Alleviating Suffering through a Global, Catholic and Jesuit, Liberal Education
By: David Hollenbach
April 6, 2015
Catholic and Jesuit universities are well known for their commitment to the liberal arts as the core of the way they help students grow in understanding what it is to be fully human. Several decades ago Michael Buckley argued that a liberal arts education ought to enable students to understand and appreciate not only the heights to which the human spirit can rise but also the depths of struggle and suffering to which human life can descend. Such a concern for those who suffer should in turn grow into a critical effort to understand how their misery can be alleviated. It should lead, in other words, to an effort to secure justice for all whose suffering is caused by human action or failure to act. In Buckley's words, this "care to develop a disciplined sensitivity to human misery and exploitation, is not a single political doctrine or a system of economics. It is a humanism, a humane sensibility to be achieved anew within our own times and as a product of an education whose ideal continues to be that of the Western humanitas."
In our globalizing world, I would carry this a step further. Catholic and Jesuit education should help students grow in their understanding of a fully human life by studying and appreciating at least some aspects of the vision of humanity found in non-Western cultural and religious traditions. Education for our globalizing world cannot be simply education in the Western humanities but must aid students come to authentic insights into human flourishing to be discovered outside the West. This has implications for our core curricula in ways that are both important and complex. We should be asking ourselves really fundamental questions, such as what liberal arts education means in a truly global society. How can we develop curricula that respond to the human suffering caused by poverty, war, and bad governance and that also encourage understanding our pluralistic context while avoiding the dangers of superficiality and eclecticism? These are major intellectual challenges for all higher education today. The leaders of Catholic and Jesuit institutions should be engaged in seeking to respond to them.