Seeking Understanding and Solidarity
Introduction to Summer 2022
By Aaron Willis
Director of Bannan Forum and Ignatian Formation
Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education,
Santa Clara University
Seeking Understanding and Solidarity
In the inaugural issue of explore, Robert Senkewicz laid out his vision for the newly formed Bannan Institute. Among the core goals of the work was to create a space where faculty, staff, and students “could figure out just what it means for us to be associated with this particular type of educational institution—a Jesuit, Catholic one.” As the first director of the Institute (now the Bannan Forum), he premised his original vision “on the notion that struggling with the question of our Catholic and Jesuit identity is one way in which we can become a better and more genuine university.”
This issue of explore returns to and continues that vision. In fall 2020, a group of faculty from across the institution began the first year of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition Seminar. Over the course of six meetings, they discussed shared texts that explored various aspects of the tradition and reflected on those readings and conversations with their teaching and scholarship in mind. Faculty also brought a range of faith, spiritual, and philosophical traditions and engaged with the readings through an interdisciplinary lens—sharing a desire to better understand what it means “to be associated with this particular type of educational institution” and how the Catholic intellectual tradition might foster intellectual and educational excellence at Santa Clara.
Over the course of the seminar, our shared reading from the Jesuit John Haughey’s monograph Where Is Knowing Going sparked discussion on a key tension we faced: the “Catholic” part of the Catholic intellectual tradition. For many, the label brought up the specter of a limitation of questions, ideas, and understanding in order to serve narrow dogmas. For others, it read as a barrier to intellectual or educational exploration and excellence. Yet as Haughey notes, “this tradition should not find any portion of reality alien to it. The catholicity of the tradition has its origin in the universal drive people have to make sense, to make meaning, to make wholes that would not be unless they birthed them.”
The seminar approached the Jesuit, Catholic identity of the university through these two lenses, which lie at the core of our institutional mission. As Robert Senkewicz pointed out in 1997, “according to Jesuit ethos, it is the responsibility of the educated person to work for a more just and humane social order.” This is what we still claim today and what cannot be achieved if we fail to fully embrace reality in all its complexity and brokenness. It also won’t be achieved if we cannot do so as a community united in a shared purpose and inspired by a diverse set of experiences, beliefs, and traditions that represent the totality of our world. The vitality of our institution is dependent on a radical openness and inclusivity, not a closed and static vision of “tradition.”
In the following pages, the results of our conversations and shared readings are expressed in a series of essays that largely and organically cohere around themes of solidarity, understanding, and compassion for one another. This is perhaps unsurprising for a series of conversations that took place over Zoom during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The concept of solidarity has deep roots in the Catholic tradition, as it does in many traditions and cultures across the world, and like any idea with a long and complicated history, it avoids simplistic definition. In its broadest sense, solidarity within the Catholic tradition is focused on the notion that we are related to one another and that our ability to flourish is dependent on the flourishing of those around us. This reality calls us to a deep commitment to the flourishing and welfare of all people and creation, not just our own self-interest. We stand with each other in recognition of the fact that when any human suffers, we all suffer, for we are part of a single web of creation that is constantly in relationship with each other across divides of geography, race, gender, class, sexuality, and other categories of difference and identity. It is easy to see how, within this context, thin concepts and practices of solidarity are common. But the challenge we all face is to build relationships of solidarity that have transformative potential.
The essays in the following issue of explore touch on the struggles to live up to our principles, the suffering we all endure, and the tensions that exist within a community. Yet, ultimately, in the classroom and beyond we are offered visions of where we might find the examples of relationships and commitments that would make a real and enduring solidarity possible. I hope that these essays spark further conversations and reflections about what it means to be a Jesuit, Catholic institution that is committed to justice, inclusivity, and solidarity for all. For that is the ultimate measure of our success as a university community.
Aaron Willis has served as the director of the Bannan Forum since June 2018. Willis received his B.S. in political science from Santa Clara and earned his doctorate in history from the University of Notre Dame. Prior to joining the Ignatian Center, he taught in the history department at Santa Clara University.