Study Circles: Wisdom thru Socialisation By Wahidul Islam and Ifrith Islam
From the time immemorial, a plethora of problems has been plaguing the pristine planet and the inhabitants on it. Whenever a common man or woman of the Earth faces troubles, he or she looks for a way out of the problem. In this process s/he seeks help from those who are wise or knowledgeable in the respective field. So wise men, prophets, scholarly people and public figures were held in high esteem from the day one of the history. Thus, whenever in trouble, common people gathered around well-versed people who prescribe a way out giving an advice or telling story for solution.
In this way a new idea or theory or religion makes inroads into a society through a wise man, prophet and demagogue who educates, teaches art of living and finally encourages them to be good. A study circle or halaka or tadabbur or group discussion or tadarrus thus sets out. These circles usually become educative, entertaining and refreshing. It can be called informal education or self-education. Thus a scholar or prophet or nationalist leader propounds an idea for change to the existing system. The trendsetter shares new theory with family and friends. Then neighbours throng around the theorist. However, people who find the new idea acceptable and become inspired to be an activist of the theorem. To do so they know about the idea or policy or theory or religion, start propagating the mantra. Once the theory or religion or political ideology successfully shoots the troubles of the mass, it is accepted widely and nationally. At one stage it goes global when it answers the transnational questions.
Many scientists, prophets, academicians worked in this process. Prophets like Musa, Jesus, Mohammad (Peace be upon them) got revelation and propagated using traditional ways of communication. The commandments they got were shared with near and dear ones and those who accepted follow suit of their respective prophets.
Though primarily rejected, many scientific theorists and academicians followed this or similar courses of communications. Apart from study circles seminar, symposium, journal publishing are also adopted by academicians and scientists.
Have you forgotten about the theory of renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus who formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at the center of the universe.
Many religio-nationalist theories like Zionism was propounded and propagated by Theodor Herzl and his followers. Israel is seemingly the outcome of his study circle in modern times. Theory of communism, propounded by Karl Marks and Friedrich Engels but, was popularised and propagated by Vladimir Ilich Lenin and Joseph Stalin of Russian Bolshevik Revolution or October Revolution through study circles. Left-leaning and Islamist political parties of Bangladesh extensively use study circles to recruit activists and expand their bases of supporters.
Now a question arises, what is study circle?
A study circle consists of small number of people who get together multiple times to discuss an issue on any topic, be it literary, critical text or hobbies. And also the participants can discuss a critical public issue in a democratic, collaborative way as well as their discussion on ideologies can take place among them.
Study circles are different from socialization in clubs and pubs or taverns because they mainly focus on exploring an issue or a topic rather than on activities as well as socialising.
Organising a study circle needs a lot of works as its worth of it for a number of reasons. Primarily, the discussions may begin with a theme paper presentation, a text read out and then participants are allowed to talk about the issue with own experiences.
Secondly, in a study circle a small group of people crowds hailing from different backgrounds and talk about their difficulties in an amicable environment and respectful way. In spite of an enabling and congenial atmosphere prevailing in a discussion session a mummy’s boy feels uneasy. If a study circle accommodates Enochlophobic (Fear of crowds) participants, that should be more sensible.
Thirdly, the study circle as a whole empowers communities. It also helps to solve the neighbourhoods and communities problems without much difficulty.
Study circles around the world
In early in the 20th century, the concept of study circle established in Sweden as a part of the activities in popular movement, such as the temperance and the workers’ movement. Oscar Olsson was the prominent proponent of them, even though it was commenced in the late nineteenth century as a new concept.
In 1890, Georgian Social Democrat group used the term ‘study circle’ and later Joseph Stalin used to lead some of these circles for the political reasons.
Study circle became an effective way to create an educated citizenry as is the case with Sweden today. This was a mass phenomenon and has broad national support. Around 300,000 study circles have been reported each year since 1970s. National Education Associations receive subsides annually from the national govt. and work with folk high schools, university short courses and distance learning, which helps to allow citizens to understand and participate more fully about their neighborhoods, communities and nations.
In the American culture, the Sweden Study Circle model was successfully transplanted, most notably in National Issues Forum and Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen’s Study Circle Programme which began in 1986.
There are a lot of study circles in the whole world and among them- the Great Britain Decimal Stamp Book Study circle, Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle, Young People’s Study Circle, New England Sikh Study Circle, and the Ceylon Study Circle of the Great Britain are the very renowned to the learned people even though there are not much about their detailed history of these study circles.
Let’s start with…
FLYING UNIVERSITY, Poland
The study circle resembles those of flying universities where Madam Curie and Mary Curie studied. Flying University was an underground educational enterprise that operated from 1885 to 1905 in Warsaw, the historic Polish capital, then under the control of the Russian Empire, and that was revived between 1977 and 1981 in the People’s Republic of Poland. The purpose of this and similar institutions was to provide Polish youth with an opportunity for an education within the framework of traditional Polish scholarship, when that collided with the ideology of the governing authorities. In the 19th century, such underground institutions were important in the national effort to resist Germanization under Prussian and Russificationunder Russian occupation. In the communist People’s Republic of Poland, the Flying University provided educational opportunities outside government censorship and control of education.
FAROE ISLAND STUDY CIRCLE, Denmark
The Faroe Island Study Circleswhich was formed in 1991. It was established to bring together collectors of Faroe Islands’ postage stamps, postmarks, and postal history and so on.
Kabbalah- literary reception, tradition- in Hebrew, is an esoteric method and school of thought including discipline of Judaism. The definition of kabbalah varies by depending on the tradition and aims of those following it, from its religious origin as an integral part of Judaism, to its embracement of Christian Kabbalah and Hermetic Qabalah.
Jewish kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings that details the relationship between God, the unchanging, eternal and mysterious and the mortal and infinite universe. In short, it forms the foundation of mystical interpretation within Judaism.
Kabbalah is also considered by its followers as an important part of the study of Torah, e.g. Tawrah- the third holy book among the four books that were sent from Allah to the mankind- the study of Torah being an inherent duty of an observant Jews.
MUSLIM LADIES STUDY CIRCLE, Sri Lanka
The Muslim Ladies Study Circle is a Non-Government Social Service Organisation was established in 1969, has been serving the less fortunate for the last 40 years. It visions for the women skills so that they could begin work and gain economic independence, confidence, and take their place in society as they are the ones who carried the major burden of sustaining a family, and its mission is to extend the services of Vocational training to rural areas where there is a high percentage of Muslims.
The Hong Kong Study Circle is a stamp collecting community ‘Stamp Collecting as a Discourse Community’- focuses on- Goals, communication, participation, genre, lexis, and level of expertise.
TANACH STUDY CIRCLE, Israel
Tanach Study circle is also known as Bible study circle and it was reinstated two years ago, renewing a tradition started by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in cooperation with Menachem Begin Heritage Center- and was continued by its sixth prime minister, Menachem Begin.
JII STUDY CIRCLE, Japan
Japan has a known study circle which is actually research and study group-named JII Study Circle.
GIBRALTAR STUDY CIRLCE, Gibraltar
The Gibraltar Study Circle only studies stamps and postal history of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a British oversea territory, located at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. This Study Circle was founded in 1975 Walter Jackson and is based in UK but with worldwide membership.
PACIFIC ISLAND STUDY CIRCLE, Great Britain
Pacific Islands Study Circle- founded in Great Britain in 1962 for the collectors stamps and postal history of the smaller Pacific islands and the Indian Ocean islands of Christmas and Cocos.
BRITISH WEST INDIES STUDY CIRCLE, British West Indies
The Study Circle only stamps and postal history of the islands that comprise the British West Indies and in addition Bermuda, British Guiana and British Honduras and the postal history and postal marking of British interests in the Caribbean, and Central or South America.
The Concorde Study Circle was founded by a group of enthusiastic people in 1978 and has been continuing ever since. It focuses only find things philatelic including stamps, flown covers and postmarks.
CYPRUS STUDY CIRCLE, Cyprus
The Cyprus Study Circle formed- in 1974, is leading Philatelic Society- by the people interested in the Stamps, Postal History and Postal Markings of the Local and International Postal Services of the Island of Cyprus throughout the ages.
The East Africa Study Circle was founded in1978 to study, record and publish information relating to the philately and postal history of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika including all the forerunners, British East Africa to this present day.
YUUJIN STUDY CIRCLE, Japan
Yuujin Study Circle was started in 2005 with a desire to spread awareness of Japanese language. Probably the most polite language in the world, and help those people who are willing to learn this language.
BELGIUM STUDY CIRCLE, Belgium
The Belgium Study Circle exists to promote the study and collection of the philately, postal history, postcards and ephemera of Belgium.
The Rhodesian Study circle was established in 1948, brings together nearly 400 philatelists from around the world interested in the areas of Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, British Central Africa and Nyasaland, and the present day republics of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Spanish Study Circle was founded in1956 in London to the study of the stamps, postal history of Spain and its former colonies. This Circle was elected to membership of the Spanish Academy of Philately in 2003.
IRANIAN PHILATELIC STUDY CIRCLE, Iran
The purpose of the Iranian Philatelic Study Circle is to promote study and collecting Iranian philatelic material through the dissemination of information, suppression of fraud and philatelic collegiality.
The Italy and Colonies Study Circle is a society dedicated to the stamps and the postal history of the Italian area.
The society publishes acclaimed quarterly journal called Fil-Italia. It is the only significant source of information on Italian philately in the English language.
Netherlands Philatelic Study Circle brings together a wide range of people interested in the fascinating world of Dutch philately, living mostly in the UK, also in the Netherlands and wider afield. As well as the Netherlands, the Circle covers its former colonies- Netherlands East Indies, Netherlands New Guinea, Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, and Indonesia.
The Orange Free Study Circle from South Africa is philatelic.
TRANSVAAL STUDY CIRCLE, Transylvania
The Transvaal Study Circle founded on 13th November 1965. This Circle studies and promotes the stamps, postal history, postcard, revenue documents and post office practices of the Transvaal or South African Republic which includes New Republic, Goshen, Pietersburg and early Swaziland.
Now that we have gotten to know about the study circles around the world but do we know any study circles in our homeland, Bangladesh? Somewhere in the world when someone writes about Bangladeshi study circles, then, does he know that we got some the circles of our own?
Well, the main question is, do we know anything about the up and running study circles in our country? How many are there really? If there is any, do they have any website so that people can browse through from anywhere in the world?
As to answering those aroused questions…
First of all, there are some little known study circles which are only known to the nearest people. As for the second answer, the actual number of study circles is unknown, it could be around above 100 or below 100 and for third and last answer, No, and there are no known websites for people to browse through.
When capitalists like Bangladesh Awami League and BNP men socialise in clubs and party offices, leftists and Islamists in Bangladesh resort to study circles. Apart from Leftist and Rightist study circles there are some other groups run such discussion and study circles.
Uttarparba, Bodhichitta, Banglar Pathshala Dhaboman Chotokagoj o Sahittoshova Lekhok Pathok Shorashori Amar Chelebela, Kalam Shahitya Sava, moderated by Poet Mosharraf Hossain Khan, was based on the monthly magazine Kalam’s office in Katabon. A good number of literary magazines editors also run literary gatherings. Protiti is based in Chittagong University, Dhaka University-based study circles include Bangladesh Studies Forum, Dhaka Varsity Reading Club. Columnist and activist Farhad Mazhar runs a study circle ‘Chinta’.
Uttarparba is a platform to connect young intellectual minds through close and collective reading. It has no organisational agenda other than interactive discussion and sharing ideas with open minds. Several sessions are organised on same topic, initiated with a lecture from key resource person. The discussion may cover any specific text or relevant issues.
Bodhichitta, a Jahangirnagar University based study circle is a non-hierarchically operated platform for serious intellectual engagement. The platform aims to understand the present in the light of the philosophical and sociological thoughts that have been shaping how people perceive or interpret present time. The crises and struggles people face today have their own genealogy and this platform intends to unveil and discuss the genealogy of these crises. While doing so, Bodhichitta has adapted a de-colonial outlook, intentionally. In most of the cases, academic endeavors are highly founded upon western canon. Bodhichitta looked for the foundational thoughts and the critiques regarding state, law and justice. Bodhichitta has been arranging talks on Carl Schmitt’s idea of sovereignty, Agamben’s state of exception, Benjamin’s state of emergency, Hannah Arendt’s critique of violence, Jacques Derrida’s possibility of law and justice and so on.
Dhaboman Sahitya Andolon has been organising self-written literary circle since 1993, on every Friday of the week. They have arranged over 900 sessions. In this study circles, self-written poems, stories, dramas and other pieces get importance. Besides, they routinely arrange discussion sessions on prominent literary works. Moreover, Dhaboman organises, regularly, different cultural programmes, seminars and discussions. Apart from operating as a study circle, Dhaboman is a politically aware and active entity. This study circle is run as part of Narayanganj Sangskritik Jote. Throughout this long path, Dhaboman has managed to accumulate a huge activist and fan base because this is a place for aspiring writers to be nurtured and cared for. As a result, besides a huge support, a number of quality writers have emerged from this platform. Dhaboman is always focused on publication. The regular publication title is ‘Dhaboman’, published yearly. Besides this major publication, to encourage young writers, there are Akashpar, Gaowal, Batighar and other small papers.
Banglar Pathshala Foundation— a social organisation based in Dhaka, Bangladesh — was established in 2009, aiming at pushing forward a movement for a just and classless society. Its objective is to advocate for a classless society where existing discriminations (gender, class, age, religious, ethnic et cetera) are rigorously questioned and denounced. With that objective in mind, Banglar Pathshala wishes to work with the oppressed and marginalised peoples of Bangladesh. It is aiming to develop an intellectually conscientised youth to educate themselves as to their social responsibilities, democratic rights and civic consciousness. Its prime objective is to produce pro-people knowledge — knowledge that would serve the interest of the poor and marginalised people. It initiates a process of creating citizens who are socially and politically conscious and can take part actively in the development of the country.
To critically engage youths as well as people in reading philosophical, literary, and economic texts to create a knowledge-based-equal society, Banglar Pathshala started its journey with the first study circle titled Marx-er Pujir Pathchokro (Reading Marx’s Capital).
In its long journey it also organised several other important study circles — Shamrajjobad Pathchokro (Reading Imperialism), Shahitto O Shomaj Pathchokro (Society and Literature), Bangladesher Shongbidhan Pathchokro (Reading The Constitution of Bangladesh), Shomajtontro O Shammobad: Agamir Rupokolpo (Socialism and Communism: Structure of the Future), Bangladesher Rajnoitik Arthoniti: Adhhayapak Rehman Sobhan Path (Political Economy of Bangladesh: Thoughts of Prof Rehman Sobhan) and many more.
Today the modern applications (the apps) such as game apps, social media apps, the video games are imprinting the youngsters’ hearts very rapidly. Nowadays, Study Circles are one of the most powerful weapon to spread the goodness, attracting people in reading and writing again, and revive the morality that had been forgotten. In the communities and neighbourhoods, study circles can help to solve the aroused little to bigger problems as it is a great public decision making process. Study circles are a better reflection of the neighbourhood, community and nation. Therefore, it is my earnest request for the people of all age to initiate and help with patience to form Study Circles.
Last but not the least, screen mania of the present generation can be cured if community-based libraries and study circles are introduced across Bangladesh. A worldwide study circle project can under the auspices of United Nations.