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Current course:

Capstone: Desire and Discernment (links to Capstone program page)


Past Courses:

Western Cultural Tradition I-IV (see more below)

20th Century and the Tradition (see more below)

Ignatian Spirituality (see more below)


Western Cultural Tradition I-IV

Nihil a me alienum puto

“I consider nothing human to be foreign to me”

Terence (early second century BCE)

The Jesuits who founded colleges in the middle of the sixteenth century were inspired by the humanism of the Renaissance, and cited the Roman poet Terence as a model of what their curriculum sought to cultivate among students.  Inspired by the theology of Aquinas and the spiritual discipline of their founder, Ignatius of Loyola, they saw whispers of God’s word in the epics of Homer and the myths of Hesiod; the dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and others; the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle; the various writings of the likes of Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, and many other classical authors.  These pre-Christian authors, they averred, could not have known the fullness of truth revealed by Christ, and relied solely on the powers of human reason and imagination to discern the workings of the created order.  Like their artistic counterparts in the Renaissance, the Jesuits sought to draw inspiration from these classical sources as foundations for the edifice of Western thought, even amidst a time when explorers were pushing the frontiers of the known world further East and West.

The Western Cultural Tradition I-IV is a two-semester, twelve credit freshman course in the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program at Boston College.  This course, together with the subsequent sequence in sophomore year, invite students to engage with primary texts in a rigorous conversation-based seminar.  Over the two years of the program, students will have satisfied University core requirements in philosophy, theology, English and literature, and social science.

As an interdisciplinary course, The Western Cultural Tradition recalls the curriculum both of the medieval universities, founded as they were out of the heart of the Church in cities like Paris, Bologna, Salamanca, and Oxford.  It also recalls the Ratio Studiorum, the “plan of studies” developed by the Jesuits in the sixteenth century.  Before the fragmentation of disciplines into often isolated areas of discreet study, the aim of a university education was the integration of knowledge for the sake of the good life; and in the Jesuit context, that life was understood, in the language of Ignatius, as directed to the greater glory of God (ad maiorem Dei gloriam).

Today, our challenge is to negotiate both increasing specialization of knowledge and pluralism, especially of religious faith (or rejection of religious faith).  Postmoderns can bring a critical eye to the hegemonic and colonizing tendencies of classical and Christian thought in earlier periods.  They can critique the way the Christian West developed a coziness with historic imperialisms, and fanned anti-Semitism.  They can identify its biases and errors; its hostilities toward the development of science, democracy, and human rights doctrines.  After postmodernity, what then?

The Western Cultural Tradition challenges students to not only read the formative texts of the West, but also to consider how we might learn from them afresh in the context of our globalized world.  What of the Greek attempts to build a good society rooted in right reason?  What of the radical proclamation that God has pitched his tent among us?  What, in the end, is the way that we ought to learn from our history in order to construct a just world?


20th Century and the Tradition

This course draws on literature, visual art, science, philosophy, theology, political theory, historical events such as World War I, World War II, and the Holocaust, and developments such as the globalization of the economy and of information technology, in order to examine how the 20th century has absorbed, criticized or reinterpreted the cultural tradition it inherited. You will be challenged to understand the interplay between the Athenian-Judeo-Christian tradition and some of the significant critical currents in the intellectual culture of the 20th century, for example, Marxism, psychoanalysis, structuralism and post-structuralism. You will be challenged to understand the interplay between the tradition and some of the significant critical currents in the intellectual culture of postmodernity, including the ways that the Jewish and Christian traditions have responded to postmodernity.

Ignatian Spirituality

Ite, Inflammate Omnia

“Go, set the world aflame!”

Ignatius of Loyola, to his friend Francis Xavier as the latter set out on his mission to India, Indonesia, and Japan (1541)

This elective course in the Department of Theology begins with Saint Ignatius himself, the Spanish pilgrim whose plans to live large in the court of Castille were cut short when a cannonball crippled him and forced him into an extended convalescence.  His story of conversion, reflection, authoring of The Spiritual Exercises and founding of the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) is a seminal moment in the history of Christian spirituality, coming at a time when the last vestiges of the medieval period were yielding to the Renaissance and its optimistic embrace of the expanding world.

The course is focused on the themes of the Spiritual Exercises, particularly Ignatius’ thesis that discerning the taproot of one’s desires is a clue to discovering the very purpose for which God the creator has made each individual person.

The Exercises invite retreatants to encounter God in four movements, or “weeks”:

· Seeing myself as God sees me, beloved yet disordered in what I desire

· Choosing to follow Jesus, who needs me to help build a more just world

· Willing to take on suffering like Jesus did, out of love for those whom I serve

· Hopeful for the new life that Jesus has shown us in his resurrection.

After examining the contours and implications of Ignatian spirituality, the course concludes with an inquiry into how that spirituality can be translated into action, particularly in the context of a college or university.