Joseph F. Duggan
Last week at the “Pressing On” meeting in Argentina, a small group of scholars gathered from North and South America. These scholars intermittently listened to telecasted papers from around the world. The sound quality was as though the papers were being given just across the room. One might well ask why with these technologies would anybody go to Argentina or anywhere else for a postcolonial meeting? Ignatian spirituality reveals one possible answer.
As a young Jesuit during the summer of 1983 I was sent by my Jesuit superiors to the Dominican Republic to have the experience of being a minority in another culture where I did not know the language. I did not live in Jesuit community but rather with a family of slender means. It was the secondary goal of my superiors for me to learn Spanish. The first was for me to see and feel firsthand the pains of poverty so that I would yearn for justice. The experience was then and now more robust than most field education experiences of divinity students at theological schools.
Let me be very clear that I did not want to go to the Dominican Republic! I was afraid of and anxious about the differences I would encounter, though at the time I could not articulate my fears. I went because I had a pact with myself that if I could make it, that is, if I could press through this one difficult task, the Jesuits could not come up with a more challenging assignment for me. Then I would be cleared for ordination! In some sense, the Jesuits did not come up with any more challenging assignments. Rather the experiences that came later forced me in a variety of ways to come to terms with my resistance to being open and available to go anywhere.
Postcolonial Spirituality through Elements of the Daily Examination of Conscience
The primary vocation of priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus is not fundamentally to be scholars, but to unite hearts and minds in whatever is their ministry. To bridge the heart and mind divide requires a deep sense of availability and indifference to one’s own preferences in order to enter the struggle of others for liberation.
For the last 27 years since I left the Society of Jesus, I have engaged in the examination of conscience twice a day, which has been for me the embodiment of Ignatian spirituality and the very cornerstone of my daily spiritual discipline. These daily spiritual disciplines have become the bedrock and inspiration for my ministries as founder of Postcolonial Networks, knowledge activist, and priest.
To unite my heart and mind in an Ignatian way means to develop an internal yet practical discipline to integrate my prayers and heart with my scholarship, in ways that inform my ethical, moral, social, and political choices and how I relate to others. The Protestant’s Ignatian practice is unbounded by obedience to human superiors. In the original rendering of The Exercises, change desired is directed toward the retreatant and subject to a superior. The subject is to become more humble, accepting of suffering, and even unthinkingly obedient. Ignatius’ Rules for Thinking with the Church basically say a subject must accept that a white piece of paper is black if his superior so wishes it. In a Protestant revisioning of The Exercises, the emphasis is on relationship in a community of faithful persons.
The examination of conscience in Ignatius’ time as well as in ours is a means to integrate, on a daily basis, all of our relationships with people.
Daily Rhythm of Interpersonal and Systemic Relational Accountabilities
The examination was never intended to be about a privatized relationship with God. The examination of conscience is and always has been deeply relational. The examination of conscience is intended to bring us into deep contact and whole connection with all humanity and all creation. The Ignatian examination is directly related to the Ignatian Principle and Foundation in The Spiritual Exercises. The Principle and Foundation that open The Spiritual Exercises is that all of creation offers us the privilege to give honor and glory to God. When we misuse or abuse creation we fall into personal and systemic sin. We cannot be in right relationship with God unless we are in right relationship with all creation. When one’s relationship with God is privatized and or privileged over another’s distinctive relationship with God this leads to distorted identities and our distortion of God.
Over the years the examination has become such a part of my internal spiritual rhythm that I now spontaneously do the examination of conscience throughout my day instead of following a long list of Ignatian instructions. I do so in between real-time relationships and especially in moments I recognize the Spirit’s presence and absence as I move closer and away from my postcolonial commitments and thus from the heart of God. It has become difficult to ignore my refusal of God’s presence when through selfishness I refuse to bless the differences of others.
It is easy to write about postcolonial ideas, but far more challenging to engage differences that thrust us out of our comfortable privileges in the academy and/or church. The examination of conscience has become for me a postcolonial spirituality. The historical Ignatian examination of conscience did not overnight become my postcolonial spirituality, however. Rather my practice of the examination of conscience has evolved at the same pace as I have learned decolonial and postcolonial principles and have attempted to practice them in ways that are leading to a very slow decolonization of self.
In the Dominican Republic in 1985 and in Argentina in 2013 I was immersed in the struggles of others in ways that cannot be passively gained through reading books apart from firsthand encounters with these struggles. Moving closer to the heart of God means moving closer to the plurality of sacred differences. By staying within the midst of a multiplicity of blessed differences then, on a daily basis I am challenged to resist facile identarian coherence in ways that also draw me closer to the heart of God. Through postcolonial spirituality I must constantly re-surrender to a multiplicity of differences and struggles.
Dissonance Between Postcolonial Desires and Colonized Practices in the Academy
Through my privileged Postcolonial Networks position in collaborations and conversations with scholars all over the world I see tensions between scholars’ postcolonial ideals and their praxis, between mind and heart. These tensions reveal gaps between a discipline’s values and the practices to which it gives rise. I share with you some composite stories without attribution to make more tangible observed disconnects between hearts and minds, visions and praxis.
I – Several years ago I met a senior postcolonial “master scholar” who after several rounds of intense interrogation by another scholar responded in defense, “it is only an argument, I could have written any argument.” The scholar admitted that their postcolonial argument was at bottom just another academic argument. The scholar’s argument did not reflect personal passion, values, or ethical commitments.
II – In one of my many roles as Postcolonial Networks founder, competent and visionary prospective doctoral students, often marginalized people of color, from all around the world, write to me every year and seek my recommendations of postcolonial faculty and PhD programs. I was successful in helping one student find a placement two years ago. At about the same time another prospective scholar contacted me. One postcolonial scholar described this prospective student as having the potential to be “probably my best PhD student ever.” That postcolonial scholar was not in a position to accept the student. I have contacted universities around the world, spoken with top postcolonial scholars, many of whom would be readily recognized by you, only to receive consistently the same response, no.
After many rejections I finally began to press into why an outstanding prospective doctoral researcher would be turned down. From several postcolonial scholars and their institutional admission practices, I began to encounter bias against students from this person’s nation. Some reported the institutions’ frustration with having made major investment in students seemingly without any financial return. I shared my experiences with a Postcolonial Networks board member who wondered why these same institutions do not stop accepting North American or European students who give nothing back to the institution from which they received their PhD.
III – Postcolonial Networks has initiated three postcolonial meetings outside of North America and Europe. These meetings have taken place in Bangalore, Melbourne, and Buenos Aires. It is significant to note that initially twelve North American and European senior scholars expressed interest in one of these three meetings but only one came. Of course there were a variety of excellent excuses that deflected individual faculty responsibilities including the most common excuse, a lack of funding for travel to these meetings. Behind this lack of funding was an individual decision to prioritize scholarly meetings such as the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting, a meeting that we must admit is almost exclusively North American and Euro-centric and a comfortable distance from the cries for liberation.
These are only a few stories among many others that I have observed through my privileged position. Too many postcolonial faculties have not internalized their decolonial values through postcolonial spiritual work. Due to the lack of a postcolonial spirituality there is an ethical dissonance that marks a lack of desire for a reflexive self-accountability.
These stories demonstrate a need for three shifts:
The first step is a shift from self-centered spirituality to spiritualities that have a visible, relational, and public embodiment through our passionate commitments to the postcolonial work we claim to do.
The second step is about embracing the task of teachers to self-actualize justice commitments, taught through both institutional decisions we have the privilege to influence and the praxis we perform in the broader community.
The third step is to use our financial resources and other privileges in ways that bring us more proximate to the struggles and needs of those still trapped in the active clenches of colonialism.
The level of decolonization Postcolonial Networks is capable of as an organization is dependent on our collective relationships and the ethical and moral commitments that postcolonial scholars, faith leaders, and activists are called to live through their postcolonial spiritualities. These commitments require a decolonizing death to our egocentricities and domination through established hierarchies of teacher-student, faith leader-congregant, and prophet-people.
Postcolonial spirituality must begin within each of us as our own internal decolonial discipline and self-decolonization. Our postcolonial words will fall on deaf ears if as postcolonial scholars we do not change ourselves. Unlike the scholar that is able equally to make any argument and is indifferent to all arguments, I am convinced that decolonized spiritualities draw us into postcolonial relationships where colonizer and colonized are each held morally accountable.
Professor Nestor Miguez opened up last week’s Argentinean meeting by stating that postcoloniality can never be spoken without also speaking about colonialism and anti-colonialism. Miguez’ point was that colonialism continues in Argentina and postcoloniality is not yet fully a reality. It is impossible for us as North Americans and Europeans to understand these words from the comfortable distance of our libraries. We need postcolonial spiritualities that call us out of ourselves and into relationships of accountability that lead to global justice. For some this will mean the choice to use limited travel funds to go to places outside of our geographical and ideological comfort zones to encounter firsthand the cry of the colonized. For those who cannot travel for whatever reason, meaningful and authentic choices are made when we choose relationships, collaborations, and conversation partners with scholars outside of our comfortable parochial spheres of influence.
My journey toward the expression of a postcolonial spirituality is only one way, one form and one set of decolonial, spiritual practices. I welcome learning about the ways in which you, the reader have found spiritual practices that help you embody your decolonial and postcolonial planetary justice commitments.
Joseph F. Duggan, PhD, is founder of Postcolonial Networks.