Askesis & Spiritual Exercises: The Contemporary Practice of Intentional Community in Historical Context


Course Description

The contemporary practice of “intentional community” draws on a long tradition, secular, Christian, and classical Greek. At the core of such practice is the notion of “askesis”, or “spiritual exercise”, according to Pierre Hadot the central meaning of classical Greek philosophy as a way of life, then elaborated considerably throughout Christian history, above all in monastic practices and explicitly so as “spiritual exercises” by Ignatius of Loyola.

This directed reading will examine the theory and practice of askesis or spiritual exercises in historical context and bring these to bear on contemporary practice. Excerpts from Albert Borgmann’s Technology and the character of contemporary life, starting with his outline of ‘the device paradigm’ as central to technological practice followed by his advocacy of ‘focal practices’ as their critical counter, will establish a contemporary critical starting point for articulation of some of the contemporary motivation and rationale for intentional community. His notion of ‘focal practice’ will be substantially elaborated through a historical sketch of askesis as central to Greek philosophy using Hadot, which is also the foundation for its substantial development and elaboration through Christian monastic practice, considering the Benedictine order and then Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. 


Texts (required):

Borgmann, A. (1984). Technology and the character of contemporary life.  Chicago & London: University of Chicago. (pp. 40-46, and pp. 196-210)

Hadot, Pierre. (1995). Philosophy as a way of life. Oxford & Cambridge: Blackwell. (from Intro, pp. 19-26; from Ch. 1, pp. 56-61; and Chs. 3, 4, & 11)

Haight, Roger. (2012). Christian Spirituality for Seekers: Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Marett-Crosby, Anthony, and Benedict. (2003). The Benedictine Handbook. Collegeville: Liturgical Press.


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