The Jesuits and Globalization: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Challenges

Posted on: 6th July 2017  |
Book author: Thomas Banchoff and José Casanova (Eds)
Publication details: Georgetown University Press, 2016; 312 pp
ISBN: 9781626162860
Category: The Jesuits
Tags: book, globalisation, Jesuit history

How can globalisation help us to understand the Jesuits? How can the Jesuits help us to understand globalisation? These two questions run through the essays in this book. It marks the culmination of a project based at Georgetown University which aimed both to understand the Jesuit role in the different phases of globalisation since the 16th century and to see what lessons, if any, can be learned for our contemporary situation.

The book divides those phases of globalisation roughly into three. The first is the early modern European expansion, with its combination of empires and trading networks in the Americas and Asia. A second phase sees the dominance of European imperial projects across the globe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The third is the gradual emergence of a new (and still inchoate) post-imperial international order, symbolised by the UN and characterised by the ideal of co-operation and the framework of international law. In each of these three phases the Catholic Church, and a fortiori the Jesuits, has played a very different role.

In the early modern phase, explored in the first four chapters, when the Iberian global networks were robustly Catholic, the Jesuits with their centralised but flexible system for governance and reporting were able to play a leading cultural role, both in Europe and around the world. They both transmitted European culture in a variety of contexts through their network of schools, and were able to share the scientific, linguistic or ethnographic results of their encounters in one part of the world across their global network.

Their training in Christian humanism, and the value it placed on pre-Christian elements of the Romano-Hellenistic culture, meant that, at their best, they were open to discovering similar value in the new cultures that they encountered. The creative examples of Xavier, Valignano and Ricci in Japan and China are explored by Antony Ucerler. Here we see how the example of Paul’s adaptation of the Jewish tradition in his mission to the Gentiles shaped the imagination of these later missionaries. Roberto de Nobili also adapted Christian practices to local styles in Southern India in the same spirit of a ‘New Areopagus’. However, Francis X. Clooney examines early Jesuit polemic against reincarnation. We see a respect shown to the Buddhist and Hindu traditions with argument on the basis of philosophy, rather than of a superior revelation. But we also see the inevitable limitations of a method that assumed the power of Aristotelian argument to persuade those who did not share its principles.

The Jesuit approach to Islamic cultures was generally more adversarial. Islam, like Judaism, had the disadvantage of being a familiar adversary. But still Dan Madigan finds examples of interesting points of encounter at the Mughal court and in the experience of Bento de Góis. He highlights the positive value of the belief that a common conversation can be had by human beings of any culture in a shared effort to reach universal truth and finds signs, just occasionally, of a readiness to leave final judgments about salvation to God.

In the Americas the situation was more complex, since the Jesuits here were not so much guests at court as agents of empire. Aliocha Maldavsky considers the variety of roles played by the Jesuits and the tensions, internal and external, that they generated. These range from squabbles over ecclesial jurisdictions to the political and social tensions that arose as Jesuit missionaries learnt to build up collaborative relationships with populations who were regarded by the ruling class as legitimate targets for enslavement. The nascent theory of universal human rights, developed by the Dominicans in response to the early days of the Iberian conquests, was taught to Jesuits in Salamanca and bore fruit here. Alongside this was the extraordinary work of documenting and mastering the native languages that enabled the creation of a Christian bridge between the Europeans and the indigenous peoples. Those cultures and Christianity itself were both modified in the process.

The leading role of the Jesuits in globalising European and Christian culture came to an end in 1773 when they were suppressed throughout the Catholic territories. Sabina Pavone evaluates some of the reasons behind the suppression in her chapter on the different strands of Anti-Jesuitism that emerged in the 18th century. By the time the Jesuits were re-established in 1814 the world was very different. A century and a half of revolutions had begun and the Roman Catholic Church itself, though still globally present, was struggling to find its place in a turbulent world as the old political and religious order was dismantled. Abroad, a new wave of colonial expansion brought with it serious competition from Protestant missionaries, while at home new politics and new philosophies challenged its authority at every level.

John T. McGreevy documents how the Society, re-founded by the pope in this new age of anti-clerical and anti-religious reform, became the conservative standard-bearers of the Church’s resistance to the evils of the new liberal age. Often they were the first target for expulsion in the wake of modernising regime change. Yet McGreevy also suggests that such experiences enhanced a Jesuit sense of universal mission and identity, that would only be eroded by the rise of nationalist religion during the First World War. Yet in spite of philosophical and political conservatism, Jesuits continued, with their global presence, to play a recognised role in scientific enquiry. They rebuilt a huge network of schools and universities, especially significant in the United States of America. John O’ Malley pays tribute to the Jesuit educational enterprise from its inception and suggests that this global network may well have something to contribute in the contemporary context.

The third phase of globalisation is mirrored within the Church in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. In contrast to the panicked denunciations of modernity typical of the mid-19th century, the Church here presents itself as at the service of a global humanity united in the aspiration for a world order of dignity, rights, political liberty and legitimate progress. In this era the Jesuits have been empowered to re-imagine their own role in the Church and in the world, drawing on the lessons of the recent and the remote past to commit to new sorts of social, political and intellectual engagement.

David Hollenbach highlights some of what this has meant in practice and suggests what it might mean in the future, with an emphasis on respect for the other, universalism and the pursuit of a universal common good. Maria Bingemer explores initiatives in social justice over the last half-century in Latin America. John Puthenkalam and Drew Rau discuss the value of the holistic approach to personal needs and explore the impact of globalisation on questions of development, rights and environmental concerns in modern Asia. Peter Balleis discusses the impact of the Jesuit Refugee Service and the important educative role the Society of Jesus can still play in accompanying people on the move. Thomas Banchoff explores other aspects of Jesuit education in our era, particularly in shaping new political and social awareness in the tension between a global and a civic consciousness.

The book concludes with a reflection by José Casanova that draws the threads together, arguing that the Jesuit experience of creative, positive engagement with other cultures in the early modern period may be the model for engagement in the era ahead, as the centre of gravity of political and economic power shifts away from Europe and the US. There is nothing necessary in the processes of human history and perhaps one of the more important lessons of the Jesuit past is to be creatively open to that historical contingency.   

Reviewer: John Moffatt SJ


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