The Jesuits and Globalization

Historical Legacies and Contemporary Challenges

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Thomas Banchoff, José Casanova
  • Washington, DC: 
    Georgetown University Press
    , May
     312 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Guided by the Holy Spirit, after days of intense prayer and prayerful conversation, on October 14th 2016, the delegates at the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus elected a new superior general: Fr. Arturo Sosa SJ. Of the 215 Jesuit electors, 10% were from Africa; 11% were from Asia Pacific; 15% from Canada or the US; 16% from Latin America; 21% from South Asia; and 27% from Europe. This was truly a global representation of the membership of the Society of Jesus and a feature of the “way of proceeding” of the Jesuits throughout their history. Such a gathering serves to illustrate some of the points addressed in this book from Georgetown University Press.

This compilation of essays, edited by two of the foremost scholars in North America in the field of globalization, Thomas Banchoff and José Casanova, includes seven chapters that offer historical perspectives, while the remaining six chapters focus on contemporary challenges. The declared aim of the work is to address two central questions: “What does the experience of globalization tell us about the Jesuits? And what does the experience of the Jesuits tell us about globalization?” (6). To focus the argument, the editors have chosen three key concerns of the Jesuits: mission and dialogue; education and the human person; and justice and the common good. They have also delineated three historical periods: early modern (from the foundation of the Society, worldwide expansion to suppression); modern (from the restoration of the Society to Vatican II); and contemporary (from Vatican II to the election of Pope Francis) to frame the exploration of their questions.

The historical chapters describe how Jesuits engaged in different parts of the world with local cultures and how far “cultural accommodation” or “inculturation” was possible in encounters with Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. The Jesuit way of proceeding was very diverse and pragmatic according to circumstances. In his article “Jesuit Intellectual Practice in Early Modernity,” Francis Clooney assesses the confidence these early Jesuits had in the universality of reason and the power of philosophical argument for the success of their mission. While commending them for their energetic engagement, he identifies also the limitations of such argumentation, particularly when related to the widespread belief in rebirth. Here the Jesuit attempt to raise rational opposition appeared to be an attack on the traditional view of the interconnectedness of beings (64). Clooney himself raises the interesting possibility of “a truly universal religious rationality.”

John O’Malley’s article, “Historical Perspectives on Jesuit education and Globalization,” forms a bridge between the early Jesuits and their successors. He explores whether there is something in Jesuit education that is particularly relevant to a globalized world. Laying stress on the influence of the international nature of the order, O’Malley underlines the pastoral, cultural, and intellectual style of education that focused on the whole person, and which gave a distinctive style to Jesuit institutions. The Jesuit education that evolved included an international network of schools co-operating with one another; a rootedness in a particular culture; and the training of students to be of service to others and to be ethically responsible adults (163). Anyone working in a Jesuit school or university today, it is hoped, will recognize these features. The principles underlying this education are rooted in a spirituality flowing from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. O’Malley’s argument is convincing, particularly as a corrective to the economic model of education that proliferates across the globe.

With regard to the central questions of this book, these chapters reveal that the Jesuit focus on the intellectual apostolate has been, and continues to be, a central imperative for mission. At the same time, as becomes clear in the later chapters, Jesuits in recent times have heard the call, reiterated by Pope Francis, to go to the peripheries. Such areas are far from centers of globalization. There is today a more centrifugal than centripetal force operative which involves accompanying those on the margins of society, often those most adversely affected by processes of globalization. Along this trajectory, Maria Clara Luccetti Bingemer argues in her article, “The Jesuits and Social Justice in Latin America,” for “a globalization that is not dehumanizing but instead attentive to the spirit of the Gospel and the pursuit of justice” (189).

In “Global, Human Mobility, Refugees, and Jesuit Education at the Margins,” Peter Balleis helpfully cites a 2010 comment from Fr. Adolofo Nicolás about the challenges to the Jesuits: “The only answer is: the challenges of the world. There are no other challenges” (224). Balleis explores the development of the Jesuit Refugee Service [JRS] as a response to the challenge of growing numbers of migrants across the world. In particular he cites the ongoing importance of mobility as a characteristic of the Jesuits that enables men to be sent anywhere in the world. A major work within the JRS is making education available, and this includes online courses made possible through the enormous developments in technology that enable world wide access to the internet.

The Jesuits and Globalization is an ambitious project which has considerable success in the quality of the articles it contains, and the arguments it sustains. Across generations the tensions between the universal and the particular, the global and the local still remain. The question might be not one of an attempt at resolution but rather, in the Ignatian spirit, to inquire how may we live with these tensions in a healthy manner?

Choices of articles for inclusion in a volume of this sort inevitably have to be made at a practical level. Half of the essays are contributions from Jesuits; three of the contributors are women and they form the major international input, as they teach at institutions in Brazil, Italy, and France. One of the Jesuits teaches in Japan. The majority of the chapters are contributions from academics at US institutions. Perhaps a more international representation, along the lines of the 36th General Congregation would have added to the weight of the argument being espoused.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Gill Goulding CJ is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Regis College, Jesuit Graduate School of Theology at the University of Toronto.

Date of Review: 
November 7, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Thomas Banchoff is vice president for Global Engagement at Georgetown University. He also serves as the founding director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and is professor in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. 

José Casanova is professor in the Department of Sociology at Georgetown, and heads the Berkley Center's Program on Globalization, Religions, and the Secular.


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