Jesuit higher education, teaching, and the spirituality of service learning.

Do Better Team

Within the framework of an international debate on education and religious diversity held at Esade ("Jesuit Student Formation and Religious Diversity"), Do Better had the opportunity to explore the perspective of Josep F. Mària, Associate Professor, Department of Society, Politics and Sustainability at Esade. In this interview, he shares his reflections on Jesuit higher education, teaching, and the spirituality of service learning.

DoBetter: In today's world of growing mistrust between the West and nations such as Russia, China, and India, dialogue between cultures is essential. What can spirituality contribute to this dialogue?

Josep F. Mària: Spirituality can help people to distance themselves from the conflicts they experience and to manage them in a peaceful and supportive way. In this global world, many of our conflicts come from culture shocks. A culture shock happens when two or more people react differently to the same situation because their reactions are highly conditioned by the cultures in which they were socialized. Spirituality helps me to not impose my answer to a situation, but instead to identify the conflict and find solutions through dialogue.

DoBetter: What is the relationship between spirituality and training? 

Josep F. Mària: Spirituality helps to practice fundamental attitudes – such as serenity, dialogue, creativity, avoidance of sudden reactions, appreciation of differences, empathy, and commitment to justice. These attitudes are essential in any educational process ("training"). Universities that encourage certain values (such as Esade or other Jesuit universities) have a responsibility to educate their students in spirituality. This education must promote the university's own values, while respecting the diverse beliefs and personal histories of staff and students. It is a subtle but necessary balance. 

DoBetter: How does the Society of Jesus deal with this relationship? 

Josep F. Mària: In each of the Jesuit organizations (schools, universities, social centers, parishes, spirituality centers, and Jesuit communities) on the five continents, people of different cultures and religions live, work, and study together. Jesuit spirituality, born in a Christian religious environment, creates spaces in which cultural and religious differences are lived in harmony and contribute to the construction of a fairer world. 

The Jesuit Student Formation and Religious Diversity Symposium, held at Esade from 3-7 July, 2022, reflected on the forms that Jesuit spirituality can take in universities around the world.

DoBetter: Esade, like other Jesuit organizations, bases its mission of educating future leaders on values inspired by humanist and Christian traditions. What should we expect from people trained at Esade?

Josep F. Mària: Various Esade mission documents describe the type of students we aim to educate. They are people who have "the 4 Cs":

  1. Competence in their professional work
  2. Consciousness of the social and natural reality, and of the feelings and desires that this reality awakens in their inner life
  3. Compassion: an ability to easily communicate with people around them: to rejoice with those who laugh and cry with those who suffer.
  4. Commitment: theoretical and practical ability to encourage changes in those social structures that generate suffering and degradation.

These 4Cs are dimensions of personality and must be developed in a way that is appropriate to the history of each student. 

DoBetter: How can we integrate this diversity of religion and identity in an organization with these roots?

Josep F. Mària: During the process of professional and personal maturation of students, conflicts arise due to cultural and religious differences. Some students come to our campus from far away countries when they are 18 years old. Others come at an older age and from closer to home. But cultural and religious diversity is equally present. They all need to be accompanied.

This accompaniment requires Esade faculty and staff to be sensitive to the personal and professional maturation processes of our students, to provide them with the tools and habits of spiritual life, to offer to mentor/accompany them personally, and to open spaces for dialogue so that they can progress towards the acquisition of the 4Cs.

DoBetter: What future challenges must Jesuits face to continue having an impact on the world and connecting with young people?

Josep F. Mària: This increasingly global world is going to generate conflicts of various kinds: cultural, religious, and linked to the use of natural resources necessary for survival. Jesuits and their collaborators must be particularly sensitive to these conflicts; and be open to identifying good practices that lead to the construction of a fairer and more harmonious world. But the first step is not to act: it is to listen and be open to the newness that emerges in any situation, however complex and conflictive. Listening and being open is an arduous task because we usually face new situations with habits learned from past situations. Therefore, to discover this newness, the challenge is to work on our inner life and spirituality. This is essential, especially for connecting with young people.

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