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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

"Ways of Knowing:" Re-integrating Spirituality in the Catholic University and Liberal Arts

On November 12 the Boisi Center hosted a colloquium with James Morris, an expert on Islam and professor of theology at Boston College. Morris presented the complexities of grappling with religious spirituality in the twenty-first century. Although “spirituality” is a term that is difficult to define, Morris said it is the spirit that teaches us “what we are as human beings within any of these [religious] traditions.”

Morris began his lecture by pointing out the historical shift from agrarian societies to “modern” societies. In agrarian societies, a localization of spiritual practices occurred within religious traditions both Islamic and otherwise. The presence of the divine was seen in the midst of the local human community.

Today, however, the world is globalized rather than localized. Spiritual experiences—and the understanding of what it means to be human that goes with them—cut across religious, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Because expressions of spirituality are no longer local, students must find explanatory contexts for understanding the new forms of spirituality to which they are being exposed, and which are often culturally and religiously foreign to them. The liberal arts curriculum provides one accessible location where students can be instructed about spirituality in a variety of its expressions.

Morris pointed out that access to spiritual texts, once the domain of experts in particular religions, are now available to the general public. Teaching the liberal arts allows them to contextualize these teachings, and they appropriate and transform these teachings into a variety of actions, such as medicine, environmentalism, peace-making and artistic