By Dr. Steve Turley
There’s an interesting term that’s developed among scholars over the last several years: retraditionalization. While certainly a bit cumbersome, it is a rather simple and indeed profound concept. In the face of threats to a sense of place, identity, and security so often posed by globalization, populations tend to reassert historic identity and security markers – religion, custom, and tradition – as mechanisms of resistance against secular globalization’s anti-cultural, anti-traditional dynamics. Scholars are increasingly noting that as people feel vulnerable and experience existential anxiety, it’s not uncommon for them to assert their customs, traditions, culture, language, and ethnicity as bulwarks against threats to their sense of existential security.
And so, the anti-traditionalist dynamics inherent in globalization have elicited a renewed interest in a culture’s ancient traditions of wisdom and virtue that have proved their validity through the test of time. These of course tend to be found in the great historic religions and spiritual traditions and practices that seem to transcend history, and therefore can be valued as authentic resources for not only resisting the anti-cultural, anti-traditional processes of globalization, but also as a basis for the spiritual renewal of a nation, culture, and religion. The important thing here is that retraditionalization is not limited simply to private spiritual renewal or communal religious revival; instead, it often involves a reconfiguration of political, cultural, and social norms around pre-modern religious beliefs and practices as a response to the totalizing and secularizing processes of globalization.
As such, we’re beginning to see education going through a process of retraditionalization all over the world. The explosive growth of classical education in U.S. has certainly not gone unrecognized; indeed, classical education is taking homeschooling and the charter school movement by storm as well. But it’s not just here in the U.S.; more and more nations are turning to premodern beliefs and practices as frames of reference for the revitalization of a classical education. And this retraditionalized turn promises that classical education may in fact be the wave of the future.
Examples of retraditionalized education abound. The Republic of Georgia has been returning to an Eastern Orthodox-based curriculum for their public schools. We have to remember that the Orthodox Church has been functioning in Georgia similar to the way it’s functioned in post-Soviet Russia; it’s filled the moral and cultural vacuum left by the collapse of communism. So, the church remains extremely popular in Georgia; in fact, surveys consistently show that the church is the single most trusted social institution in Georgia. As such, the Orthodox Church has been instrumental in bringing Christianity back to their public school system.
We’re seeing something similar going on in Russia. Back in 2013, President Putin signed a new law which mandated the study of religion for all Russian students. This measure goes back to 2006, when localities throughout Russia began mandating Russian Orthodox teaching in their public schools, including its traditions, liturgy, and historic figures. The New York Times actually featured a fairly recent article documenting the new curriculum offered in many of Russia’s public schools that teaches the basics of the Orthodox faith as part of what Russians are considering to be a truly educated person in the post-Soviet era.
It’s not just Christian cultures that are going through a retraditionalized educational reform. A number of news reports are coming out describing the transformation of the school system going on in Turkey under President Erdogan and his goal of raising what he calls a ‘pious generation.’ Turkey’s government is pumping literally billions of dollars, in Islamic schools for boys and girls. Turkey has already removed evolution as a viable scientific theory from its public school science curriculum, replacing it with Intelligent Design theory. In fact, since the early 1980s, much of the national educational system in Turkey been Islamized. For example, education prior to the 1980s tended to downplay the Ottoman Empire and encultured students to think of secularism as progressive and enlightened and that globalism was the wave of the future. But since the Islamization of much of the educational system, the Ottoman Empire was taught as an ideal society filled with enriching Islamic culture that is itself the wave of the future.
And in India, under the auspices of the BJP or the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu Nationalist party that’s just sweeping the elections throughout the nation, their public-school system is more and more adopting Hindutva or a distinctively Hindu nationalist curriculum that involves prayers and hymns devoted to Hindu gods throughout the school day. So, retraditionalization is going on all over the world in transforming schools and educational curriculum into classical expressions of learning and revitalizing the traditional notions of wisdom and virtue for the educated person. Scholars note that every indicator suggests that, in many respects, we’re just beginning. Because globalist threats to cultural and national identity will remain in the foreseeable future, retraditionalizing responses to such threats will remain as well.
It does appear that classical education is nothing less than the wave of the future.
Steve Turley is an internationally recognized scholar, speaker, and blogger at TurleyTalks.com. He is the author of Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Dr. Turley is a teacher of Theology and Rhetoric at Tall Oaks Classical School in Bear, Delaware, and professor of Fine Arts at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA.