Accepted Paper:

Knowledge alone is not enough - education and religious normative frameworks in Afghanistan  


Andreas Durr (Goethe University Frankfurt)

Paper long abstract:

Since the formation of a democratic state in Afghanistan in 2002, the local discourses about education and concepts of knowledge have been greatly shaped by return migrants who have received their education in exile. At a time when not few have been radicalized in religious schools (madrasahs) in Pakistan, another class of educated, reform-oriented Muslims emerged in schools and universities under the influence of different mujahidin groups as well as foreign actors. Most characteristic for this new class is the aim to bridge the traditional divide between "religious" and "secular" education through encompassing formation.

Among the supporters of such models, knowledge (ilm) gains its validity only through its ethical application for the sake of Muslim society. Thus, an appropriate educational system in their view would have to impart knowledge within an Islamic ethical framework. Besides formal Islamic tuition (Islyamiyat), they expect institutions to uphold and teach Islamic values ranging from gender segregation and "appropriate" dress to "proper" ethics (adab) among teachers and students. At the same time, teaching methods are supposed to be "modern" (asri), while keeping certain idealized ethical features of the madrasah, such as a close relationship between teacher and student as well as a broad knowledge of foundational religious texts.

By drawing on ethnographic data collected around various educational institutions in Kabul and Eastern Afghanistan, the paper discusses local normative discourses around education. It examines the ways how teachers of Islamic subjects reflect their experience with different forms of education during their earlier careers and how this affects their own work as well as their assessment of the Afghan educational system. Secondly, it examines how education and knowledge are being evaluated through certain symbols, which surprisingly often features the emphasis on girls' education. Finally, the paper inquires the social implications of "knowledge" itself, i.e. ideas of how the imparted knowledge is supposed to affect society as such.

It is argued that "knowledge" in this context has two interrelated meanings: "religious" knowledge is complete and only open to discussion and interpretation within certain confines. Through its ethical dimension it encompasses and gives meaning to all other forms of worldly knowledge, which in itself can be studied and researched. A "knowledgeable" person gains status through his alma mater, where education features "modern" methods of instruction and where "religious knowledge" is not only taught but convincingly embodied through certain behaviour.

Panel ANT-03
Shaping Islam: Religious knowledge production and religious knowledge circulation in Central Asia and beyond