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Medieval Sickness and Modern Education

During a recent visit to the AGORA research centre at the University of Helsinki, Ansgar Allen explored contrasts between medieval Christian conceptions of sickness as education and modern conceptions of education and health.

Ansgar argued that education, in modernity, functions as a synonym for health. In the modern period, our period, sickness has no positive, productive role in education. It is assumed that education is allied with health to such an extent that good education is what combats ill-health in all its forms; individual, social, political and economic.

In the medieval context, by contrast, sickness had an explicit educational function. Sickness provided opportunities to learn about the fallen condition of humanity. It performed a positive role in the education of the individual as a form of divine intervention and tutelage.

From the perspective of our present, this could not be more alien. Sickness has lost its educative function. It has become something education must inevitably oppose.

Ansgar argued that this assumption conditions educational critique. It operates as a fundamental constraint, making it difficult for us to place education in question. Moving beyond conventional modes of analysis, he argued that other approaches will be necessary, drawing from genealogy, literary theory and experiments in post-critical analysis.

Dr Ansgar Allen is a lecturer and PhD Programme Director at the School of Education.




Research at the School of Education, University of Sheffield. For more information about us, visit

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Research at the School of Education, University of Sheffield. For more information about us, visit

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