Medieval Higher Education: Islamic and Western Academics

74 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2013

Date Written: February 25, 2013


Studies on the origins of the European University system and Islamic education have drawn heavily from the work of Alan B. Cobban and George Makdisi respectively. These two historians have offered competing explanations for the rise of higher education and degree of interchange between the Islamic caliphates and Europe in the medieval era. This comparison proposes to reject the analysis of both historians regarding the rise of higher education in Islam and the West. The aim of this work is to provide a means of moving past the current competing theories of European university origin through the texts of the medieval period by offering an alternate answer to question of university development which draws upon the shared aspects of Islamic and Western culture. The main areas examined will be the structure of education and the textual basis of educational curriculum in medieval Islamic and European culture. The structures of education will delve into the historiography of university development and provide some common models for education in the Islamic world as well. The curriculum and philosophical justifications given for higher education in both cultures will illuminate the topicality of the medieval interplay between religion and education. An examination of the educational structures of both societies will reveal the deep incongruity which existed between classical, specifically Greek knowledge and educational models as compared to the monotheistic demands of Christianity and Islam. This paper will offer a new route forward by looking to the common philosophical groundwork of neo-Platonic of Islamic and Western culture as the basis for rise of higher education in the medieval era. First, the primary works of the neo-platonic thinkers will briefly be examined to ascertain the common themes and language of neo-platonic ideology. Secondly, the structure of medieval education will be examined along with the philosophical arguments regarding pagan knowledge. This paper proposes to trace back the similarities of Islamic schools and Western institutions to a common thread of neo-platonic educational beliefs which pervaded the major discussions of Greek science and religion taking place in both cultures. The educational bodies/philosophies of Islam and the West, as well as the work of some of each culture’s most well regarded scholars will be studied so that a new route of investigation into the thorny question of medieval educational origins may well be established.

Keywords: Universities, Medieval Education, Madrasas, Islamic Medieval, European Medieval, Neo-platonism,Neo-platonic theory

Suggested Citation

Garcia, Michelle, Medieval Higher Education: Islamic and Western Academics (February 25, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

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