A Scientific Research Failed For Religious Motives: The Church Intervenes into Science

Արմինե Դավթյանը պնդում է` իրենց աշխատանքից հեռացրել են, քանի որ կարծում են` թե աղանդավոր է: Լուսանկարը` Նազիկ Արմենակյանի:
Armine Davtyan insists she was fired because they think she is a member of a sect. Photo by Nazik Armenakyan

The former lecturer at Pedagogical University is not planning to defend her thesis once again; she is convinced that the Scientific Council is not judging by the concepts covered in the latter but by her religious belief because the authorities at Armenian Apostolic Church have interfered in the work of the Council.

“Of this I’ve been informed by from certain sources”, says the 40-year-old Armine Davtyan a year after the termination of her thesis defense entitled “The features of spiritual education of high school students”.

The majority of the Scientific Council formed at Pedagogical University, the 12 out of 7 voted against Davtyan’s dissertation rejecting to grant her a degree. Earlier on Davtyan was practically fired from her job that according to the leadership of the  university had happened because of Department reorganization, whereas the woman insists that the real reason behind her dismissal was her thesis and the educational issues raised in it.

“Although I continued to work only in the frames of a common project with Finland’s Oulu University to finish the responsible program of professorial trainings assigned to me, even that fact wasn’t considered a reason for the leadership to review their decision.”

Davtyan says that the opinion of the representative of Apostolic Church, the Director of the Center for Christian Education Vardan Rev. Abbot Navasardyan regarding her work which he considered non-scientific, had initially outlined the attitude of other people comprised in the process of defense.

“Neither from legal nor from scientific ethics’ perspective it could have had played role in the defense of a scientific research but the president of the council and the secretary had also included it into the opinions”, mentions the former lecturer who is planning to defend the research outside of Armenia.

“I have additionally presented the scientific theses of my research to several scientific institutions  at National Academy of Sciences of RF and the State Linguistic University of Novgorod; I have received offers to defend it in RF or in Ukraine and currently I’m busy with translating it.”

A year ago Freedom of Conscience was present at Davtyan’s dissertation defense when the opponents perceived propaganda in her work but didn’t ground it whereas the Vice Minister of Education and Science had assessed it as invaluable.

Արմինե Դավթյանի պաշտպանության ընթացքում նրա ելույթը ագիտացիա էր որակվում: Լուսանկարը` Արմինե Դավթյանի
During Armine Davtyan’s defense her speech was qualified as an agitation. Image courtesy of Armine Davtyan

During the defense the accents were rather on the research containing propaganda than the content and the innovation.

One of the opinions was expressed by the Theology Department of Yerevan State University that during the Soviet years operated as the Department of Atheism.

“When in the May of 2012 the research was sent to the Theology Department I insisted that my work had no connection with the Department of the History of the Church,” says Davtyan. “But nobody listened to me and nobody paid attention to that circumstance. During the first defense that opinion was canceled since it was qualified as “something popular”; there was even a suggestion to send a comment to the Theology Department regarding the expression of such an nonprofessional opinion, and during the last defense it was recited; suddenly it  became “a very good opinion”.

During the eleven years of working on her thesis dissertation she was reassured that in Armenia in general and in Pedagogical University in particular “the spiritual is identified with the religious and the religious with the Apostolic Church”.

Entering the Pedagogical University as a PhD. candidate 5 years later Davtyan had proposed her scientific research for a pre-defense and she had received a positive conclusion.

Because of improper regulations and procedures the public defense was postponed for 3 years, then again for the pre-defense and 11 years later proposed for defense.

On the dissertation defense day, the 28 February 2013, when Davtyan was presenting her formulation and the concept of spiritual education, the doctor of Pedogogical Sciences, professor Aram Abrahamyan was the first to react:

“The agitation provided by you is comprehensible for us. Could you please provide an example of a lesson, what do you concretely do, what is the education you provide to the students?” asked Abrahamyan interrupting Davtyan.

The presence of propagandist elements was also pointed out by the Department  of Pedagogy at YSU: ”there’s an impression that the researcher rather strives for a new teaching of biblical topics”, and it concluded that “the propagandist trends are written into” the work but they hadn’t underlined any particular example.

The same trend was remarkable in the opinion from the Department of Theology; “Indeed it’s inappropriate that the author’s subjective religious denominational (the individual branches of Christian denominations) preferences were displayed in an impartial research, but it must have also been expressed reluctantly”, as well as “but that doesn’t mean that a religious preaching is permissible at primary school”.

The head of Department of Pedagogic Theory and Common Pedagogy at YSPU Laura Asatryan noted during the defense that she’s wasn’t familiar with “what pretext the work beheld or people anyhow saw beneath it”.

Davtyan responds to the criticism directed towards her at Freedom of Conscience. “They were searching for a pretext. I am not a member of any religious organization; I’ve studied and dealt with numerous organizations since I’m a researcher. I’m not denying that the scientific approach that I’ve applied is perhaps close to the views of protestant theology that appear rather logical to me from the scientific perspective although I have developed my concept based on Catholic and Orthodox theologian-philosophers.”

Still she admits that the 15-year study of Armenian and world experience in spiritual education could have had an impact on her views and the development of her outlook.

However, I do not set a task of teaching faith, I behold faith as a value among such values as hope, faith, love. They behold the spiritual education as a teaching of faith, and I say the pedagog does not teach faith, faith is in the human and the one responsible for it is the family; our task as pedagogs should be orienting that faith towards the moral.”

The dissertation and the choice of the topic  had received a positive assessment from the Vice Minister of Education and Science who was also present at the defense. He noticed, “the work has an inestimable value”.

“Davtyan had dared to pick a topic that everyone was avoiding especially those expressing negative opinions. In fact it was us at the ministry or you at the university who should have had initiated that research; since Armenia is a secular state and it is us who should have studied what system of values our children are shaped through at school”, Mkrtchyan mentioned at the defense.

Another positive opinion was expressed by the Senior Researcher at Matenadaran, the Candidate of Philological Sciences and the former editor of “Ejmiatsin” magazine Vardan Devrikyan:

“According to the speaker’s definition, in the matter of “identification of factors contributing to the construction of a unified educational environment” spiritual education as a concept encompassing different components demarcates the religious or clerical upbringing from education so that the school wasn’t turned into an arena of theological disputes or disruptions.”

“It is very important that the results of the methodology are already present in the annex: the programs and games developed for the school children, the efforts of subjecting the different examples from literature and history to the needs of spiritual education”, the opinion continues.

And finally, if a person has some religious views then does it mean she shouldn’t  engage in research activities and express her subjective opinion in that research?” Davtyan wonders.

Դավթյանի ատենախոսությունը բազմաթիվ դրական արձագանքներ է ունեցել: Լուսանկարը` Արմինե Դավթյանի
Davtyan’s dissertation had numerous positive responses. Image courtesy of Armine Davtyan

Turns out no and the evidence is that my research caused my dismissal. They can tell that the contract wasn’t extended due to the lack of job positions but that’s not true. They have even accepted new and inexperienced staff after I left and people who have have lower indicators both in terms of age and scientific experience continue to work there.”

“My application to provide me with credit hours of social pedagogy was rejected due to “the lack of credit hours in Social Pedagogy”. However all the credit hours for Social pedagogy were maintained and other specialists are now reading  the course.”

The Head of Department pf Pedagogic Theory and the History of Pedagogy Laura Asatryan told Freedom of Conscience that she didn’t find anything bizarre in the failure of Davtyan’s defense and the termination of her work contract extension:

“When she was presenting I felt that the work had a particular religious orientation – it’s not about the issues of spiritual education but something else. Moral education doesn’t concern religion as she expects. I find that she’s a well-educated woman but I’m not aware of what directions and what examples she had passed to them [the opinion-writers]. She has no right to make changes (A new order in PhD thesis defense procedure). For that reason alone the defense should have had been stopped.”

Davtyan, however, is assured the accusations in making changes in the research were made in order to hide their own omissions.

“During the defense I was accused in making changes in the work, introducing some kind of propagandist pretext so they could have covered up their own omissions. I consider that a low-level defamation. I have facts that confirm that there were no conceptual or ideological changes made. They are enlisted in the conclusions of the 2 pre-defenses that were signed by the same Laura Asatryan.”

A citation from the thesis: “And the family types are nowadays numerous, including religious and various denominational affiliations. The school is faced with a difficult problem because the children and the teachers of different types, belief, social standing and from different types of families gather here. The development of a common moral-spiritual education system is needed. It would facilitate the dialog and cohabitation of people with different worldviews. It should have an ideology completing the national and universal values. Their input is invariably carried out in the process of spiritual education.”

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