Jesuit Institute Fellow Studies Christian Spirituality

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Diana Villegas, whose academic background combines spirituality, sociology and social work, is the Jesuit Institute visiting fellow for the 1998-99 academic year.

Villegas is pursuing a research project titled "An Interdisciplinary Approach to Defining and Interpreting Christian Spirituality." As the institute's visiting fellow, Villegas will give two public lectures during the academic year, and will conduct a one-day seminar on work she has produced while at Boston College.

On Thursday, Dec. 3, Villegas presented "Plurality of Spiritual Paths: Challenge to Christian Spirituality" in Devlin 008.

According to Villegas, her project will address how spirituality can be defined as a human experience and as a field of study so it encompasses non-traditional, multicultural and ecumenical experiences. This involves, she said, asking how one can understand and interpret contemporary experiences that, while not part of traditional religious practice, are considered by many Christians as part of their spiritual journey.

Drawing upon the works of Karl Rahner, Erich Fromm, Erik Erikson and Catherine of Siena, Villegas seeks to show how an interdisciplinary interpretation of spirituality can serve as a means for studying Christian spirituality.

Villegas said her longstanding interest in Ignatian spirituality - her doctoral dissertation focused on Catherine of Siena and Ignatius of Loyola - has illuminated her professional career, providing a useful basis for her appointment as the institute's visiting fellow.

Diana Villegas. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

"My clinical and pastoral work has provided many examples of how people have included non-traditional spiritual practices in their search for God, and in their search for spiritual and psychological growth," she explained. "These stories have raised a number of questions in terms of Christian theology, and these questions have motivated my current research project.

"The Jesuit Institute's mission of investigating the intersection of faith and culture in an interdisciplinary context made it an ideal setting in which to conduct this exploration."

Villegas earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Stanford University, a master's degree from the Hunter College School of Social Work, and a doctorate in spirituality from Fordham University. She also studied at the Institute for Spirituality of Gregorian University in Rome.

Her publications include the article "Discernment in Catherine of Siena" in the journal Theological Studies .

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