Inaugural Lecture, Gladstone Institute for Cultural and Theological Studies

St. Deiniol’s Library
Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales
July 6, 2010

Warden Francis, resident scholars, and distinguished guests, it’s an honor for me to be here at St. Deiniol’s Library, and to present the inaugural lecture of the “Gladstone Institute for Cultural and Theological Studies.”

Yesterday, I was privileged to receive an Honorary Fellowship from Owain Glyndwr University—St. Deiniol’s academic partner in this new Institute—and I said that what I’ve discovered in Wales is that the extraordinary beauty of the land is matched by the exceptional warmth of the people. I’ve found the same friendship here at St. Deiniol’s, and my family and I are extremely grateful.

This magnificent library is a fitting testament to not just the memory, but the spirit, of William Ewart Gladstone—one of history’s greatest statesmen—who, as we know, founded it as a place to pursue “divine learning,” which encompassed not just theology, “but the various branches of human knowledge…”

Establishing a library—and transporting his own 32,000 books here in a wheelbarrow—is probably not surprising for a man who once noted that “Books are a delightful society. If you go into a room filled with books, even without taking them down from their shelves, they seem to speak to you.” The books that surround us here, most especially those that belonged to Gladstone, speak to not just his love of knowledge….but to his abiding interests in a wide range of subjects—especially history and philosophy.

Today, in keeping with these interests of Gladstone, I’d like to speak to you from my own history and offer reflections on an emerging challenge facing our universities.

Specifically, I want to offer my reflections today from the perspective of a life lived in the Academy, in fact, of a life lived in one Academy, for I will begin my thirty-sixth year at Georgetown when we begin our Fall semester later this summer. My earliest years were spent as an undergraduate, studying poetry.

Upon completion of my degree I immediately embarked upon a doctoral program in philosophy, where I concentrated on ethics. While I was a graduate student I was invited into administration by our president, Father Timothy Healy. This led to several different administrative assignments, bringing me to my current position, one that I have held for nine years.

My reflections today come from a life of practice, informed by the resources of the discipline in which I am trained – philosophy, and by the spirituality that animates a Catholic and Jesuit university – the Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The driving issue which confronts every university at this moment is the impact of globalization – that convergence of forces that include new information, communication and transportation technologies, that create unprecedented opportunities to be engaged, connected, and present in different parts of the world. These forces are breaking down the structures and institutions of modernity. These forces challenge the assumptions that guide our international system. They challenge the sovereignty of the nation-state. These forces have re-shaped our markets, our framework for economic engagement.

These forces are changing our economies, the way we work, the meaning of work, the nature of job creation and economic development.

And the forces of globalization are influencing the trajectories of our colleges and universities, ranging from the emergence of branch campuses in different parts of the world, to the migration of talent – the recruitment of students and faculty from all parts of the world, to the expansion of collaborative research projects, to the emergence and establishment of new universities seeking to achieve in the 21st Century, what universities like Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, achieved in earlier centuries.

Examples of these global projects include the emergence of universities like the National University of Singapore and Tec de Monterrey as leaders among our world’s universities, the establishment of KAUST in Saudi Arabia, NYU-Abu Dhabi, and Education City in Doha, where Georgetown has a campus where we provide undergraduate education in International Relations.

The University of Nottingham now has the first branch campus of an international university in China. Legislation is working its way through Parliament in India that would allow foreign universities to open new campuses. In my conversations with Vice-Chancellor Scott, I have learned of an extraordinary way in which Glyndwr is engaged in the world.

In every case, Universities are pursuing these opportunities because they are seeking ways to strengthen their economic model, enhance the quality of educational opportunities for students and faculty, bring prestige, and perhaps most important, ensure an engagement in the world, a world in which no one can be certain what kinds of structures and organizations will provide the framework for learning and teaching, scholarship and research in the future. We are all living with the question of what it means to be a university in a world shaped by the forces of globalization.

Today, I would like to reflect on these different kinds of responses that I believe globalization demands of us. The first response looks inward, to within our selves, within our own interiority, and the second looks outside our selves, to the nature of our place in this new ‘globalizing’ world.

The third demands we focus all of our moral resources on an examination of what we have created. The first seeks to respond to what the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, calls the “globalization of superficiality.” The second seeks to establish the nature of our responsibilities to one another and to the common good. The third seeks to critique our current structures, structures of our own creation. The first asks us to explore the conditions for achieving an interior freedom, and the second, our responsibility for integral human development, the third, the need for moral and spiritual reflection.

Interior Freedom

In a speech on April 23 in Mexico City to a gathering of educators from Jesuit colleges and universities from throughout our world, Father Nicolas, said:

“When one can access so much information so quickly and so painlessly; when one can express and publish to the world so immediately and so unthinkingly…when the latest opinion column from the New York Times or El Pais, or the newest viral video can be spread so quickly to people half a world away, shaping their perceptions and feelings, then the laborious, painstaking work of serious, critical thinking often gets short-circuited…I wish to signal…my concern that our new technologies, together with the underlying values such as moral relativism and consumerism, are shaping the interior worlds of so many, especially the young people we are educating, limiting the fullness of their flourishing as human persons and limiting their responses to a world in need of healing intellectually, morally, and spiritually…..” 1

How do we understand the nature of the interior lives of our young people? How are they making sense of our world? What effect do these new technologies of connecting with one another, of social networking have on their ways of making meaning in their lives? How are their imaginations being formed and how do they understand the depth and breadth of their possibilities? Father Nicolas again: “We need to understand this complex new interior world created by globalization….” 2

It is an exciting new world, filled with extraordinary and unprecedented new opportunities for creativity in self-expression, for expanding one’s imaginative capacities, for connecting and linking to one another, to ideas, cultures, and peoples in ways that no one could have imagined even a generation ago. But how do these new possibilities impact our interior worlds, especially those of the young?

Universities have provided a place for protecting and nurturing resources of incomparable value for deepening self-understanding, self-awareness, self-knowledge—resources that support the interior work of seeking inner freedom. If we establish as a goal for each of our lives, Herder’s idea “that each of us has an original way of being human” — that the goal of our lives is to identify what Charles Taylor identifies as our most “authentic” self, such a goal can only be attained through demanding interior work. 3 An authentic self is one living in accord with one’s most deeply held values.

Our decisions and actions are informed by these values, these goods. We seek alignment between these goods and our decisions and actions. As Taylor writes: “There is a certain way of being human that is my way.” 4

The University provides a sustaining and enduring home for the practices, ideas, canonical texts, methodologies, and disciplines that support and sustain this interior work. These resources are so important because we all face significant challenges in living our lives authentically. We cope with resistance – blocks to our ability to live our lives in accord with our most deeply held values.

The French philosopher, Pierre Hadot acknowledges this challenge: “Consumed by worries, torn by passions, he does not live a genuine life, nor is he truly himself. All schools also agree that man can be delivered from this state. He can accede to genuine life, improve himself, transform himself….” 5

Hadot regards philosophy, as practiced by the ancients, as a spiritual exercise. These exercises complement other resources, through which we can confront our blocks and deepen our capacity for interior freedom.

I wish to posit that it is the University that provides the place to protect and sustain the resources we engage in this interior work of freedom. And the University does so in two ways: first, as the container, the protector, the nurturer of these resources. But second; there is another way, universities are communities, shaped by their own values and goals, conflicts and tensions. Universities embody sets of questions, the engagement of which provide an additional set of resources for anyone seeking deeper interior freedom. It is through a living of these questions, in the context of a community of trust, that universities provide a further resource for our interior work.

What are some of these questions that are at the heart of our universities today?

When we learn something, are we discovering something that is part of the world or are we constructing something new for ourselves? This question is present in the contemporary academy as we seek to differentiate what is revealed about the world through the methodologies of the disciplines and what is a product of social construction.

Do we pursue knowledge for instrumental purposes or is there an intrinsic value to knowledge pursued for its own sake?

A traditional role for the humanities was to support the formation of character. In a pluralistic, multi-cultural world, does this idea still make sense? How do we reconcile the role of universities in teaching the rigorous methodologies of the disciplines with the traditional role of the humanities?

How much of what happens to shape our lives is dependent on the place in which we are situated? To what extent does “place” matter? Universities are located in very specific locations, shaped by national interests. And yet, the work of the university transcends borders and boundaries.

What role does the university play in shaping national identity? In a globalizing world, is it important for universities to help shape cosmopolitan citizens of the world?

In a world of unprecedented opportunity to be connected, to be present, to have profound contact with other peoples, cultures, communities, and ideas, I wish to argue that we can look to our universities to provide both the resources for engaging in the work of making meaning in our lives, and also the model of a community, deeply engaged in embracing the tensions that define our world today. In response to the new demands of globalization, the first response is inward, embracing the resources that will enable for ever-deepening interior freedom.

The second response requires an outward look.

Integral Human Development

Every so often something truly extraordinary happens that changes the way we think about the world.
In our lifetimes, one such moment was the introduction of the concepts that we now refer to as Human Development and the Capability Approach. The intellectual father of these ideas is the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, who over the course of his career has developed a set of ideas that now over the past twenty years has transformed how we understand the nature of our responsibilities to one another. Sen sought to move our thinking about development away from metrics like GDP and more to a framework that promoted human flourishing.

There is a profound resonance here to the idea of authenticity – that each of us has our distinctive way of being. What the Human Development and Capability Approach seeks to address are the underlying economic, social, and political conditions that enable each of us to pursue our own understanding of our authenticity. This is “an approach to development in which the objective is to expand what people are able to do and be….” 6 In a sense, the interior work that I speak of, assumes the presence of these conditions.

It was only in 1990 that the first United Nations Human Development Report was published. In that report, the animating concepts were established. Human development was defined as “both the process of widening people’s choices and the level of their achieved well-being.” 7  The core idea – “…The purpose of development is to enhance people’s capabilities….” 8  What does Sen mean by ‘capabilities’? A capability is the “freedom to promote or achieve what [one] values[s] doing and being.” 9  It is a freedom to engage in the practices and activities, what Sen calls the “functionings”, that one values doing and for which there is a value doing. It is through these activities that one achieves “well-being” or “human flourishing” even, “authenticity. These activities are the means by which we each exercise our own unique agency.

The question that Sen asks and that is at the heart of the Human Development approach is: do you have the capability to engage in the activities, the practices, the functioning that matters most to you? Do the social, political, and economic structures provide you with the framework to achieve this capability?

For so much of the modern era we have considered our responsibilities to one another within the poles of utilitarianism and duty-based theories – between the poles of Mill and Kant. For so much of the modern era, this has translated into a focus on GDP. The Human Development and Capacity Approach asks us to consider a better way to address the extraordinary needs for development – half of our world living on less than two dollars a day, a billion people living on less than a dollar a day, with forty-five percent without access to clean water and sanitation. Again, in the words of the first Human Development Report: “The basic objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives. This may appear to be a simple truth. But it is often forgotten in the immediate concern with the accumulation of commodities and financial wealth.” 10  It is lost with a focus on GDP.

These sentiments have been captured in the social teaching of the Catholic Church, first in the 1967 Encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio and more recently in Pope Benedict XVI’s, Caritas en Veritate. Pope Benedict writes: “…in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized…The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interactions of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development.” 11  For Pope Benedict, development is a “vocation” in which the goal is the development of “the whole of the person in every single dimensions.” 12

Now what does all this mean for a university? Universities are seeking to respond to the forces of globalization. We are trying to strengthen our economic or ‘business’ model; we are expanding opportunities for faculty and students to pursue new forms of academic excellence; we are expanding research collaborations. We also need to embrace this new understanding of our responsibilities to one another, for full “integral” development, “to promote the good of every man and of the whole man….” 13  We need to respond to the needs of those marginalized by the same forces we seek to harness. It calls for a new way of being a university, recognizing the responsibilities of institutional agency.

When a world is connected in the way we are; when we assemble the talent that we do; when we can concentrate that talent in new and interdisciplinary ways; when we understand challenges in our world today with a depth and breadth that is unprecedented, we need to acknowledge a new kind of responsibility to engage in the world.

And that is what I think you see happening when you see colleges and universities at work addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic; when you see colleges engaged in efforts to eradicate hunger, or malaria, or illiteracy. You are beginning to see universities engage in both their local and global communities, all a reflection of the need to respond to this new logic, this new moment.

Moral Reflection

But all of this leads to an ever deeper response by our communities – and that is the imperative to bring the moral resources of our universities, of our faith traditions, of the examples of our heroic leaders – men like Gladstone, and to critique the very assumptions of globalization.

Consider some of my words so far – “how do we strengthen our economic or business model;” “how do we harness these forces?”

We have to acknowledge that while these questions capture a truth about our current reality, we exist and function within markets. We live in competitive contexts looking to maximize our performance, we must accept that we have an ever more important role and responsibility within our societies, a role that no one can perform as effectively as the university; to serve as a disinterested critic of these very forces. We must offer a moral and spiritual critique of globalization.

As we have learned over the last twenty months, the faith in a self-correcting market is no better founded than the sense that globalization captures an inexorable logic over which have no control. Economic systems are human constructs. As such, we are responsible for them and we execute this responsibility by the most critical moral reflection possible.

We must examine, question, challenge, and critique the underlying assumptions that guide our systems.

Even if we acknowledge and celebrate the economic successes of the past generation, particularly in China and India, we must also recognize the shocking inequities and implications of the system.

How do our systems stand up to a scrutiny shaped by the deepest values that have held us together as people – a respect for human dignity and human flourishing, a responsibility for the common good? We have to ask ourselves how “work” is experienced in a global economy? Are the conditions present in the way the very nature of work is changing, for us to achieve authenticity? Does globalization undermine the development of our capabilities?

This is a different kind of engagement with globalization. First I argued that we need to counter the pervasiveness of the new technologies with a recognition of the work that fosters interior freedom, all for the purpose of achieving, in each of our lives, a sense of authenticity. Second, I acknowledged the constraints that poverty and inequality place on our achieving the capabilities to pursue our own conceptions of authentic human development.

And now I am arguing that we have to go even deeper – and challenge the very assumptions themselves – to expose these assumptions to the most rigorous moral critique, because we are responsible for these systems. It is the academy – our colleges and universities – who have always been expected to perform this role, in the disinterested pursuit of truth. This is a moment in which we must honor this expectation.

1. Nicolas, Adolfo, “Depth, Universality, and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today,” Networking Jesuit Higher Education: Shaping the Future for a Humane, Just, Sustainable Globe, Mexico City, 23 April 2010.

2. Nicolas, Adolfo.

3. Taylor, Charles, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992) 28.

4. Taylor, Charles 28-29.

5. Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, Ed. Arnold Davidson, Trans. Michael Chase (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1995) 102.

6. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds., An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency (London: earthscan, 2009) 23.

7. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds. 26.

8. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds. 26-27.

9. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds. 31.

10. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani, eds. 41.

11. Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth Caritas in Veritate (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2009) 7.

12. Benedict XVI 10.

13. Benedict XVI 16.