Conference Examines Jesuits' Contributions to Culture, Arts

(5-29-97) -- Nearly 350 years to the day since the Society of Jesus was banned from the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Puritans, a major conference is being held at Boston College that highlights the contributions of those early Jesuits to culture and the arts.

Scholars from across the world gathered at the University on Wednesday for the opening session of a four-day conference, "The Jesuits: Culture, Learning and the Arts, 1540-1773."

Two-and-a-half years in the planning, the May 28-June 1 conference sponsored by the Jesuit Instituteis examining the interaction between religion and culture in Jesuit painting, music and science during the Age of Discovery.

The conference, which organizers say is unprecedented in Jesuit scholarship circles, has attracted some 150 participants for an eclectic agenda of seminars examining the Jesuit expression of faith through painting, architecture, music and theater; through astronomy, mathematics and the other sciences; and through missionary interaction with the native peoples of Asia and the Americas.

"The focus of your gathering is very much what we're about at Boston College," said University President William P. Leahy, SJ, welcoming conference attendees at Fulton Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

"We are committed to intellectual excellence and we very much want to deepen knowledge and appreciation of the Catholic intellectual, social and religious heritage," he said. "And as a school founded by Jesuits, it also is very appropriate that we examine, in particular, the contribution of Jesuits to our culture and learning and the arts."

Jesuit Institute Director Michael Buckley, SJ, noting that the Jesuits were banished on pain of death from the Massachusetts Bay Colony on May 26, 1647, mused, "So you can see why, on such an anniversary, the institute can doubly appreciate your presence and the presence of your scholarship here - people of obviously enormous courage."

Today, Boston College is home to one of the largest Jesuit communities in the world.

The wide-ranging and multicultural approach of the conference was praised by Fr. Leahy, who said traditional studies of Jesuit cultural contributions have often rested on a narrow framework, such as the order's influence on the Counter Reformation or its scholastic philosophy.

"We've looked at Jesuits in isolation from the rest of society and the rest of the world," Fr. Leahy said. "Very much needed is an approach that I see in this conference. We need studies which examine Jesuit efforts in a broader context."

The schedule for today, for example, includes sessions on Jesuit science and mathematics, Jesuit aesthetics in book publishing, and the Jesuit missionary experience in South America and the Philippines, ending at 7:45 p.m. in Devlin 008 with a baroque music recital and a media presentation on the imagery of the China missions.

On Friday night, San Ignacio de Loyola, an 18th-Century chamber opera from the Jesuit Reductions of the ancient Province of Paraguay, will be performed in St. Mary's Chapel. The opera, scheduled for 8 p.m., will be performed by the Boston early-music group Ensemble Abendmusik.

The conference closes at 9 a.m. Sunday in Fulton 511, where a panel discussion and accompanying open forum will address the theme, "What Have We Learned? Where Do We Go From Here?"

For information on attending conference sessions, contact the Jesuit Institute at ext.2-8290. Information on musical performances is available from the Music Department, at ext.2-4843.

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