What Can the Social Sciences Do for Us?

By Sara Fatima

This post is in response to a recent article by Professor Mohammad Waseem (‘An ignoramus par excellence,’ The News, June 11, 2017) in which he argues that the majority of the professional, political, bureaucratic and military elites of Pakistan are uninformed about the larger issues pertaining to our social, national and global life. Some of the issues he mentions are the weakness of our foreign policy, increasing social violence, population explosion, water shortage and cultural practices oppressing women and minorities. Professsor Waseem attributes this outcome to an insularity of vision and thought which, in his view, stems from a lack of exposure to the social sciences in our educational system.

In elucidating this weakness of Pakistan’s educated elite, Professor Waseem compares the typical Pakistani school graduate with one in the West. He asserts that in the West a school graduate is introduced to the origin and history of major ideas and is equipped with the conceptual tools to perceive and understand the dynamics of the real world. The social sciences are a part of the educational curriculum even at a preliminary level. Such is not the case in Pakistan where a school graduate is not equipped with a strong foundation in the uninhibited exploration of ideas. The canvas of education is limited and insular, a weakness that is exacerbated by textbooks that are not rich enough to familiarize students with a rapidly evolving world. Nor do they convey sufficient knowledge of ancient civilizations or even of the contemporary world. The result is a myopic worldview.

This observation is quite plausible but we may question whether it is just the content of the textbooks that is source of our problems. If we replace these books with those used in the developed world, would be induce the required change in the thinking of our people? It seems unlikely because of the inadequate training of teachers and their adherence to outdated pedagogical methods.

In Pakistan, students are discouraged from asking questions in class. They cannot even think of disagreeing with their teachers who are considered as being in positions of supreme authority, a relationship that discourages critical thinking. Teachers in turn are risk-averse and prefer not to stray from the conservative norms of religion, race and gender. They are either incapable of, or deliberately stay away from, conveying a more universal humanism depriving the students from developing a tolerance of differences in attitudes and values.

Another important factor contributing to the narrow-mindedness of the educated elite is the elimination of the social sciences from professional training at advanced levels of education. This is particularly the case in engineering, medical and military training. The curriculum is confined to technical subjects leaving out the more open-ended subjects that need to be a part of  intellectual growth. This one-dimensional education is resulting in the growing fundamentalism and increasing intolerance of our educated youth.

Recent research suggests that a disproportionate percentage of students involved in violent activities have a background in science, engineering or medicine. A study conducted in the sociology department of the University of Oxford (‘Engineers of Jihad,’ 2007) confirms this hypothesis that students of the above-mentioned subjects are over-represented in violent Islamist movements. The plausible explanation given for this phenomenon is that the mindset of people with this educational background inclines them to take extreme positions on matters that may have multiple answers or causes. The study reinforces the importance of the social sciences to mould individuals who can see things in grey instead of in black and white.

Despite the above, there are some other questions that need to be raised in order to address the issues raised by Professor Waseem. We need to be sure that our elite is truly ignorant of the crucial issues as presumed by him. Could it be possible that the  ignorance is a mere pretence? Is our political elite really interested in building an open intellectual environment in our society or does the status quo better serve its parochial interests? These questions direct us to a larger debate that is probably more significant in unravelling the sociopolitical dynamic of our society.

Sara Fatima graduated from LUMS with a major in Politics and Economics. For a related article, see Education: Humanities and Science

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29 Responses to “What Can the Social Sciences Do for Us?”

  1. sohailkizilbash Says:

    Any comparisons with rich, developed and advanced countries are fruitless. We should compare Pakistani situation with similar countries. Now which large country is backward, seeped in religion, mostly uneducated, poor , with a high rate of unemployment or underemployment AND is peaceful?

    Who are these people who are creating chaos? Who is benefiting from it? As soon as we are honest with our answers, the solution would be apparent too.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Sohail: I have some reservations that “Any comparisons with rich, developed and advanced countries are fruitless.” We have borrowed almost everything from there – the system of parliamentary democracy, the structure of the civil service, down to what we wear and how we eat. So, comparisons are inevitable. In education, the four-year undergraduate program is a borrowing, as is the system of major and minors. The textbooks we use are all from the rich, developed and advanced countries. Therefore, when we are looking at the consequences of education it is useful to examine where the deviations from the Western model have occurred. Many of them stem from the last days of Bhutto and gained force under Zia.

      It is true that there is violence in the kinds of countries you have identified but there is wide variation in the extent and nature of that violence. These variations also need to be studied on a case by case basis. It will turn out that there are some similarities but there will be some interesting differences as well. Also, some countries have emerged out of the backwardness while others are still mired in it. It is useful to study the causes for these disparate paths. The people who are creating chaos are not the same everywhere.

  2. Anjum Altaf Says:

    Sara: I made some bizarre connections in my reading that are so fascinating that I am reproducing them here.

    I was reading an article in the latest issue of the New Yorker on the well-known English poet A.E. Housman. I reached the section describing Housman’s falling out with Moses Jackson, his roommate in London in 1885, and the following sentence: “Whatever happened, Housman moved out, and Jackson soon married and settled in Karachi.”

    When one is reading an article in an American magazine about an English poet living in London, you just don’t expect someone having a quarrel and upping himself and moving to Karachi, do you?

    I was so intrigued I put “Moses Jackson Karachi” into Google and was led to a book with an even more compelling story with a lot of digressions of great interest to us. It turns out that Dr. Moses Jackson moved to Karachi as the principal of D.J. Science College where he turned it into a major institution. The first chapter of the book (Sons of the Empire) is a must-read for all South Asians curious about history.

    You will find a lot of relevant material about education at that time (early 1900s) in India and England that can help in tracing its later evolution. Unfortunately the text in the book cannot be copied so I have to leave it to the readers to pick out the material of interest to them. We should then discuss it further in this space.

  3. Anjum Altaf Says:

    I have made the point in an earlier post (Education: Humanities and Science) that humanities and social sciences are necessary but not sufficient. https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/education-humanities-and-science/

    They are necessary because they teach people that many questions can have multiple answers. A well-rounded education requires people to be able to deal with certainty as well as doubt – either extreme can create problems in society.

    They are not sufficient because while they do make people more aware they do not necessarily make them more moral. That is a completely different dimension.

    A most convincing example is that of Nazi Germany where people had access to a well-rounded education including the arts and the sciences. Yet, the horrors that were allowed by that society were unparalleled in history.

    This article provides some details:
    https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/orchestras-and-nazis/

    Therefore, while one should strive for the inclusion of the humanities and social sciences in the curricula, one should not look upon them as a panacea for the ills of society.

  4. Nosheen Shahid Says:

    It is an interesting and a huge debate and answers are not simple. But I am glad to see that it has begun at some level.

    As a student of philosophy/history of art and as someone who has interests in philosophy/history of science simultaneously, I believe it is absolutely essential to investigate also the definition of arts and sciences which go into forming what we call ‘well-rounded’ system of education, at any period of time. If there was violence during Hitler’s regime, then the education system (at that time) I will assert cannot be declared as ‘well-rounded’. If the people at that time had access to scientific as well as artistic education, I would like to ask, did they also study the pros and cons of pursuing those fields? Were they aware of the sources, uses, and consequences of such sciences and arts?

    This takes me to the next point. As a student of theology (too), I will also say that not only it is bizarre but also harmful to rule out the moral dimension from the studies of sciences and arts. In fact, a philosophical (not so in an orthodox, modern sense which separates moral and rational into irreconcilable oppositions) and historical investigation of all subjects is essential, if we want to achieve peace and prosperity in any society. The issue with our academic culture (both in the East and the West) is that it has excluded the theological dimension from the studies of arts and sciences. Our academic orthodoxy is afraid to entertain the possibility of reconciling the modern scientific/social scientific perspectives with moral perspectives. They fail to consider that fact that all fields–sciences, social sciences, humanities including theology–are inseparable, if we want to achieve a ‘well-rounded’ system of education in a true sense. Also the fact that we have excluded the study of theology from our educational system is the reason why religious clerics have managed so successfully to hold a sway over the mindset of our populations, which is resulting in chaos since these clerics are utterly backward and uneducated in other subjects. The West is now coming to terms with this truth and has already begun to take measure to set things right. For the same reason, almost all big schools in UK and States include departments of theology which are very dynamic and diverse in terms of having connections with other fields.

    Like I mentioned, it is a huge debate in itself what a well-rounded system of education means. But I am glad to see that over-all there is this recognition that in order to work towards a peaceful environment we have to have study of humanities and social sciences at professional level.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Nosheen: Society should be debating such issues all the time. See, http://neatoday.org/2016/06/21/essa-well-rounded-education/

    • Sara Fatima Says:

      I agree with nosheen’s point that theology should be part of the education but it is too risky in a society that is divided on religious and sectarian grounds. To make this subject as part of the education, first we need the recipients who are tolerant enough to digest opposing arguments and point of views, otherwise this can be disastrous. Moreover, as argued above, here comes the role of the teachers who can help in creating a tolerant society.

      • Nosheen Says:

        The fact that our society is divided along sectarian issues make study of theology indispensable and not vice versa. What you are suggesting is that first we need to resolve other issues by working in other fields and then include theology which, sorry to say, doesn’t make sense. It’s the same as saying let’s resolve our issues through technological studies first and then we can add social sciences/humanistic studies because they are not ‘that’ important. The logic behind your argument is same. We are debating to have a more ‘wholistic’ view of education, your argument supplied defeating the very purpose we are arguing for. I have done my masters in theology and I know how deeply relevant it is both for the East and the West.

      • Anjum Altaf Says:

        Sara: A few months back I had articulated a sceptical perspective on including religion in the curriculum:
        https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/is-more-religion-the-answer/

        But let’s wait and see what Nosheen has in mind in her conceptualization of theology.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Nosheen: Thanks for joining the discussion. It is up to concerned citizens to participate and raise the debate to the next level through social media.

      I have a number of observations on your comments:

      1. We should distinguish between a well-rounded education and a well-rounded system of education. The objective regarding the latter should more usefully be termed a well-structured system of education. There are many problems with the system of education in Pakistan including the fact that there are multiple systems for different segments of the population. This is a major issue. However, for the present discussion we should confine ourselves to the parameters of a well-rounded education.

      2. We should articulate a well-rounded education on its own terms and not with reference to an outcome. I don’t think we will get very far if we consider a well-rounded education as one that has never been followed by an incidence of violence simply because there has never been a violence-free period in human history.

      3. We should be clear what we mean by introducing theology in the curriculum. Some would argue that post-Zia there is already too much theology in the curriculum which is part of the problem.

      4. The West is not only just re-introducing theology in the curriculum to set things right. In one form or another instruction in theology has always been part of educational institutions. The modern version is departments of religious studies (as opposed to schools of divinity). But note that these departments operate from a very critical perspective and are free to question all beliefs and tenets. As one example look up Phyllis Trible who is a professor of sacred studies and a leading exponent of feminist biblical criticism. Would such a perspective be permitted in Pakistan? If not, what is to be done?

      • Nosheen Says:

        Sir, I agree with you on most of the points, especially on the one implying how significant it is to define what type of theological studies we want to introduce and how we shall do it. I want to respond to your comment thoroughly so I will need about 5 days to do it, since I am super busy till Thursday. I will be glad to be able to communicate with you through some other channel as well, since the debate is taking a very interesting turn. Let me know frankly if that will be possible. Will write a detailed reply soon. Regards.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Nosheen: We are eagerly awaiting your elaboration on theology so we can carry the discussion forward. I am glad you feel it is taking an interesting turn. You can always send an email care of thesouthasianidea@gmail.com.

          • Nosheen Shahid Says:

            Sorry I have been very busy lately and could not respond in the time I mentioned. Anyway, following are things I want to point out in regard to the points you mentioned Sir:
            1) First of all, thank you for distinguishing between a well-rounded education and a well-rounded system of education. I was using the two interchangeably and hence wrongly and am glad that you pointed it out. I, however, would disagree with you on the point that the two should be debated separately for both are in relationship with one another and the former cannot be reformed until the latter goes through reformation simultaneously. How do we expect the study the social sciences to bring about the desired results if Madrassah system (in its current form) with its myopic interpretation of religion remains intact? A great section of our society does not afford to send its kids to private schools or even government schools.
            2) This brings me to the second point. We all know (as you mentioned too) that we are still suffering from the negative and inconsistent interpretation of Islam (i.e. negative in terms of its consequences for various sections of the society, especially for women from lower and lower-middle classes) that took place under Zia’s regime. He clearly had hidden political motives behind all his religious rhetoric—a fact well-acknowledged now-a-days especially in the academic circles. What is important to note here is that his political strategy made Pakistan an extremely religion-sensitive country. The wave of extremism post-Zia has made the people of Pakistan rigid in their beliefs and closed in their world-views. Now the question arises, what shall we do in such a situation? Shall we address the inconsistencies those beliefs are rooted in bravely or shall we bury our heads in the ground thinking there is no issue? For someone like me, the latter is not even an option.
            I am someone who researches speaks on LGBTQ rights, even knowing how intolerant our society is of those who believe in such rights. Whenever I talk to the people of this community they say that they suffer discrimination because they are not considered ‘Muslim enough’. In other words, the critique these people face is rooted in a certain kind of interpretation of religion. How can we imagine to fix these issues without addressing the beliefs which are at the heart of the actions of our so-called religiously minded people? The question for me is one of interpretation. There is no such thing as God’s interpretation. All we have is human interpretation of religion. Now the question arises, what makes my interpretation better than someone else’s interpretation? For me, the ‘right’ answer will have to do with which interpretation is more inclusive/comprehensive/scientific. (Now all those terms need further explanation but I believe this is not the right forum to deal with them. I think they should be dealt with academically. And that is why my academic area is very diverse. It includes all—philosophy/history of science, philosophy/history of art, sociology and theology—because I can see their interdependence). I will only say I will not judge any interpretation on its own terms. (We do nothing in this world for its own sake. Unfortunately, classical philosophy has taught us academics to think/take things in their own terms—that is, to think things in terms of their abstract (i.e. immaterial) essences. Our interpretation of religion suffers from the same flaw). Instead, I will judge an interpretation in terms of its consequences. Which interpretation gives us the message of unity instead of dividing us? That, indeed, is the right question. We have to know the right questions in order to know the right answers and we must learn to see things/subjects/fields in terms of their relationship with one another and their consequences.
            3) Thirdly, I believe the effort to reach a level where we believe in having a space to us where people from various religious backgrounds/traditions can sit together and listen to each other (if not agree) is important. I think West has remained successful in creating such space. I personally studied in a religious studies department where Christians (both liberals and conservatives), atheists and a Muslim (I was the only one) would sit together and share their perspectives. They always disagreed on certain points but also agreed on many other points. This kind of environment creates tolerance and understanding. Here the question is, can we have more of such spaces in Pakistan (and here I am assuming Lums is one)? Many people warn me of the dangers of sharing unorthodox views in an extremist country like Pakistan when I share my perspectives on Islam and its association with LGBTQ rights publicly. But that does not stop me from raising my voice. For I believe mine is the search of the true, the good and the beautiful. I know the struggle has to start from personal level. What if there are only a few people who are learned in these subjects. I should do what I can. Currently, I am a masters in theology, admitted into two PhD programs in UK. But I have neither funding nor job. My own people criticize me for choosing the subject I chose for all they see is that it fails to get me a job. However, despite all this, I am satisfied deep inside and I believe in my struggle. People think I do nothing but I have developed two course outlines on “Philosophy of Art” and am thinking about the third while at the same time developing those already crafted. I know once I get my breakthrough what I teach will create a difference and I will be satisfied that I am doing what I can.
            I am sorry the discussion went a little awry and is ending on my rant. But that is because I am very enthusiastic about my subject. Like I said I have been very busy lately and am working on several things (some of which I already mentioned above). If I forget to address anything it is because I am in haste and I apologize in advance for this.
            Regards.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Nosheen: Many thanks for your detailed response. Let me take your comments in turn.

            The fact that two things are in relationship does not mean that they cannot be discussed separately. It is incorrect to say that one cannot work on a well-rounded education until the system of education is reformed. Take an example: LUMS can offer a much more well-rounded education to its students without any reference to the system of education in the rest of the country. My efforts as dean to expand the core curriculum were focused on just such an objective.

            The madrassah system is exercising no constraint on the reform of the rest of the system. And also, a very small proportion of students are enrolled in madrassahs.

            It is indeed essential to think of the two aspects separately: What kind of system of education do we want and what kind of knowledge do we want that system to foster?

            One can reiterate this point by picking up a comment you make later on: “my academic area is very diverse. It includes all—philosophy/history of science, philosophy/history of art, sociology and theology—because I can see their interdependence).” The fact there is interdependence among these does not mean that history of art, philosophy, theology, and sociology can only be discussed simultaneously.

            Even when things are related, pragmatic considerations force one to prioritize and address either the more critical one or the most doable one first because the best is often the enemy of the good.

            If you tried to reform the entire system of education in Pakistan first, you would most likely fail. If, on the other hand, you first tried to improve education in one type of institution, the chances of success would improve and you might set in motion a dynamic that would pull other institutions in the same direction.

            Think of the example of the Daewoo bus service and how over time it has transformed inter-city bus service in Pakistan.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Nosheen: I have the following comments on your second point.

            I don’t believe that Zia made Pakistan a religion-sensitive country. Pakistan was always a religion-sensitive country given that it was created in the name of religion. At that time this sensitivity was used for political leverage against another religion. Once that objective was achieved, the passions dissipated to some extent. The latent sensitivity showed up in events like the Objectives Resolution of 1949, the anti-Ahmadi movement of 1953, and the campaign against Bhutto of 1978.

            Zia took this sensitivity several steps forward. First, by spreading the intolerance to sects within Islam by favoring one over the others. Second, by making this intolerance a permanent feature rather than an occasional outburst by injecting it into the system of education. Third, by re-orienting Pakistan to Saudi Arabia away from the shared heritage of South Asia and Iran.

            You are quite right to ask the question: What are we to do in this situation? Of course, we can’t bury our heads and pretend there is no issue. But, given that education, especially control over the curriculum, has become so intensely political, what is the way to address the inconsistencies? The answer is not at all clear.

            I am not convinced by your suggestion that we should seek an interpretation of religion that unites rather than divides us simply because we can be united on something that is quite problematic. To take an example, we relied on an interpretation of religion to unite on the Two Nation Theory which led to the death of a million people. Similarly, Al-Qaeda and ISIS are trying to unite people on their interpretations of religion.

            So, intellectually, the fact that an interpretation of religion unites is no guarantee of its goodness. We have to come up with something more robust.

          • Nosheen Says:

            Sir: I agree with you on the point that Pakistan has always been a religion-sensitive country and Zia’s amendments played along with those religious sentiments of the people taking to another level. It clearly did not begin with Zia. I am sorry that I sounded so in my argument and that is probably because I was writing in haste.

            About your second point, I think you are misinterpreting my argument on interpretation. I am not talking about seeking an ‘abstract’ unity through interpretation of religion. I am talking about interpreting religion in a way that will help us recognize the ‘organic unity’ which is at the heart of the universe. That is, we need an interpretation that will help us recognize that fact that we depend upon each other for our survival because diversity ‘sustains’ the universe (and not ‘destroys’ it). And a monolithic culture (based on ‘abstract’ and ‘exclusive’ definitions of religion) such as organizations like ISIS want to achieve cannot lead to anything but self-destruction.

            In order to avoid this confusion, I mentioned in one of my comments above that I will not go into the explaining the terms ‘inclusive/comprehensive/scientific’ because they require an academic forum to be discussed. Honestly speaking, I am still working on the definition of these terms myself which evolve over time and hence are difficult to grapple with here. And so I will insist again and hope that unintended assumptions shall not be made about the terms I am using.

            Look forward to meeting you some day and discussing these issues with you the way they deserve to be discussed.

            With all due respect,
            Nosheen

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Nosheen: I understand what you are saying and and am sympathetic to the argument. Yet, I have a serious problem with it as well.

            If the aim is to come up with an interpretation of religion that privileges the organic unity of the universe, that is one matter. But if the aim is for the world to recognize the utility of such an interpretation, we have to carry out a public discussion. We cannot do so in private conversations or in limited academic forums.

            Therefore you have to make an effort to define the terms that are needed to further the public discussion. Let there be a discussion on the definitions till a consensus emerges.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Nosheen: I have the following comments on your third point.

            Historically, I don’t think it is correct to say that the West has remained successful in creating a safe space where people of different faiths can sit together to listen to each other. In fact, the West failed spectacularly at this during the wars of religion. It was only in the bloody aftermath when religion was stripped of its importance during the Enlightenment that it was reduced to just another subject of study like any other. Once that happened, the kind of departments emerged to which you have referred.

            I feel we would be asking too much if we expect such spaces to emerge in the current environment in Islamic countries. Even at LUMS faculty members greatly self-censor themselves being afraid of the consequences if they raise topics that someone might consider controversial.

            This suggests, perhaps, a different approach – that of reducing the salience of religion in the educational system instead of searching for a particular magical interpretation. If we could even go back to what existed prior to Zia ul Haq we would have made a tremendous advance.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Nosheen: Many thanks for enriching this excellent discussion. The linked essay should provide an additional input on the struggle for freedom of expression in the West right up to the 1970s: https://aeon.co/essays/how-cold-war-philosophy-permeates-us-society-to-this-day

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Nosheen: You may also find this linked article to be of interest for more reasons than one:
            https://scroll.in/article/843919/the-mythology-of-one-god-is-what-we-call-religion-devdutt-pattanaik

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Nosheen: Could this be considered another input in seeking a way forward?
            https://www.dawn.com/news/1346885/the-ummah-at-war-with-itself

          • sanpatel90 Says:

            “a monolithic culture (based on ‘abstract’ and ‘exclusive’ definitions of religion) such as organizations like ISIS want to achieve cannot lead to anything but self-destruction.”

            Why is so ? A homogeneous society has lesser issues.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Sanpatel: Starting with a relatively homogeneous society (e.g., Japan, Korea, etc.) is very different from turning a heterogeneous society into a homogeneous one. The transformation of heterogeneous empires in Europe into more homogeneous nation-states was accompanied by the most bloody violence. Similar is the situation faced by ISIS and its likes today.

  5. Abeera Riaz Says:

    The article is very well written. As a computer science student myself I agree that our curriculum doesn’t pay enough attention to the social sciences. Our knowledge about those subjects is limited and it would be for the better if they were included in the curriculum more. But I love your writing style and hope to read more articles written by you.

  6. Sara Says:

    This discussion can be narrowed down to a single subject, Literature. In my opinion, literature deals with all human issues whether they are social, psychological or religious. The most important element is to deal with the inner of an individual. The progress in our age is successfully addressing the physical needs of a human being. However, the inner self or consciousness of a person is neglected. Literature talks about that inner part. It raises all those questions that are buried deep inside us and we are afraid to talk about them. By adding this subject in the curriculum, we can introduce our engineers, doctors and businessmen to a human spirit. In my personal view, literature encompasses all other social sciences and humanities like history, philosophy, theology, psychology etc.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Sara: There is no denying the value of literature. One can take the straightforward approach of Professor Stanley Fish who says of Paradise Lost:

      “This book contains all things and the origins of all things, and their destinies and final ends.” How did the world begin? Why were men and women created in the first place? How did evil come into the world? What were the causes of Adam’s and Eve’s Fall? If they could fall, were they not already fallen and isn’t God the cause? If God is the cause, and we are the heirs of the original sin, are we not absolved of the responsibility for the sins we commit? Can there be free will in a world presided over by an omniscient creator? Is the moral deck stacked? Is Satan a hero? A rebel? An apostate? An instrument of a Machiavellian and manipulative deity? Are women weaker and more vulnerable than men? Is Adam right to prefer Eve to God? What would you have done in his place? Wherever you step in the poetry, you will meet with something that asks you to take a stand, and when you do (you can’t help it) you will be enmeshed in the issues that are being dramatized.”

      https://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/13/happy-birthday-milton/?_r=0

      Or one can subscribe to the more nuanced position of the novelist Tim Parks:

      “So much is said about the “uses of literature,” which almost always have to do with our becoming more liberal and compassionate in response to reading about injustice. I very much doubt whether our behavior changes for the good in this way. All the same, by drawing us into visions that are quite different from and alien to our own, novels may, even if we initially throw them down in disgust, open our eyes to different worlds of feeling from our own.”

      http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/08/15/the-books-we-dont-understand/

      In either case, literature takes us outside of our own experience and that exposure has value.

      However, when we come to the practical issue of introducing literature back in our schools we face a political conundrum. Education is not neutral and one has to ask why those in control will allow in the kind of literature that would make students question the received truths? Why won’t we have an infusion of patriotic literature that would do even more harm than the absence of literature?

      Schooling is a highly political domain and we are dealing with indoctrination, not education. Why would those in control cede ground by introducing something so subversive as literature into the curriculum?

      We have to think of alternatives. See the Ghalib initiative on this blog for one attempt: https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/ghalib/

      • Sara Fatima Says:

        Finally this debate has been started on the media due to involvement of the university students in terrorist activities. There are some people who are talking about to bring the changes in curriculum. However no one is talking about what type of these changes should be? No one is recognizing the fact that most of the students found guilty of terrorism are from the technical educational background. They are either engineers or medical students. This is the right time to highlight the importance of the social sciences in making the society tolerant.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Sara: The rise of intolerance on campuses seems to be a global phenomenon:

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Sara: I sense a problem with your hypothesis. Only 6 percent of Pakistanis are university graduates, i.e., with a BA degree. Of these, those with professional qualifications (engineering, medicine, etc.) are a very small proportion. Thus, when you say that most students guilty of terrorism are engineers or doctors, you cannot be right. In fact, most suicide bombers do not have a college degree.

          I believe what you mean to say is that in any institution of higher education (e.g., a university) those enrolled in professional degree programs tend to hold more dogmatic views compared to those in non-professional programs. There is some evidence to support this contention. One would have to study if self-selection processes are at work, i.e., if those with more dogmatic views find certain fields more attractive. But note that professional fields are extremely competitive. So, many wanting to enroll in them are left out and end up with non-professional qualifications.

          In my view, the problem is not with engineering or medicine. It is with school and non-school (madressah, mosque) education that inhibits open thinking and rewards compliance with dogma. A small proportion of students survive this education and seek recourse in arts and humanities to find meaningful answers to the big questions of life.

          Arts, humanities and the social sciences, if introduced in schools in support of promoting open thinking, should have an impact on making society more tolerant. Just imagine the impact of introducing the work of Sufi poets like Bulleh Shah and Shah Hussain as part of literature classes in schools.

          Coincidentally, this op-ed that appeared today is relevant to the discussion:
          https://www.dawn.com/news/1356677/extremist-minds-on-campus

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