Intellectual Conversion as Liberation

Martin Madar, PhD
Mentor: Thomas E. Strunk, PhD (Classics)

Project Description
The Ignatian Mentoring Program provided me with an opportunity to approach my Theological Foundations course (TF) in a broader way than I had before. Guided by Tom Strunk, a colleague the Department of Classics and Modern Languages, I read widely from A Jesuit Education Reader.  From the readings and from my conversations with Tom I deepened my understanding of the principles of Ignatian pedagogy and found the inspiration for what I wanted to do for the program.

As a key building block of Xavier Core Curriculum, the goal of TF is to introduce students to theology as a mutually critical correlation of religious tradition and culture, and assist them in negotiating their world.  During the Spring 2015 semester, I conducted my TF course with an enlarged perspective on one component of Ignatian pedagogy, namely, on reflection. Reflection is already a significant element of TF, since teaching students theological reflection is one goal of the course. I broadened the role of reflection in the course by focusing on learning as such, not only on learning theology.  Concentrating on learning and its transformative function, and inspired by Pedro Arrupe, S.J. and Ken Bain, I introduced the students to and we explored the topic of “Intellectual Conversion as Liberation.”   I invited them to pursue intellectual conversion (IC) and to make a commitment to deep learning. 

During the course of the semester, I designated five class meetings to specifically address the topic of IC.  At the first meeting, I presented the concept to the students and invited them to reflect on it and apply it to their entire academic and non-academic life during the semester.  For the subsequent meetings, I invited guest speakers who shared their stories about journeying with intellectual conversion and engaged the students in a conversation.  For each of these class meetings the students read a chapter from What the Best College Students Do,  and after class they reflected on their experiences with IC by submitting a short journal entry.

IC and genuine learning transform one’s conception of reality, which may be experienced as liberation from what was in some way inadequate, naïve, or even false, to what is more real.

Intellectual Conversion: What Is It?
• IC is the effort to reach cognitive integrity in one’s intellectual positions.
• IC starts with a realization that we cannot run away from asking questions, because it is only by raising and answering questions that we arrive at truth.
• IC transforms one’s cognitional life so that questions regarding meaning and truth are pursued for their own sake, and not for utilitarian and narrowly pragmatic purposes.
• Conversion entails a movement from something to something. IC effects a shift in the criterion of truth . . .  from regarding knowledge along the analogy of taking a really good look at what is already out there now to regarding knowledge as a matter of raising and answering questions.
• “IC involves taking responsibility for the truth or falsity of one’s beliefs by examining and testing them in the light of perspectives and frames of reference differing from one’s own.  In so doing, a person opens to ongoing clarification, revision, and transformation.”
• An initial IC often simply involves the realization that other frames of reference exist, have validity, and make necessary claims on one’s attention.  Ongoing intellectual conversion delivers individuals into a world of genuine systematic inquiry.
• “People who are actively engaged in an ongoing process of intellectual conversion exhibit a love of truth that transcends any particular belief they might hold.  The love of truth inspires curiosity, nurtures intellectual flexibility, and encourages people to explore unfamiliar ideas or areas of knowledge outside their normal fields of expertise, opening them to unexpected surprises.  In response, people become willing to change not only their thinking but also their actions.  Truth itself becomes the ultimate goal.”

How Can IC Be Identified?
By asking questions like these:

• Have I taken responsibility for my own rational judgments?  Have I moved beyond conventional wisdom, or do I take most things for granted?
• Do I tend to or want to see things in “black and white”?  How am I at dealing with the “gray”?
• Do I deal well with diversity of opinion, even when it is in an area of great concern for me?
• Do I consider other points of view before making a judgment?  Do I generally know what the other points of view are?  Do I want to know what they are?

Excerpts from Students’ Journal Entries
While watching the documentary I Am in class, I came across my own intellectual conversion, and I hope that it is more than just a phase. It certainly feels more than a phase, it feels like an awakening in my life, like someone stood in the path I was walking in, and pointed in another direction for me to follow. My entire life and goals for college were based on one priority, making money, and then secondarily I would pursue my hobbies and interests. While watching the documentary, I really began to think to myself if that is all worth it and really the right path for me, and I have come to the conclusion that it is not.
I am currently a business student, specifically finance and entrepreneurship. I chose these because, while in high school, I started my own business making websites and made a decent amount of money. Everyone around me thought that I was a prodigy, likely to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. I was praised by my family, girlfriend, friends, and school administrators. I won “Most Likely to be a Billionaire” and “Best Dressed” out of a class of 650 due to this simple thing. But I realized that it truly wasn’t fulfilling to me. Maybe I was good at it, but it seemed too simple to me, regardless of how much people paid me or told me I was a prodigy.
I fell in love with literature, it seems like it was a random day, but I just started to fall in love with literature. I read every book I could get my hands on (still do) and I wrote as often as I could. I studied movies and acquired a taste for intelligence and depth. I accepted that I was not as smart as people thought that I was, and I was not as smart as I would like to think that I am. I am just another human being trying to figure out the meaning to life. I was content with this.
This year, I have battled my parents and tried as hard as I can to convince them I want to be an English Professor, and nothing else. I want to be an author on the side, but that’s in my free time. Professors make good money (which helps my parents’ side a bit) and the job would be extremely fulfilling to me. They still want me to get a business degree, but I want to get my PhD in English, so I am looking to double major. I don’t care how hard it’s going to be to double major, I don’t care if I have to take out loans for graduate school, because it all seems worth it to me. I don’t care if people think I’m a “bum” or am making a wrong decision with getting an English degree, because it makes me happy. It makes me fulfilled. It makes me happier than any sum of money I could work behind a cubicle for. I find that this is the strongest intellectual conversation I have ever had, and most likely ever will. I feel as if I’m in The Matrix and just took the red pill.
I think the most memorable intellectual conversion I’ve had occurred in my English class. It
wasn’t a one-time conversion, though. It was a process that started at the beginning of the semester, and now, I’ve realized that I’ve changed a lot. I can sometimes be stubborn in my beliefs about certain things. In my English class, every student had to give a presentation on a controversial issue. The topic that intrigued me the most was that of women in the military. I had always thought that it was more of a man’s position, but the presenter brought up points that I had never thought about that made me realize that the military does need women. It was a humbling experience to accept the fact that I had had a narrow view. I was more willing to accept what I had not acknowledged before. After that presentation, I was more open to hearing opinions contradictory to my own and seeing where I could grow intellectually and spiritually.
In recent weeks, I have decided that I wanted to grow in a particular area of my interest because of my commitment to truth. I am very interested in current events, and feel that global news is important because it affects everyone. Due to my busy schedule, I am unable to watch the news in the morning like I used to, and don’t often have time to read newspapers. In recent weeks, I decided to make a more dedicated effort to allow time to educate myself on what is happening in my country and the world. I experienced intellectual conversion as liberation through this example by wanting to change how I spend my time. I have made a conscious decision to take part in intellectual conversion as liberation by addressing something I viewed as an issue, changing my behavior and the way in which I think, and allowing myself to be liberated by the new knowledge I am experiencing.
My experience with intellectual conversion has been quite significant this past month. Culminating in the class on truth during the discussion on truth, I came to the eye-opening conclusion of how choosing to go forward with my search for truth in life doesn’t jive with others’ ideas of what a truth search should be. I understand the conflict between acceptance and approval and truth. This past week I had my advising appointment in which I had to unofficially declare my minor. I chose biology, which I one of the hardest minors to pair with my Occupational Therapy major. My advisor, parents, and others in my major showed extreme skepticism, when I revealed my choice. However, I chose my minor because I wanted to learn more about the human body and take more dissection classes because it really interests me. Gaining more knowledge on the subject opens my eyes to why humans do things certain ways and why life around us is the way it is. It is my search for understanding in life. Reflecting on this experience showed me that it is hard to go against the societal want to be accepted and approved of, but if you want truth badly enough you will try.
Through the speaker in class on March 23rd, I have found myself questioning and reflecting on the lifestyle of integrating two faiths.  I had recently began reflecting on different religions during the chapter from Faith, Religion, and Theology, regarding how multiple different religions can exist as well as the conversation between Jesus and Buda.  The two chapters sparked my curiosity but ultimately made different religions and cultures clear to me.  Specifically, the concept stressing that dialogues between religions is key to understanding ones faith and truth.  Affirming my thoughts and reigniting my curiosity, the professor during class chronologically went through her life and explained how she got to her position with her faith.  Her life events were interesting but ultimately the union of Buddhism and Catholicism generated my interest.
The standpoint from the professor as well as the position the book Faith, Religion, and Theology hold brought a new topic to my religious life and has ultimately inspired me to seek other reference points.  These reference points have opened my mind to uniting different religion practices.  Because of these two perspectives, I want to know the standpoints of other people who have tried to accommodate different religion practices.  So far, in my life, I have practiced simple mediation; however, not to the extent of Buddhism thus inspiring me to learn more about the religion.
My biggest intellectual conversion has occurred in my philosophy class in the last couple weeks, which would make sense because one of the points of studying philosophy is to get to the truth of matters pertaining to reality and existence. One of the core concepts we focus on is what justice is and what is the best way for one to live life. We started out in the course reading Plato's Republic. Even though I never thought about what I held to be "true justice," and though we didn't read the whole book, it was hard to argue with the points that Socrates made. I still don't know what justice is, and I don't know if anyone will ever know for sure, but when in conversation with others, Socrates refutes their definitions of justice making me see how little I know about justice and how much I actually want to know about what it is.
I just finished reading part of Hobbes' Leviathan in my philosophy class. I believe that in order to find what I think is the truth of justice, it is important to look at multiple philosophers’ beliefs of justice and how they compare to each other and what I hold to be true. I want to grow in this area of defining justice because I want to know the truth. It is a liberating feeling knowing that I am reading books hundreds, and in Plato’s case, thousands of years old in pursuit of that which those philosopher were also trying to find the truth.

[1] George W. Traub, ed., A Jesuit Education Reader (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008).

[2] I am referring to Arrupe’s 1973 address “Men and Women for Others” given to the Tenth International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe held in Valencia (Spain), in which he said that a call to conversion is the most specific mark in Christian education. See

[3] Dr. Thomas Strunk (Classics), Dr. Carol Winkelmann (English), Dr. Jamie Leslie (Nursing, College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati), and Charlie Rosebrough (Xavier HAB student).

[4] Ken Bain, What the Best College Students Do (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012).

[5] Robert Doran, “What does Bernard Lonergan Mean by ‘Conversion,’?” in Essays in Systematic Theology: An E-book, no. 40, p. 5, accessed January 13, 2015,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 8

[8] Ibid., 8, 19.

[9] John J. Markey, Moses in Pharaoh’s House: A Liberation Spirituality for North America (Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2014), 88.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 89.

[12] Ibid.

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Theological Foundations (THEO 111)
Jesuit Theology and Spirituality (THEO 236)

Chris Pramuk, Ph.D.
Mentor: Ginger McKenzie, Ph.D.

I. Using Music and Poetry to Teach the Whole Person
Theological Foundations (THEO 111)
Course Description (Fall 2008/Spring 2009)

This course introduces students to the academic study of theology by reflecting on the mysteries of human life and the divine dimension of reality. We approach the subject through many lenses: historical and critical analyses, sacred scripture, literature, and science; through art, poetry, film, and music; and inevitably, through the lens of our own experiences, questions, and personal histories as human beings. By exploring religious faith and theological questioning as a universal dimension of human life on the planet, this class provides a foundation for a deeper personal engagement with Catholicism and global religious traditions in general.

Mission-Driven Components

The Ignatian Mentoring Program has reinforced my desire as a teacher to engage the whole person of students through the use of poetry and music. As St. Ignatius wrote in the Spiritual Exercises: "It is profitable to use the imagination and to apply the five senses to [these contemplations], just as if I were there. Then, reflecting upon myself, I will draw some profit from this." Through frequent exploration of music and poetry in the classroom, I aim to help students "get inside" the experiences of others in a holistic way, "just as if [they] were there." That is, to get beyond the "literal" surface of things and immerse oneself in the depth (or mystical) dimension of reality, history, sacred texts, etc., thus giving them tools for exploring the transcendent dimension (and questions) of their own lives.

Bill Huebsch expresses a very "catholic" (universal) truth when he writes: "Human beings stand constantly at the very edge of mystery. . . . The language of the poet is not ordinary, common language to us. It is a language that seems to come from the other side." By exploring the life and poetry of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Thich Nhat Hanh, and many others, as well as the poetic landscape of the Bible, students are invited to place themselves "at the edge of mystery," and to dwell there a while, even (or especially) when doing so opens up the most difficult and elusive questions: Is God real? Where is God when people are suffering? For what can I hope for in this life and the next? Where are my desires leading me? Does God (or Jesus) have anything to do with my sexuality? And so on. By opening up hidden realms of experience and imagination, music and poetry are uniquely positioned to help young adults get inside and wrestle with such questions.

II. Protest Music in an Ignatian Context
Jesuit Theology and Spirituality (THEO 236)
Course description (Fall 2008/Spring 2009)

The seminar seeks to understand the historical, theological, and imaginative roots of Jesuit (or Ignatian) spirituality as expressed in the Autobiography and Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Building on this foundation, students explore how aspects of this spirituality come to fruition in the lives and thought of four influential Jesuits of the 20th century: Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, Pedro Arrupe, and Anthony De Mello, as well as in a range of related Jesuit and non-Jesuit thinkers.

The seminar prepares students to articulate their own vision of a "spirituality for the 21st century," and to consider how Jesuit theology and spirituality might contribute essentially to that vision.

Mission-Driven Component & Research Fruits

Beyond the clear connections between this course and the Jesuit mission and identity of Xavier University, teaching this seminar has opened my eyes to the theological underpinnings of Ignatian spirituality. In particular, studying the Spiritual Exercises in great depth has helped me understand the intrinsically theological link between the "service of faith" and the "promotion of justice," as articulated by GC 32 and carried forward by Pedro Arrupe. Ignatian spirituality trains us to "see" the world "from below," as it were, as Jesus saw the world, with particular attention to the poor and suffering. As Johann Metz puts it, Ignatian spirituality cultivates a "mysticism of open eyes," a spirituality that "sees more and not less. It is a mysticism that especially makes visible all invisible and inconvenient suffering, and--convenient or not--pays attention to it and takes responsibility for it, for the sake of a God who is a friend to human beings."

Again, one way I have sought to cultivate this kind of "seeing" in the classroom is through music, and in particular, through the venerable tradition of "protest music." With much encouragement from my IMP mentor, Dr. Ginger Mckenzie, I shared examples of protest music with students in the seminar, and together we explored certain "resonances" with Ignatian spirituality, not least the impulse to firmly resist injustice and dehumanization in all its forms. One of the theological or mystical keys to this particularly Christian "way of seeing," we discerned, is a living grasp of the "incarnation" of God in all things, and consummately, in the drama of human life. Another is the willingness to enter into communion with Jesus not only in the drama of his life, but also in his death on the cross, as Ignatius invites us to do in the First Week of the Exercises. In an analogous way, protest music draws us into the experience of "the crucified peoples" of history, and confronts us with the question of complicity and responsibility: "What are you going to do about it?"


This "experimenting" with protest music in an Ignatian context has been tremendously thought-provoking, both for myself and, I believe, my students. It culminated in the writing of a full-length essay on the subject (attached here), which I have submitted for consideration to a volume on Justice in Jesuit Education being published by Fordham University Press

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Christian Sexual Ethics (THEO 313)

Jennifer Beste, Ph.D.
Mentor: Lisa Close-Jacob, Ph.D. (Biology)

Course Description

This course introduces students to the method and fundamentals of Christian ethics and explores the moral visions, principles and teachings of the Christian tradition as they relate to sexuality. By the end of the course, students are expected to discern and articulate their own Christian sexual ethic.

Mission-Driven Component:

Since I teach theological ethics courses, my objective is to incorporate Jesuit values into my teaching. I seek to develop further their abilities to:

1. reason critically and think creatively
2. communicate effectively
3. integrate knowledge with experience toward wisdom, insight, and understanding
4. promote justice and be morally sensitive to the needs of the most marginalized and poor in society
5. appreciate human diversity and inclusiveness
6. seek to find the presence of God in all things.

After reading and reflection about the Ignatian vision and values, I integrated two new components to my sexual ethics course this spring.

First, I emphasized the relationship between the Jesuit value of social justice and specific sexual ethics issues. We began the course by analyzing the concept of justice and how it relates to sexual ethics. Students read about Foucault and how his insights help us analyze issues of justice involved in sexual ethics, such as the historical construction of black sexuality by dominant whites from slavery to the present, the portrayal and treatment of women and children in society, and Christian church's stance towards gay and lesbian persons.

Second, I am challenging students to reflect more explicitly and deeply on their moral character and become more critical of their individual gendered and sexual identity. A new assignment I have designed challenges them to analyze how their gendered identity has been constructed by religious and cultural gender norms. Students will write about how they conform to gender characteristics of masculinity or femininity. They will address the following questions: Are there any gender characteristics that they have internalized that 1) may actually be harmful to themselves and their ability to be a whole person, 2) may hinder their capacity to sustain intimate, healthy relationships, and 3) may cause them to treat others unjustly? Students who identify and struggle with harmful gender characteristics will discern ways to change and resist gender norms. Such analysis of gender will be crucial when addressing issues of justice between men and women addressed later in the course.

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Theological Foundations (THEO 111)
Christian Doctrine Today (The 290)

Edward Hahnenberg, Ph.D.
Mentor: Ed Cueva, Ph.D. (Classics)



Course Description (Spring 2005)

This course introduces students to theology as an academic discipline by exploring the various ways individuals and communities articulate their experience of the divine. Working primarily from a Christian perspective-in dialogue with other views-we will study four related areas: (1) the Hebrew Bible, (2) selected world religions, (3) the Christian understanding of Jesus, and (4) the relationship of theology to current social and ethical issues.

Mission-Driven Components

The Ignatian Mentoring Program enhanced my ability to articulate the relationship of the Jesuit tradition to two components of my THEO 111 course:

1) Human Experience as the Starting Point for Theology
I introduced a new reading at the beginning of the course: William A. Barry, S.J., "Grounded in God: The Principle and Foundation," chapter two of Finding God in All Things: A Companion to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (Ave Maria Press, 1991). My THEO 111 course begins with reflection on human experience as a starting point for theological reflection, understood as "faith seeking understanding." This new reading offers specific descriptions of "peak" or "limit" experiences that I used to begin discussion on the human encounter with the sacred. The reading allowed the opportunity to relate this reflection on human experience to Ignatius' own methodology in the Spiritual Exercises, providing an introduction to the discipline of theology within the context of a Jesuit University.

2) Experience-Based Learning
In collaboration with Peace and Justice Programs, I encourage students to engage in a service learning project and write a paper that brings Theology into dialogue with a contemporary social or ethical issue. This project serves the E/RS focus of the course and invites reflection on the call of Jesuit education to serve the promotion of social justice.


Course Description (Spring 2005)

Ecclesiology is the theological study of the church in an effort to understand its nature and mission. This seminar explores the developments in Roman Catholic ecclesiology that have taken place over the past half century. The themes treated represent those movements that flowed into and out of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965): the renewal of biblical studies, the liturgical movement, ecumenism, questions of authority, changes in ministry, and the church's presence in the world. This survey of recent Catholic thought will also offer the opportunity to reflect on common Christian origins and the diverse ecclesiologies of other Christian traditions.

Mission-Driven Component

This course includes a component on structures of ministry within the Roman Catholic Church. In treating this topic historically, I included an essay by John O'Malley, S.J.: "One Priesthood: Two Traditions" (in A Concert of Charisms: Ordained Ministry and Religious Life, ed. Paul Hennessy). In this essay, O'Malley critiques the tendency of contemporary Catholic theology to assume a patristic, parochial model as paradigmatic for all priestly ministry. His historical research reveals that the rise of religious order priests-such as the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and, especially, the Jesuits-presents an alternative, complementary model. This model is focused more on mission than on pastoral (in the sense of parish-based) care. O'Malley's presentation of early Jesuit ministry (particularly in his book The First Jesuits) has been helpful to me and will continue to influence the way in which I teach about structures of ministry in the Catholic Church.


In addition to the direct revision of the courses described above, the IMP has had an impact on my current and future research in the following ways:

1. Memory in the Thought of Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J.
Studying the Spiritual Exercises as part of IMP deepened my appreciation for the role of memory in the work of the American Jesuit liturgical theologian Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J. The Exercises played an important role in Kilmartin's understanding of how worshippers relate to Christ during liturgy. My essay: "The Ministerial Priesthood and Liturgical Anamnesis in the Thought of Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J." will appear in the June 2005 issue of Theological Studies.

2. Priesthood and Ministry
O'Malley's recognition of a historical diversity of models of priesthood has begun to shape my own research on lay ministry in the Roman Catholic Church. I will explore the connections between ordained and lay ministry in two papers this summer (an address to the National Association for Lay Ministry and a presentation at a Boston College conference on the Priesthood in the 21st Century).

3. Vocation
IMP has fed my interest in the theology of call, election, and vocation. I hope to explore Ignatian discernment as one historical model within a larger future project on the theology of vocation.

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Ageless Insights for Distracted Minds and Bodies:
Teaching the Ignatian Habits of Reflective Discernment for Future Busy Professionals Through Online Environments

Kristine Suna-Koro, PhD
Mentor: Carol L. Winkelmann, PhD (English)

I extend my appreciation to IMP and gratitude to my mentor Dr. Winkelmann for her terrific support during this project. This project is dedicated in honor of my dear colleague and friend Dr. Jennifer Beste, 2010 Conway Fellowship Recipient.

Project description
It is an open secret that in the present culture of ruthless efficiency a premium it put on our productivity and accelerated performance. Technological revolution has been a mixed blessing: we have ample tools to be connected and interact with one another even across the globe twenty-four hours a day, every day. Multi-tasking is increasingly perceived as a non-negotiable demand for our high-tech minds and careers. Technological developments have taught us to constantly multitask. What is particularly important in academic settings is the virtually required ability to learn in distracting environments. The skills of gathering large amounts of information from electronic media are rapidly developing. Certain tasks can be performed much faster using our ubiquitous technology. And yet, on the other hand, in this context distraction emerges as the pivotal nemesis of self-knowledge, genuinely productive learning as well as reflective analytical skills alongside thoughtful action and decision-making capabilities.

As Fran Grace summarizes, "The highly touted goal of 'critical thinking' is not actually possible without probing into the nature of one's own inner workings. Critical thinking without contemplative inner quality is like a blindfolded archer shooting arrows."1

My inquiry focused on finding, appropriating, and designing effective and user-friendly pedagogical tools to help shape and advance such personal and professional habits as cultivation of attentive observation skills on intellectual, emotional, ethical and agential levels. These skills, in turn, can facilitate richer and more personalized processes of acquiring complex types of knowledge and applying it in various professional settings with a finer sense of self-awareness (including self-limitations), professional expertise and integrity.

Experimental use of select digitally enhanced and online-sourced discernment practice modules is fitting for courses such as THEO 111 Theological Foundations and THEO 404/632 Religion, Ethics, and Professional Practice/Ethics in Ministry. With proper customization of content, these discernment practices can be applied in various classroom settings, physical and online, across many disciplines in humanities as well as natural and social sciences.

Despite the rapid advance of multitasking abilities, the emergence of corresponding dis-abilities warrants serious attention. Research and pedagogical observations suggest that, paradoxically, multitasking and constant distraction can impede learning, especially when it comes to the comprehension, analysis and advancement of complex ideas. It can also greatly increase the probability of mistakes. There are several major areas of concern:

  • Dis-ability to sustain attention stability over longer periods of time
  • Dis-ability to effectively deal with distractions
  • Dis-ability to sustain complex arguments in written and oral forms
  • Dis-ability to achieve or sustain mental clarity to effectively complete complex assignments

In light of these widespread observations about the impact of media culture on how we reason, learn and relate several new categories have recently gained attention. For example, "CPA"--Continuous Partial Attention describes electronic media-based activities while simultaneously engaging in a conversation. Terms such as "Surfer's Voice" and "Absent Presence" describe situations when a person is engaged in human interaction while also browsing the web, text-messaging, posting on social networks and, perhaps, making their favorite pasta simultaneously.

As a result, most students doing their reading assignments, and research projects and papers can be expected to encounter continuous and, by now habitual, distractions. Often the outcome is an emphatically diminished ability to focus and concentrate in class and while working on their assignments. Academic performance suffers. Personal frustration increases. Here the question is: what practices could help to interrupt and assuage the tiresome routines of distraction? What practices can cultivate emotional and social intelligence alongside intellectual clarity and body-awareness?

Findings and Strategies
My inquiry led me into two directions. First, I explored various initiatives under the auspices of the emerging discipline of Contemplative Studies. Contemplative pedagogies incorporate various mindfulness and discernment practices from religious and non-religious sources in college teaching. Among the published results, attesting to the fruitful effects of such approaches across a spectrum of disciplines, is, for example, the recent collection of essays Meditation and the Classroom: Contemplative Pedagogy for Religious Studies (Judith Simmer-Brown and Fran Grace, eds.; Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2011).

Second, I explored Ignatian insights about the process of wholistic reflection and decision-making to discern the "movements" of the soul that could be combined with the developing body of research from Contemplative Studies. My specific goal was to find and appropriate already existing resources in online environments that would use digital media according to the principle of "like cures like"--to benefit from the best that technology can offer to remedy what technology has made problematic.

My conclusion is that a helpful resource with considerable potential for future expansion is available in the form of "3 Minute Retreats" from Loyola Press:
In the present form, Loyola Press offers a free audio-visual resource directly from their website. Among the scores of currently available "retreats" I identified over a dozen modules that are appropriate in Xavier classrooms taking into consideration the interreligiously diverse student body. The selected "retreat" modules provide a guided, interactive, step-by-step, audio-visual practice that can be employed in classroom to develop and nurture attentive intellectual vitality by addressing the following components:

  • body awareness by focusing attention on breath and posture
  • simple techniques of mindfulness built around particular subjects such as diversity; mutual respect; burnout; gratitude etc.
  • the identified retreats did not advance a particular sectarian agenda and so can serve as a sufficiently inclusive tool in classrooms at Xavier

These modules can be used in class via live streaming yet there are other options as well. After communication with Mr. Ray Ives, Marketing Communications manager at Loyola Press, he created a customized DVD with select theme-specific and goal-specific "retreat" modules that can be played on any PC even if broadband connection is unavailable. I acknowledge with gratitude his enthusiastic and creative collaboration!

The "like cures like" approach suggests a fruitful fit: it can integrate contemplative pedagogy and its plethora of mindfulness techniques, Ignatian spiritual heritage on discernment and cutting edge digital technology. Among the potential benefits are the following:

  • Online-based and media-sourced discernment modules can be useful for both in-class and entirely online courses
  • Students can engage in these practices individually and collectively
  • The instructor can practice together with their students instead of being the sole leader; this approach can be used even by instructors who would not, for a number of reasons, feel competent and comfortable leading and designing such practices alone
  • Absentees can practice the same module as the students who are present in class
  • Brevity: 3-5 minutes format providing a step-by-step guided structure
  • Flexibility: a common theme or a variety of themes and approaches depending on the course objectives; flexible length and placement in the course of a single class or the whole semester
  • Online access and customizable format (such as DVD) for backup if high speed connection for streaming is unavailable

Desired Outcomes
The outcomes of are broad and not discipline-specific to benefit diverse personal and professional aspirations. Regular practice has the potential to be positively habit-forming in the following areas:

  • Ability to be mindful of one's body
  • Ability to sustain attention better and longer
  • Ability to listen to others openly and actively with a robust sense of presence
  • Ability to acknowledge and reflect on one's own background, life-experience, emotions and desires
  • Development of precision in one's perceptual and observational skills
  • Ability to analyze new information efficiently and clearly
  • Development of precision in thinking and responding to others
  • Ability to recognize healthy personal strengths and limits

Further Efforts
Using insights from contemplative pedagogies and considering the characteristics of Xavier's academic community, there is a clear need to substantially expand the diversity dimension of the online "retreats" that Loyola Press currently offers. Such an expansion is certainly possible. Ignatian practices of discernment are mobile, flexible and time-tested and thus particularly fitting to be appropriated to better resonate with the cultural, racial, gender, and ethnic diversity at a contemporary university such as Xavier. Particular attention must be directed toward respectful recognition of not just Roman Catholic spiritual tradition but also other Christian traditions across the Protestant and non-denominational spectrum as well as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hindu traditions, Spiritual-but-not-Religious, and atheist perspectives. All of these are represented among Xavier student body and faculty. Hence they deserve to be considered with sensitive respect so that our classrooms are genuinely safe and welcoming environments that foster learning for all our undergraduate, graduate, and professional program students.

 1Fran Grace, "Meditation in the Classroom: What Do Students Say They Learn?" in Meditation and the Classroom: Contemplative Pedagogy from Religious Studies (Judith Simmer-Brown and Fran Grace, eds.; Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2011):239.

Select examples:

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The Four Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises in THEO 111

Karen B. Enriquez, Ph.D.
Mentor: Chris Anderson, Ph.D. (History)

Course Description

Theo 111 is the introductory course in theology that all students are required to take. In this course, students are introduced to theology as a mutually critical dialogue between human experience and religions. Moreover, as part of the Ethics/Religion and Society (E/RS) focus of Xavier's core curriculum, this course asks students to engage in critical, theological reflection on ethical and/or religious questions of social significance, using human experience and religious traditions as resources to address these issues.

Mission-Driven Components

As I started reading the materials on key principles in Ignatian Spirituality, I was especially inspired by the readings from Pedro Arrupe, S.J. on a "faith that does justice" and Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. on the challenge of interreligious dialogue and the importance of diversity.1 I realized that many of the themes that I had been teaching could easily be understood within the framework of these key issues identified by the past Superior-Generals of the Jesuits grounded in Ignatian principles. For this reason, I started to re-structure my syllabus around the Four Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises, focusing on some key principle for each of the weeks and reflecting more specifically about how those principles could be applied today in terms of contemporary issues relevant to our students and to the world.

For Week 1: Exploration of what it means to be human and to be a "loved sinner." 
For this section, the focus was to understand:
1. The unconditional love of God and the goodness of being human: We explored aspects of being human including our sexuality and intimate relationships and how all these are good, and are all ways by which we are able to "find God in all things"
2. In light of (1), we questioned those who are considered "sinners" and outside the love of God due to their gender or sexuality, and explored new responses that more closely remind us of the love of God and the goodness of all.

For Week 2: The Contemplation of Christ and the Call to Discipleship
For this section, I tried to introduce Ignatian contemplation, by looking more deeply into image of Jesus encountered through the Gospel of Mark. I asked the students to pay attention to Jesus' emotions, his words and how these reflect his self-understanding and his understanding of his mission. We also tried to compose the scenes by looking at the various characters (crowds, disciples, authorities) to see how they reacted to Jesus and what titles they used to try and understand him. Moreover, I tried to emphasis the "Call" and "the double invitation to be with Christ and to work for a world of justice, love, and peace."2

For Week 3: The Contemplation on Jesus' Death and Innocent Suffering Today
For this section, inspired by Jesuits such as Roger Haight and Jon Sobrino, we looked at the dynamics of the death of Christ, and used it to contemplate the continued innocent suffering and death of people today, allowing ourselves to feel sorrow and begin to develop compassion and solidarity for them, even as we contemplate and feel sorrow for the suffering and death of Christ.
One student made this important link when, having researched the topic of sex trafficking, he wrote the following reflection:

Sex trafficking is a prime example of innocent suffering caused by others that we talked about in class in relation to the death of Jesus. It points clearly to the great evil in existence in the world today and the evil tendencies of the human heart. I feel like many victims of sex trafficking can relate to the suffering of Christ. The feeling of abandonment, rejection, and pain that they experience are all things that we see Jesus experience on the cross.

For Week 4: Exploration of Solidarity and a Faith that Does Justice
In this second half of the course, I focused on the understanding of the contemplation to attain love as the unity of love of God and the love of neighbor. In light of this, we explored the various ways of understanding the concepts of justice and solidarity today by looking at:
1. The complexity of the multiple forms of injustice or oppression, both local and global. In this way, we deepened our understanding of what makes us human including our social/economic status, gender, race, religion, etc.
2. In light of (1), we broadened our understanding of solidarity to include these various forms of oppression and the realization that as Arrupe argued, "to be just, it is not enough to refrain from injustice," and that we need to be "agents of change in society; not merely resisting but actively undertaking to reform unjust structures and arrangements" (Men and Women for Others). This is the kind of work that humanizes us in a world that has dehumanized many.
3. They also read on the examples of others who have led this life of solidarity and justice such as Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa and Jon Sobrino.
4. They were asked to reflect upon the world today by writing their own "composition" of our time and place. The instructions were as follows:

The "Composition" is an important tool within the Spiritual Exercises. It is used to prepare the retreatant to enter more deeply into the meditation by using the imagination to "compose" the physical place where that which one wants to contemplate on is taking place. The reading from Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. is an example of this "Composition" by trying to describe the complexity of the world we live in today with very specific details and events. Similar to the "Composition" by Fr. Kolvenbach, reflect upon your time and place. What are the issues today? What are the pressures and values in today's world? Where are the conflicts and difficulties? Where can progress or hope be found? You may use your visit to the Freedom Center and the research on slavery and discussions on poverty to help inform your "composition" and/or you may also use your own experiences, information learned from other classes, conversations with friends, family, etc. in order to help you imagine and describe and "compose" the world you live in today.

5. Following on the call of General Congregation #34, the last section of the course, focused on the importance of dialogue and solidarity with other religious traditions. In this last section, we explore the similarities and differences of Buddhism and Christianity and how dialogue can lead not just to a deeper understanding of each other and one's own faith, but also to collaboration in working toward ending suffering in our world today.

Impact on Future Classes and Research

Inspired by Fr. Kolvenbach who wrote that "solidarity is learned through "contact" rather than through "concepts,"3 I am planning to include a service-learning component to my Theo 111 class next Fall. For this reason, I applied to be part of the Eigel Center's Community Engaged Faculty Curricular Development Program, which for next year focuses on addressing poverty in Cincinnati. I've also decided to strengthen the spirituality component of my Theo 111 to demonstrate the ways that spiritual practices can lead one to become more aware of oneself and the realities of the world, and as resources in one's fight for justice. I h have received a Wheeler Grant that will enable me to work on incorporating spiritual practices in my course this coming summer and Fall.

In terms of my research focused on Buddhist-Christian dialogue, the immersion into Ignatian Spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises has made me more aware of the dynamic of conversion and the importance of spiritual texts and practices that make such conversion possible. In light of this, I have started exploring comparative texts of conversion in the Buddhist and Christian traditions in order to trace these resonances. One particular comparison will be on the Spiritual Exercises and Shantideva's The Way of the Bodhisattva. I will be presenting the first fruits of this comparison at a panel at the American Academy of Religion, and I am hoping to continue such comparisons for the future.


1See Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., "The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in Jesuit Higher Education" and "The Service of Faith in a Religiously Pluralistic World: The Challenge for Jesuit Higher Education" in A Jesuit Education Reader: Contemporary Writings on the Jesuit Mission in Education, Principles, the Issue of Catholic Identity, Practical Applications of the Ignatian Way and More, edited by George W. Traub, S.J., (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008) 144-176.
2James Martin, S.J. My Life with the Saints (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2006) 92.
3Kolvenbach, A Jesuit Education Reader, 155.


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