Restoring ‘fullness’: Creighton president writes new book
The following is adapted from Jesuit Higher Education in a Secular Age: A Response to Charles Taylor and the Crisis of Fullness (Georgetown University Press, April 2022), a new book by the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, president of Creighton, which focuses on the loss of “fullness” in our lives and the distinction and relevance of Jesuit higher education today in educating students toward a better self-awareness, a stronger sense of global solidarity, and a greater aptitude for inspiration, awe, and gratitude.
I have long been inspired by Charles Taylor, PhD, a Canadian professor and Catholic philosopher whose renowned 2007 book, A Secular Age, challenged Western culture to rediscover the significance of genuine spiritual experience and thereby to better appreciate a sense of “fullness” in our lives, or a lack thereof. Taylor is the recipient of the Templeton Prize, the Kyoto Prize, the Kluge Prize, and the Berggruen Prize.
In this book, then, I discuss Taylor’s diagnosis of the crisis of modern Western secularism by focusing on the loss of “fullness” in our lives — essential points of contact with our interior lives; communities of family, friends, and associates; and beyond us, a greater “ontic” reality.
Defining and applying Taylor’s concept of fullness, I articulate how Jesuit higher education restores contact with ourselves, others, and an Other through three “pedagogies of fullness.” These pedagogies of study, solidarity, and grace reflect the Renaissance origins of Jesuit education as they seek to restore for us a sense of wholeness. As such, Jesuit higher education facilitates ways to enjoy and envision meaningful connections, and a richer, broader sense of relationship. This Jesuit imaginary — if you will, a way of envisioning the world around us and our role in it — educates students toward a better self-awareness, a stronger sense of global solidarity, and a greater aptitude for inspiration, awe, gratitude, and God.
I begin with Taylor’s diagnosis, expressed primarily through A Secular Age. He argues that the kind of secularism influencing our lives in North America and Western Europe is lessening, weakening, or diminishing essential “points of contact,” and that an ultimate point of contact is with God, or a higher power, or what he refers to in the book as an “ontic” reality. As such, Taylor describes us as less “porous” — less able to feel the impact of others and the world upon us. Instead, we are “buffered,” protecting ourselves from the power of our emotions, the needs of others, and even the call of God. Taylor speaks about a sense of “disenchantment,” then, and hopes that we are once again more haunted by joy, beauty, disgust, injustice, equality, the Holy Spirit, and so on. That is, Taylor wants us to be enchanted by the realities beyond us.
Jesuit higher education, I propose, can make us porous. We can be reenchanted. Our way of educating facilitates a “Jesuit imaginary” — an envisioning of all the relational possibilities around us, and a greater appreciation of all the realities of our lives that are beyond our control.
In the book, I trace the origins of the fundamental values and ideals of Jesuit education from Greek antiquity through Rome’s Cicero to Pier Paolo Vergerio, the first educational theorist of the Italian Renaissance whose De Ingenius Moribus et Liberalibus Studiis, The Character and Studies Befitting a Free-born Youth (c.1403), represents a paradigm shift in Western teaching and learning that continues to inform educational practices.
For Vergerio, as with ancient Greeks and Romans, the upright life of the individual is an individual-in-community. Unlike the Scholastic interest in esoteric truths, a return to comprehensive approaches of educating, and really, to humanism, demonstrated a practical concern about daily life of the public, which for Vergerio necessitated an active and responsible execution of one’s citizenship.
The earliest vision of Jesuit higher education augmented a humanistic movement that was in active rebirth when Ignatius of Loyola was completing his studies at the University of Paris, and becomes the heart and the soul of Jesuit education, both in its origins and in its impressive proliferation around the world. Ignatius and his companions did not invent humanism, but they deployed it in a new form through fresh tools and networks. They recognized the importance of their holistic approach as a pedagogy and carried it to a new level. That is part of why Jesuit education expanded so quickly, and so internationally.
Jesuit education facilitates a broader, deeper awareness. Its commitment to the humanities, whereby we study ourselves and others; the practice of discernment, wherein we become both more self-aware and socially conscious; the work of community engagement and global study and immersion, allowing students to encounter others who look and live quite differently; and myriad programs, such as retreats, liturgies, genuine conversation, mentoring, and so much more let awe, gratitude, and wonder fill our lives.
Although current expressions of Jesuit higher education in the United States are vulnerable to current trends of fragmentation, superficiality, and instrumentality, recent gestures through the highest superiors of the Jesuit organization suggest a steadfast relationship with the humanist origins of Jesuit education and investments in addressing specific social ills regarding the rights and dignities of the underprivileged, the forces of socioeconomic poverty, and environmental and ecological devastation.
The pedagogies of fullness help to equip students of Jesuit higher learning with a common imaginary. Deeply and personally inquisitive, easily adaptive and widely relational, and open to the inexplicable is one way to frame the Jesuit imaginary. Holistic of self, justly related, and receptive of beauty is another way to regard it. So, too, are conceptions of being at home with oneself and with others, and of being hospitable to an Other (or a transcendent power).
Forming a learned imagination for students of Jesuit education — that is, a Jesuit imaginary — is my purpose in proposing these pedagogies of study, solidarity, and grace. A Jesuit imaginary is fueled by the distinctive tradition and pedagogy of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, and regards the self, society, and our world hopefully. In how the self is studied, how solidarity with alterity is ever possible, and how the world and we are graced, hope is prevalent in the pedagogies of fullness.
In A Secular Age, the philosopher Charles Taylor challenges us to appreciate the significance of genuine spiritual experience in human life, an occurrence he refers to as “fullness.” Western societies, however, are becoming increasingly secular, and personal occasions of fullness are becoming less possible.
In Jesuit Higher Education in a Secular Age, the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, shows how Jesuit education can respond to the crisis of modernity by offering three pedagogies of fullness: study, solidarity, and grace. A pedagogy of study encourages students to explore their full range of thoughts and emotions to help amplify their self-awareness, while a pedagogy of solidarity helps them relate to the lives of others, including disparate cultural and socioeconomic realities. Together, these two pedagogies cultivate an openness in students that can help them achieve a pedagogy of grace, which validates their awareness of and receptivity to the extraordinary spiritual Other that impacts our lives.
Fr. Hendrickson demonstrates how this Jesuit imaginary — inspired by the Renaissance humanistic origins of Jesuit pedagogy — educates students toward a better self-awareness, a stronger sense of global solidarity, and a greater aptitude for inspiration, awe, and gratitude.
“In this timely book, Fr. Hendrickson provides a path to revitalize Jesuit higher education for our secular age,” writes James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin University and author of How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. “This book should catalyze a conversation across all sectors of higher education.”