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Education: The Evolutionary Engine of Civilisation

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Ongoing, accelerating and escalating global crises may lead some to despair. From an evolutionary perspective, however, this may not be just another random resurgence of trouble and conflict in the world: we may be experiencing birth pangs of the next phase in the unfolding of civilisation.

This period of intense transformation is ripe with occasions for genuine breakthrough as well as spectres of catastrophic breakdown. Humankind is becoming painfully aware of its essential interdependence and unity – learning, in profound and tangible ways, that “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens” (Bahá’u’lláh, circa 1880).

From simple bands of hunter-gatherers, our species has emerged, through increasing complexity and deepening cooperation, into tribal societies, city-states and nation-states. Now we stand at the threshold of an emerging world society and the possibility of global civilisation.

There is a fundamentally ethical dimension to this evolution: from primordial animalistic egoism and self-love, advancing towards various degrees of limited social altruism and loyalties, and now approaching the possibility of genuine universal coherence and belonging.

Alongside this ethical dimension, workings of an educational momentum can be seen: human potential would have remained dormant, unrealised, were it not for some form of active educational influence – left to mere ‘cumulative self-learning’, neither individual humans nor our collective species could have attained to their inherent potentialities.

The effects of this educational impulse run like a story line in the annals of history. Responding, though reluctantly, to the promptings of this momentum, peoples have progressively attained to the intellectual, moral and spiritual capacities that serve to civilise human character. Today, the opportunities offered by a profoundly global perspective give this age-long process entirely new dimensions and new meaning, opening civilisational prospects undreamt of in earlier ages.

Exploring this narrative of recurring social, ethical and spiritual education can help us to understand the dynamics of constructive and destructive forces in history.

Dr Partow Izadi explores these insights in a conversational session organised by the Cambridge University Bahá’í Society. Dr Izadi is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lapland. His areas of expertise include systems theory, global education, evolution of civilisation and universal ethos.

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