Spirituality in Academic Life:
Discerning and Examining our Postures

Fall 2021 Postgraduate Cohort

Applications due by August 10

For those of us who have spent significant time in academic contexts, it is unsurprising to experience or to hear of someone experiencing long periods of languishing in the midst of academic work. Despite a large field entitled "the humanities," and a collective intelligence that feels like it should surely be able to right the ship, academic spaces can be among the most dehumanizing. Most of us head into our academic journeys with incredible hopes about what it might be and clarity it might bring, but unfortunately many of us do not experience those hopes fulfilled, many leave discouraged and disavowing the whole enterprise, and, dare I say it, some give up too much to join the academic club. This cohort-style course is not a promise that this will not happen to you, but an acknowledgement of just how hard it can be, and statement about the need to attend to the many reasons it is difficult and to the postures we assume in the midst of that difficulty.

It would be naive and ahistorical hubris to assume that our lives, or the lives of any generation, enjoy a simple progress without complex and conflicted inheritances. Nothing we think, believe, desire, become overwhelmed by or imagine comes from nowhere. The ways we imagine and thereby direct our particular lives and academic endeavors, far from being singular or isolated, are deeply indebted to and nourished by the life they are given in a particular bodies, families, communities, traditions and cultures. That is, to be a student is necessarily to be shaped by an ongoing and collective imaginative endeavor around what it means to participate in academic life and what sort of vision of the human person makes such participation intelligible.

And so, if we have already been shaped, and we will continue to be shaped by the way we participate in our educational experiences, then becoming an active participant in submitting ourselves and resisting particular kinds of formation as students becomes essential spiritual terrain.

If it is true that we are so inescapably shaped (an assumption of this course), then wise participation in the academy, particularly for postgraduates, requires that we attempt to confront and wrestle through multiple questions about how and why are are participating as we do:

What are the ways of imagining that shape the world I inhabit? How has my particular imagination been formed? How does my imagination inform my current engagement with the academic task? What power do I have in interacting with the visions I’ve inherited? Are there limits on this power, and if so, what are they? To what end, and for whom, do I use what power I do have? What hope energises the perseverance when this task becomes difficult? And what sources help to sustain my work and that hope?

 

These are spiritual questions, because they have to do with choosing to submit ourselves to being formed even as we decide what kinds of postures we will adopt in our work. As Joseph Whelan, SJ reminds us in his much quoted poem about the practicality of love-- "What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude." And yet, in academia, very rarely do we encounter questions about what we love and where that loves comes from, who we imagine ourselves to be, and where our hope rests and is held in the midst of the flurry of proving ourselves competent and worthy to enter the guild. That's a problem, and it is a problem that we all must face, both personally and systemically. 

If these questions are important to encounter to wisely take up whatever agency we do have within the academic enterprise (as this course assumes), then the objectives of the course can be seen as helping students begin to answer these questions, and through multiple encounters with their own story and stories of others, deepen their answers to these questions as well as raise live questions about the tensions inherent in their answers. This reflection on our situatedness and posture towards our education is a way of bravely and fearfully taking up agency as persons both deeply vulnerable to our contexts and to our own needs, but also with some kind of power to posture ourselves towards and within our own contexts and needs. Because people have varying degrees and kinds of power, the goal is not to tell students exactly what posture to assume, but to invite them to consider what power they are already operating out of, what kind of loves and imaginations generate the stories about how that power should be used, and what kind of knowledge, resources, practices, and questions might be required in order to become discerning and wise stewards of the varying degrees and kinds of powers given to each of us. And, somehow, amidst the heaviness of many of the concerns and tensions of academic life, it will also be generative, fun and encouraging.

Practicalities: This international, postgraduate cohort will be facilitated over Zoom with up to 20 students from the first week of September until the first full week of November. There will be some (manageable and not extensive) reflective work to do between sessions. Depending on interest and availability, there may be two cohorts. As such, we will select between these three times (please indicate in your application which is possible for you):

  • Sundays from 11:30am-1pm (LA) / 12:30-2pm (Denver) / 1:30-3pm (Chicago) / 2:30-4 (NYC) / 7:30-9pm (London) / 8:30-10pm (Cape Town

  • Tuesdays from 9:45am-11:15am(LA) / 10:45am-12:15pm (Denver) / 11:45am-1:15pm (Chicago) / 12:45-2:15(NYC) / 5:45-7:15(London) / 6:45-8:15(Cape Town)

  • Tuesdays from 11:30am-1pm (LA) / 12:30-2pm (Denver) / 1:30-3pm (Chicago) / 2:30-4 (NYC) / 7:30-9pm (London) / 8:30-10pm (Cape Town)

Cost: $200 for 10 sessions. Can be paid in installments and scholarships are available for those who require financial assistance. Participants will be invoiced and can pay via PayPal or with a credit or debit card. 

Application (due by August 10): https://tinyurl.com/m8w8vuy5