protestant countries. When it was required to fight against the secularizing of knowledge, it failed because it had no real arguments to defend itself with. Not because it was right or wrong, but because it had become an esoteric subject. 

What's amazing is that these arguments had been going on since the beginning of Christianity and it had developed answers. It had had to. So answers existed but they couldn't use them because they had not kept up with modern ways of doing things. Things had changed and the old arguments came across as old fashioned, as out of date. 

During the 1800's most Universities and governments stopped viewing Theology departments as needing special protection or having special status. Again it did not happen all at once but in time they all lost the protection and status that they had once had. In it's place they became professional schools who's job was to create ministers of religion. What they were no longer, were places were the mysteries of life were discussed. That place had gone to the newly created Philosophy departments.   

Protecting Theology had come at an great cost, another unintended consequence of the Reformation.

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