Thursday, September 30, 2010

Justice-Based Identities?

In advocating for the Jesuit community to “go beyond a disincarnate spiritualism or a secular social activism,” Peter-Hans Kolvenbach presents a possibility that a religious person can exert a concrete positive force in society without abandoning the ceremonial and contemplative components of his faith (30). This stands in contrast to the presentation of religion in Tales of the Tikongs as an ingrained cultural custom which allows the citizens of Tikong to satisfy an inherent desire for the divine -- as Rosie mentioned in our class discussion -- without having to make and act on philosophical observations in the world around them, while the few who are compelled to challenge unjust conventions are those largely unaffiliated with religion.

Kolvenbach insists that a median position can exist between these two extremes -- a concept which reminded me of a recent article by Keith Fournier which calls for a "true humanism" that seeks a "just and human society" based in, and not separated from, the "objective truths" of Christianity (Fournier). Kolvenbach acknowledges how easily one’s religious beliefs can be partitioned from routine decision-making. His mention of a “Jesuit…medical school….producing…some of the most corrupt citizens in [Beirut]” seems analogous to Hau’ofa’s stories of a regular churchgoers like Sione who, though they listen all day Sunday to the preaching of Christian dogma, are corrupt businessmen throughout the rest of the week(23 – 4). I found Kolvenbach's call for reformation of such stunted religious viewpoints through a refocusing of Jesuit education a refreshing change from Hau’ofa’s less nuanced approach of presenting religion and social improvement as mutually exclusive.

Nevertheless, in reading Kolvenbach's description of an excellent professor at a Jesuit university being one who in his or her "research...[collaborates] with those in the Church and in society...who actively seek justice," I had reservations that this standard would leave some professors conflicted between a desire to remain as objective as possible in their studies and one compelling them to "[adopt] the point of view of those who suffer injustice" (37). For a scientist, journalist or sociologist, can the expression of "such an explicit option" be completely reconciled with a duty to "seek the truth" in an unbiased way (37)? In trying to work out this quandary for myself, I am reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre's position that facts cannot ever be divorced from morality, an idea extremely similar to Kolvenbach's statement that "no point of view is ever...value free" (37). In addition, as many have pointed out in relation to both journalism and the sciences, one's preferences influence the practice of one's discipline regardless of how one might try to remove his or herself from them. Those whose research is not influenced by an "option" for the poor will be influenced by other, perhaps less altruistic, biases (37).

Even in acknowledging this, however, I wonder if any kind of research can reflect reality accurately if the researcher is keeping even the most compassionate of biases in mind while conducting the research. I think that a researcher can be a compassionate citizen, just as I agree with Kolvenbach that being religious should not prevent one from being a compassionate citizen. However, my current, albeit tentative, belief is that a researcher must look to his or her duties as a citizen only after his or her research has been completed, at which point he or she can look back on objective data and draw moral conclusions from it.


Fournier, Keith. "Catholics Need Not Apply. Firing Professor Howell. Rise of Anti-Catholicism." Catholic Online. 19/07/2010. Web. 30/09/2010.

Hau'ofa, Epeli. Tales of the Tikongs. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1994. Print.

Kolvenbach, Peter-Hans. "The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education." Baltimore: Apprentice House, 2007. Print.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: Third Edition. United States: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Print.

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