This is a follow up on my previous post about the role of Christianity in the promotion of individualism. I was thinking that if Christianity really is a vehicle for individualism, then this would be manifest in the value that Christians everywhere put on the development of the individual, which would then be expressed in terms of investment in education. I also thought that such an effect would be seen most clearly among Christians living in collective societies, in other words among those people who straddle both cultures. In this post I'll examine two such cases of Christians living in or adjacent to Muslim collective societies: Israel and Egypt.
My thoughts on this subject started years ago, when I used to live in the Galilee, next to a large Arab village populated by Christian Arabs, Druze, and Muslims. All three groups lived, of course, in the exact same material conditions, yet the differences between them were, to me, quite striking. The Arab-Christians that I encountered always seemed more light-hearted, more themselves, and less pre-occupied with the surrounding society. The uniqueness of Christian-Arab society is evident throughout the entire country as well.
In a recent article, Hanna David reports that Arab-Christians in Israel have better and higher levels of education than any other group in the country, including Jews. For instance, in the year 2011, 56% of Arab-Christians that graduated from high school met higher education entrance requirements, compared to 50% among Jews, and only 34% of Muslims. Arab-Christians schools are considered the best Arab schools in the country, and actually set nation-wide records for highest percentage of students matriculating successfully, with the highest grades in the country. Christian schools also have an inordinate number of students that are considered excellent. These achievements are shared equally by Christian women. The Arab-Christian educational advantage also manifests itself in the workplace where Arab-Christians are disproportionately represented in science and white-collar professions. Clearly, Christian-Arabs in Israel are over-achievers, but are they unique in this respect? Do other Christian populations invest more than their Muslim counterparts in the development of an autonomous individual - as measured by education?
An examination of the Copts in Egypt, shows mixed results. According to Saleh, non-Muslims in Egypt had better educational systems and better educational outcomes as well as disproportionate representation in white collar occupations throughout the medieval ages and the 19th century. For instance, in 1848, school enrollment among male children 5-14 years of age in Cairo was 34% for Muslims, 51% for Christians, and 80% for Jews. He also notes that Muslims schools did not teach practical subjects, only religious matters. Saleh attributes these differences to the Muslim conquest and the subsequent levying of the jizya tax on non-Muslims, which caused the poorer Copts to convert, creating a small but well-educated minority, whose advantage was preserved due to traditional occupational structure and policies. It is unclear, though, by what power the dhimmi population forced Muslims to teach only religious subjects in their schools.
Pennington marks the rise of modernity in Egypt in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a period of prosperity and progress for the Copt community in Egypt. At this time many barriers were removed from their participation in public life and liberal ideas took hold, for a short while, in Egyptian society. According to Pennington, by the end of the 19th century Copts made up 45% of the civil service, mostly due to their attention to quality education. In fact, the decline in the civil and economic fortunes of Egypt can be traced, among other factors, to the dispossession and exclusion of the Copts through Nasser's socialist-economic and political reforms, which began a wave of Copt immigration that continues to this day.,