Cultural Influences on the Politics of Religious Education in Saudi Arabia from 1950-1979

  • 2017

Cultural Influences on the Politics of Religious Education in Saudi Arabia from 1950-1979

Author:
Sharon Berube
Abstract:

From 1950 to 1979, Saudi Arabian rulers expanded their state-sponsored public education system for the first time in the Kingdom’s history. The new system, funded with the revenues generated by the growing oil industry, provided greater educational opportunities for a larger percentage of the population throughout the Arabian Peninsula. At the core of this newly expanded system was a religious educational curriculum based on the tenets of Saudi Arabia’s revivalist version of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism. Why did the Saud royal family concurrently develop a Wahhabi-based religious educational system during this period of rapid modernization? To cultural historians, religious-based education offered cultural consistency that stabilized the confusion of modernization, while political historians focused their attention on the political benefits of religious education to Saud hegemony. To American political leaders of the time, religious education was viewed as effective social reform executed in a manner consistent with their understanding of Islamic history and Arab culture. This capstone study identifies the internal and external forces that influenced the Saud regime’s decision to implement religious-based education during a period of modernization. The methodology of this study establishes historical context and illuminates, both historically and contemporarily to the time of this study, the political changes and events that influenced the Saud royal family’s decision. Ultimately, this capstone argues that it is the synthesis of cultural and political influences, perceived within appropriate historical context, that illuminates the nuances of religious education in Saudi Arabia during the Cold War years of 1950-1979.