The Rise of the University: The Paris and Oxford Schools

In its earlier periods, the main educational centers of Christianity were the cathedral and monastic schools (2.1.5), supplemented by a few royal foundations – such as that of Char- lemagne – designed to encourage the emergence of an educated civil service. Although these schools encouraged the study of rhetoric, logic, and grammar, these were seen as subordinate to the study of theology and the practice of the Christian faith. The Middle Ages in western Europe witnessed the emergence of a new kind of educational institution – the university.


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It is widely agreed that the modern term “university” has its origins in the Latin term universitas, meaning “a totality” or “the whole.” This does not, however, refer to the uni- versal scope of a university education, embracing every discipline and subject. Indeed, early universities remained quite specialized, tending to focus on the disciplines of medicine, theology, and law. The term universitas is actually an abbreviated form of phrases such as universitas scholarum or universitas magistrorum, referring to a self-governing community of scholars and teachers whose corporate existence had been recognized and sanctioned by civil or ecclesiastical authority. A “university” was thus an independent community of masters and scholars, who were independent of both church and state. The university was initially an academic guild, similar to the great medieval professional guilds, such as the goldsmiths.