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Significance of the "University" of Gonde-Shapur

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Zagros View Drop Down
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    Posted: 16 Jul 2010 at 22:20
By certain accounts this institution seems to represent the earliest example of what we have come to know as a university.  Not only is it claimed that students were taught and had to pass exams, but they also came from all civilised corners of the Ancient World in addition to China and India.  It very much sounds like the ancient world's Harvard.  After the Arab conquest it continued to have an impact on medical and scienctific thinking  for several centuries.

I wonder how much the practices espoused in this institution prevailed into the modern age.
"There was glory in pissing, Corabb decided as he watched the stream curve out and make that familiar but unique sound as it hit the ground." So true.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 02:06
Ah yes, the formalized structure that propagates "what to think" under the guise of "how to think" has ancient roots. However, let's resist the tendency of projecting the "present" into the past. Here is an interesting little summation:
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 02:32
Yes I've seen that article before... that's about the city, I am referring more to Gonde-Shapur as an institution of learning and innovation in the ancient world in active pursuit of "global talent" as many top universities today are.  What are your thoughts on its legacy, if any?  It certainly was crucial in the development of contemporary and subsequent Islamic institutions and without the foundations it laid, I don't think the world would have been blessed with the likes of Avicenna, whose research was still one of the first points of call for medicine in the West up until the 1500s according to the entry below, but i had been led to believe it was more likely the mid 19th century.

http://www.iranica.com/articles/avicenna-xiii
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 06:14
Well, Zagros, from my perspective and despite any and all of the raptures of Wikepedia and their repetition (cf. http://www.derafsh-kaviyani.com/english/gundishapur2.pdf ), these claims over "university" and "global talents" are just a bit much in the romanticized prose department. As for legacy, we might just as well speak of the gifts of Nestorianism to intellectual history. Organized learning can de defined any which way one might choose (why not start with the scribal "schools" of Ancient Egypt); however, but for me all of these claims represent little other than the game of "one upsmanship" by the culturally insecure.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 07:00
Global talent and university are my words in trying to relate Gonde-Shapur to modern concepts and to stimulate thought in comparison and contrast (i.e. critical thinking).  I'm not looking to split hairs over terminology and certainly not playing one upsmanship.  It is certain, for me at least, that Gonde-Shapur was unique and as such a topic worthy of discussion here.  However, if new threads on this forum are better left to pseudo intellectual discourse on current affairs then, in future, I shan't bother.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 07:31
Whoa there Zagros, it is not that a discussion of Gonde-Shapur may not prove fruitful, but that such must be done on its own terms (hence my assertion over the role of Nestorian Christianity during the latter century of the Sassanids) and not within the context of contemporary understandings. The blunt truth here is that much than might be discussed is more speculatory than factual and the effort at "connections" requires step-by-step linkage as with your allusion joining Avicenna to a site centuries--let alone miles--distant.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2010 at 19:13
Beit al Hekma in Baghdad was contemporary to the latter years of Gonde-Shapur and its creation was absolutely inspired by the it. Beit al Hekma was initially even staffed by former Gonde-Shapur students.  Beit al Hekma was a major piece in the infrastructure of the "Islamic Golden Age".

As regards physical distance, it was irrelevant in the Islamic empires with regards to scholars, for example you had Tabari who was born in Mazandaran, yet is recorded as having routinely been to Egypt as well as Eastern Persia.  It is certain that many of Avicenna's  sources of inspiration and learning hailed from Beit al Hekma - which brings me to the chronological connection with Gonde-Shapur.  

Islamic era science was more a collegiate than you probably imagine and individuals did not come up with new theories and concepts from thin air, they actively referred to each others' works and also to those from other civilised corners of the world that were or had been.



Edited by Zagros - 17 Jul 2010 at 19:21
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Jul 2010 at 10:09
Zagros, a House of Wisdom (Bait al-Hikma) is also generic for any library and the work assigned to Baghdad in the 9th century under Al-Ma'mun and the scholars Ibn Haroun and Ibn Ishaq already had antecedents in Damascus under the Umayyads. yet even within this context we have to acknowledge the conflict between the Mu'tazili perspective of the early Abassids and the adherents of Islamic orthodoxy, which grew uneasy at anything Greek! One might also make a good argument that the urge for cosmopolitan learning that flourished in Muslim circles for two centuries between AD 750 and 950 was effectively quashed by the succeeding reactionary sects that achieved power by questioning the Islamic integrity of their predecessors. That this intellectual cosmopolitanism did produce a golden age for learning in successive steps at Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordova is not a point of contention, what is in question is identifying such activity as the groundwork of what we would today call "university".
 


Edited by drgonzaga - 18 Jul 2010 at 10:10
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 05:28
Quote Zagros, a House of Wisdom (Bait al-Hikma) is also generic for any library and the work assigned to Baghdad in the 9th century under Al-Ma'mun and the scholars Ibn Haroun and Ibn Ishaq already had antecedents in Damascus under the Umayyads.


I am talking about The Beyt Al-Hekma, which was founded by Haroun al-Rashid and the one at which Al-Jibr was introduced to the world by Khwarazmi and the one which was razed by the Mongols centuries later.

Quote yet even within this context we have to acknowledge the conflict between the Mu'tazili perspective of the early Abassids and the adherents of Islamic orthodoxy, which grew uneasy at anything Greek


I don't see why anything Greek is of relevance here, especially since the one of the foci of this particular House of Wisdom was translating Persian texts into Arabic, Persian texts of which many had Indian, Chinese and Greek sources.  It also looks likely that students of this House of Wisdom also had to study, be examined and graduate.  For all intents and purposes, from staffing to practices, this particular Beit was heavily influenced by Gonde-Shapur, from staffing, to practices and subjects.

Quote One might also make a good argument that the urge for cosmopolitan learning that flourished in Muslim circles for two centuries between AD 750 and 950 was effectively quashed by the succeeding reactionary sects that achieved power by questioning the Islamic integrity of their predecessors.


I certainly wouldn't, I would say that it was quashed upon the Mongol invasion.  They effectively sent the region into the dark ages.

Quote That this intellectual cosmopolitanism did produce a golden age for learning in successive steps at Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordova is not a point of contention, what is in question is identifying such activity as the groundwork of what we would today call "university".


Yes and that is what I intend to explore with this thread. Clearly, those three had at least significant influences from Gonde-Shapur.  And if a linkage can be established then the legacy of Gonde-Shapur is not negligible today.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 Jul 2010 at 06:40
Hello to you all
 
First of all, I don't like the term "university" in any ancient setting even if it was true because lets be honest, universities as we know them only appeared in the 18th century onwards and with respect to medicine it was as late as the 1900s where "doctors" were not required to have a legitimate medical degree or even an apprenticeship to begin with.
 
Now, what about Gonde-Shapur? was it significat? For its day and age yes but not that much. Again medicine then was by experience and practice than by actual studying. It might be significant in that it was one of the first academies where scholarship was regulated but probably that is it.
 
Third point, was there really a thing called "Beit Al-Hikmah"? People when talking about the "golden age" often repeat myths that they heard from some one else who also heard it from some one else etc. According to the two historians most linked with that time period, Khalifah ibn Khayyat and Al-Tabari there is no such institution. There was an organised translation effort but that is it.
 
Fourth point about the Mu'tazilah, philosophy and Sunni orthodoxy. Sunnis didn't reject philosophy period, in fact it was absorbed into the established legal theories and especially greek logic had a profound effect on "Usul Al-Fiqh", the discipline that is concenrned with extracting rules and rationalising it based on the Quran and Sunnah. Logic continued to this day to be an essential part of the currecula for student of Islamic jurispudence . What was rejected by those schools and schoar was metaphysics since the orthodox view was that you can only know God by his word not by logic. And Mutazilah didn't dissapear nor were they even persecuted. They continued well into this day as most schools in Islamic theorlogy follow renegades from the original mutazilah thought (ashari and maturidis).
 
Last point, who said that cosmopolitan learning vanished after the demise of mutazilah? If anything it grew in an exponential rate with the establishment of the first "Madrasahs" and then the "Nidhamiyahs". It was in these institutions that the Sunni and linguistic disciplines were finalised into their current form. The greatest number of scholars in all fields was in the 11th century AD despite the fact that that century was the most violent since the 7th century and indeed when we compare the achievements of those scholars we will find they dramatically exceed any of their previous predecessors. The Mongol purge of course changed everything.
 
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