The University as Proyecto Social

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Jesuit education is as old as the Jesuits. Shortly after its foundation in 1540, education emerged as one of the primary ministries of the Jesuits. John O’Malley notes how education shaped the distinctiveness of the Society of Jesus not only with regard to its religious mission, but moreover its cultural and civic mission.1 The Society itself was founded within university spaces: Ignatius and the first Jesuits met at the University of Paris where they were all pursuing university degrees. This would have deep implications on how the founders conceived their mission being expedient “for the glory of God and the common good”.  Jesuit education was thus seen to be instituted for the good of the city — ad civitatis utilitatem. Sixteenth-century contexts contributed much to the studia humanitatis of the Jesuit curriculum in its pre-suppression period (1540-1773). However a changing world order in the post-restoration period (1814 onwards) of its history called for a diversified engagement with its educational ministry. Jesuit educational practices across the globe today remain a far cry from the sixteenth-century Ratio Studiorum that sought to standardize its curriculum. Consider the fact that when the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773, they administered around 800 schools and colleges that were mostly centred in Europe. Today the Jesuits operate the largest global university network with 210 universities and colleges in 54 countries with 800,000 students, 450,000 lecturers, researchers and staff and 5,000,000 alumni.2 (Apart from this they run 844 schools in 72 countries and 1,363 educational projects in 45 countries.)3 The Interactive Map of Jesuit and Ignatian schools as well as Jesuit Universities and Higher Education Institutions created by Educate Magis, a global community of Jesuit educators around the world, is illustrative of the Jesuit educational network.4
Father Arturo Sosa SJ addresses the IAJU delegates at Loyola, Spain on 11 July 2018.
Father Arturo Sosa SJ addresses the IAJU delegates at Loyola, Spain on 11 July 2018.
While the contemporary geographical and cultural contexts of Jesuit ministries remain increasingly diverse, what is it then that characterises Jesuit education today? The Deusto Assembly 2018 of the International Association of Jesuit Universities (IAJU) that gathered in Bilbao, Spain from 8-12 July 2018 reflected on the distinctiveness of Jesuit education within these diverse contexts. The theme was: Transforming Our World Together. But the fulcrum of this reflection was provided by the Jesuit Superior General, Father Arturo Sosa SJ in his address to the IAJU delegates at Loyola on 11 July 2018. He spoke of “the university as a source of a reconciled life.”5 What is striking in Father Sosa’s address is the manner in which he borrows from his university experience as a social scientist as well as his experience of Jesuit leadership both in Latin America and Rome. His first interview after being elected the Jesuit Superior General provides an illustrative background to this address.6 He easily borrows from concepts like “citizenship” and “history” as he works toward the crux of his address: university education aimed at universal citizenship.

Sosa espouses a Jesuit idea of citizenship that does not merely refer to the rights and duties of a citizen or the manner in which one is a political agent by virtue of one’s own participation in the polis. Rather, citizenship ought to move beyond one’s own self. It involves “identifying with something that is greater than the self, that is more encompassing than the individual’s own interests.” It enables an individual to become a person. One thus does not only recognise one’s own rights and duties but moreover works towards the collective rights of others, especially those who live at the margins. Citizenship works for the common good of humanity, as human persons. This idea of citizenship is evocative of the Jesuit expression of being “men and women for others” — that is founded on the principle of social justice. The Jesuit idea of citizenship is further expressed in its universalisation by which citizens from diverse human cultures interact and share a common vision for humanity while retaining diversity as its constitutive dimension. Sosa outlines this universalisation as a movement within humanity as human beings
“become critically aware of their own culture (inculturation); who are capable of joyfully recognising the culture of other human beings (multiculturalism) and relating to others, becoming enhanced by the variety of which their own culture is a part (interculturality).”
As Jesuit education strives to mould its students into becoming world citizens that recognise and respect the diversity of cultures and contexts, Sosa highlights two challenges our universities encounter today — geographic and social boundaries of our institutions, and the need to promote a culture of safeguarding vulnerable people. Jesuit creativity is then lived in this tension of being world citizens while also privileging the lives of those at the margins of society. An insightful reading in understanding this creative tension is Thomas Banchoff and José Casanova’s edited volume on The Jesuits and Globalization (2016)7, which testifies to the Jesuit engagement with globalisation that today more than ever threatens to reduce societies to monocultures and divest them of their diversity. The volume’s ‘Historical Perspectives’ reveal Jesuits’ ability to take root in diverse cultures; dialogue, adapt and accommodate with them; while also being agents of cultural exchange. The next section on ‘Contemporary Challenges’ highlight the Jesuit resilience in their post-restoration history to be able to adapt to a changing world order and reinvent themselves from the peripheries through their service of faith and promotion of justice. The Jesuits not only used globalisation to reimagine a global Jesuit network but humanise globalisation itself. The collaboration between the Jesuit Refugee Service and Jesuit universities through the Jesuit Worldwide Learning is a remarkable example of how Jesuits move beyond globalisation to live their call to be world citizens — men and women for others. The six taskforce papers — Civic and Political Leadership Formation; Education of the Marginalized; Environmental & Economic Justice; Inter-religious Dialogue and Understanding; Leadership in an Ignatian Way of Proceeding; Peace and Reconciliation — that were discussed during the Deusto Assembly are indicative of Jesuit practices and priorities that guide their apostolic planning within universities. A recurring theme within Sosa’s address and the Deusto Assembly has been to ask: how does the university becomes a project of social transformation to generate a full life? Could we imagine the university as a proyecto social? In his introduction itself, Sosa asserts that living one’s life fully — inspired by Christ’s selfless generosity — involves “delving into the complexity of the historical and social processes currently underway”. Reconciliation is the manner in which we shape our histories by engaging with our contemporary challenges in order to bring a dignified life to human beings, especially those at the margins. Living a fully reconciled life is a way of understanding the Jesuit magis that impels one to go beyond oneself… to give more of one’s self. Jesuits draw their inspiration from Christ and see their mission of reconciliation as a collaborative human effort that seeks the common good of all. Jesuit universities then are a manifestation of this collaboration. The formal launch of the IAJU that seeks to network Jesuit universities globally is an expression of Jesuit commitment to this collaborative mission of a reconciled life as much as a reconciled humanity.
The IAJU delegates at the Sanctuary of Loyola, Spain
The IAJU delegates at the Sanctuary of Loyola, Spain

  1. John W. O’Malley, “The Distinctiveness of the Society of Jesus,” Journal of Jesuit Studies 3, no. 1 (2016): 1–16. 
  2. IAJU, Deusto Assembly 2018, Press Kit, 8-12 July 2018, University of Deusto, Bilbao. 
  3. Secretariat for Secondary and Pre-Secondary Education, Society of Jesus, Summary of Statistics 2018 (accessed 31 July 2018). 
  4. Educate Magis, (accessed 31 July 2018). 
  5. Arturo Sosa, “The university as a source of a reconciled life”, 11 July 2018, Loyola, Spain, (accessed on 31 July 2018). 
  6. Arturo Sosa, “First interview: Superior General Arturo Sosa, S.J. on his life in the Jesuits”, America: The Jesuit Review,, (accessed 31 July 2018) 
  7. Thomas Banchoff, José Casanova, The Jesuits and Globalization: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Challenges, Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2016. 

Rinald D'Souza

Rinald D'Souza is a historian of religion and society in modern South Asia. He specialises on twentieth-century Christianity and the history of the Jesuits in India. He is presently pursuing a PhD in history at the Department of History at KU Leuven, Belgium. His current research explores the self-fashioning of Adivasi Jesuits through the missionary periodical press. Read more.

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