That understanding is both true and not quite true. It is true because, since the Church requires a certain amount of philosophical study to prepare candidates for priestly ordination, this stage of formation privileges the study of philosophy. At the same time, the primary purpose of this stage of formation as articulated by the Society is much broader and more expansive. According to the document on intellectual formation (2014), Father General Adolfo Nicolás affirms that the primary focus of first studies is “the context of mission.” So, the Society is asking that we fly a bit higher off the ground so that we can see not only how philosophy is connected to theology but how it is connected to contemporary realities, to the shaping of culture, to other humanistic, artistic, and scientific disciplines, to the lived reality of the poor. The point in doing all of this is so that we become competent in evaluating and engaging any and all ministerial contexts. It may be helpful to think of this stage of formation less as a time to engage a certain body of knowledge or acquire certain disciplinary skills and more a time to grow, with God’s grace, as a person and as a Jesuit.
Yes. It may be helpful to know the process by which the degree program was formulated and approved. After the Bronx was selected by the JCCU to house the pilot program, Fordham’s faculty and administration was engaged (along with members of the Society of Jesus in the US) to shape the new program. Over the course of one academic year, an academic program committee of 16 faculty and 1 administrator met in both small and large working groups to ensure that the learning goals of the Society would be met in academically rigorous, intellectually interesting, and pedagogically sound ways. The committee was led by the Chairs of the Departments of Philosophy and Theology and included, faculty representing eight different disciplines (Philosophy, Theology, Religion and Religious Education, History, English, Art History, Chemistry, and Theatre). This academic committee generated a proposal for the Master of Arts in Philosophy and Society which was studied and approved unanimously by Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in May 2019. The approved proposal was then submitted to the New York State Education Department for its review and comment. NYSED approved the new degree program in August 2020. At each stage of the process, the program has been acknowledged to be rigorous, well-constructed, and innovative.
Because the degree is fundamentally interdisciplinary, it will prove very useful in a variety of contexts. For people who, in regency, may be expected to teach, it will provide a solid grounding not only in the history of ideas but also in the relationship of those ideas to critical issues in the contemporary world. For those who may be involved in social or pastoral work, the degree’s emphasis on the integration between theory and praxis will provide an experience of bringing intellectual depth to direct service of those in need. For those Jesuits who are considering a higher degree, the range of offerings will assist in clarifying their intellectual passions and familiarizing them with both disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to engaging the contemporary world. In particular, the interdisciplinarity will position Jesuits to bring both depth and breadth to future studies—of whatever kind.
A key feature of the pilot program is the emphasis on praxis-based learning, understood as intellectual inquiry and moral reflection rooted in direct contact with innocent suffering and injustice with the aim of fostering a well-educated solidarity especially with the poor and marginalized. Academic courses in all disciplines, but particularly those in the Ignatian Core, will connect intellectual inquiry with the questions and issues emerging in praxis placements. Praxis-based education employs a posture of humble accompaniment. The praxis sites are classrooms and the community partners are teachers. Based upon their academic backgrounds, personal interests, and vocational aspirations, students are paired with a classmate and connected to a local praxis site in the Bronx. Students will spend a minimum of 8 hours per week walking with and learning from the people in these communities. Over the course of the first year, students and praxis site partners will discern and plan a more extensive community project to be executed during the first full summer of the program. The 6-month academic immersion experience at ITESO also offers opportunities for praxis-based learning in the context of Guadalajara, Mexico.
The residential college model aims to create a seamless “living/learning environment that does not imagine academic learning to revolve exclusively around the hours spent in classes from August to May” (IFF, 34). The twelve-month nature of the program takes seriously the fact that Ciszek Hall is our permanent religious home, the community in which we live and work. Further, cultivating and sustaining a fruitful relationship with the people of the Belmont neighborhood in the Bronx requires our continual presence among them. Not only will students take some classes during the summer but they will also undertake more substantial projects with their praxis-site partners. Of course, Jesuits in formation will be able to attend the usual province gatherings, make annual retreats, take vacations, and visit their families. These activities will be scheduled at appropriate times in the calendar as approved by the superior. It is important to emphasize, however, that summers will be spent in the Bronx rather than elsewhere.
The Master of Arts in Philosophy and Society is a graduate degree program; hence graduate-level philosophy courses are required for its completion. Though the Church’s philosophy requirement could be satisfied by an undergraduate major in philosophy or partially fulfilled by an undergraduate minor in philosophy, these courses could not be counted toward the graduate degree. They would, however, position a student to deepen his experience of philosophical study which would be particularly useful if he is interested in pursuing the PhD in Philosophy.
This should be a topic of conversation with the Director of Novices, the Formation Director, and/or the Provincial. Remember that the emphasis of this pilot program is on the integral formational experience it provides for you to grow into your vocation as a companion of Jesus. If, after you consider this, you and your superiors discern that you have done enough philosophy study, then it may be possible to pursue another degree while at Ciszek Hall Jesuit Residential College. The formational goals of first studies, however, would take precedence and the requirements for the other degree would need to fit into the Ignatian Core and the common activities of the learning community. Again, it bears repeating that this stage of formation is not as much about acquiring a certain degree as it is about allowing God to call forth and develop your unique talents for mission.
The expectation of the Society is that upon completion of first studies, Jesuits will have “completed” the equivalent of one year of graduate theological studies. These courses, however, are not at all related to the MDiv requirements of the theological centers. They are, like everything else in this stage of formation, aimed at deepening our understanding of ministerial contexts. Hence, these courses are in a range of areas (theology, spirituality, ministry, etc.). Unlike the Church’s philosophical requirement, this requirement cannot be fulfilled by undergraduate courses in theology. Even if a student is pursuing another degree program, he will be required to complete at least eight courses in theology/ministry.
It may be good to remember here that you will likely be missioned to first studies rather than to a degree program. The aims of first studies will guide the formational experience even if you are, at the same time, pursuing another degree (e.g., in English, History, Medieval Studies, Ethics and Society, etc.). The integrity of the experience is guaranteed not by an academic department but by the Ciszek Hall Residential College. You will participate in all the activities of the learning community in addition to the Ignatian Core (i.e., those courses and learning experiences that bind the community together in a common purpose). The Ignatian Core guarantees that there are at least some shared courses/activities each semester. Included in the Ignatian Core are things like “Introduction to Contextual Learning and the Bronx,” “Ethics in Pastoral Ministry,” “History and Culture of the Jesuits,” etc. The Ignatian Core also includes praxis-placements, “Ignatian Reflection on Contextual Ministry,” and—very importantly—the six-month immersion program at ITESO, Guadalajara, Mexico.
The Initiative for the Future of Formation Report (2017) asks that the pilot program focus significant energies on “expanding horizons” in order to “foster a deeper solidarity with the poor and a greater readiness to minister across cultures in our increasingly global context” (27). Jesuits’ acquiring ministerial competency in Spanish, in addition to being a priority of the US Jesuit provincials, is a step toward broadening horizons. Not only will it assist in the engagement with our neighbors in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, but it will help us to become real friends to them. Living into a more regular use of Spanish will also prepare students for the immersion experience which will involve pastoral and academic use of the language.
You may be wondering how much Spanish you should have had before you arrive in the program. Whatever Spanish acquisition and practice you have had in the novitiate should be an adequate starting point for this program. You will have two full academic years to develop your skills. Language levels will be assessed upon arrival and a plan for ongoing study will be deployed so that you are as well-prepared as possible for the six-month immersion experience.
For US Jesuits, the default language competency in this program is Spanish. If there are Jesuits missioned to Ciszek from other countries (like Canada, Africa, India, etc.), then the language competency and immersion may have to be adjusted (e.g., for Canadians needing to study French, working with the NYC Haitian population maybe arranged). However, there are no plans to make this element of the program a matter of personal choice, particularly because part of the experience is the communal experience of global solidarity. If a Provincial or Formation Director feels that a Jesuit would be better served by focusing on a language other than Spanish, it would be advisable to consider a different first studies program.
Yes, a person without an undergraduate degree may be part of this program, mostly likely declaring a philosophy major. Though the Jesuit would not be completing the MAPS program, he would need to participate as much as possible in the Ignatian Core (adjusted, of course, for his academic level). This course of study will need to be planned very carefully so as to ensure that the aims of first studies and the timely completion of the undergraduate degree are accomplished within the time allotted by the Formation Director. It may very well be that another first studies program may be more suitable for the Jesuit’s needs; however, we will do whatever we can to propose a pedagogically and formationally sound alternative.
As this will be the first assignment for Jesuits who have just taken first vows, Ciszek Hall Jesuit Residential College will aim to support Jesuits in growing into their adult religious lives. No longer in the regimented environment of the novitiate, you will need to take responsibility for cultivating and nourishing your vocation with personal and communal prayer, faith-sharing and spiritual conversation, and regular reflection on the range of your human experience. Our religious community will aim to support you in deepening your self-understanding as a Jesuit; in addition, it will challenge all of us to grow in the habits of communal discernment.
Yes, Jesuits will be in classes with other Fordham students. Jesuits in formation have long valued the opportunity to befriend and collaborate with lay colleagues. This will remain an important part of the first studies experience. At the same time, there will be some classes and course modules that will be particularly geared toward Jesuits in formation (e.g., Contextual Learning in the Bronx, History and Culture of the Jesuits, Concluding Integration Seminar, etc.); hence, they will likely include only Jesuits.
Absolutely. Remember that the primary purpose of first studies is not to “get the philosophy I need in order to study theology in order to be ordained a priest.” If that were the case, then there would be no reason for someone not pursuing ordination to participate in this particular stage of formation. The primary purpose of first studies is to grow as Jesuits capable of encountering, engaging, and evaluating the context of our present and future ministries. The pilot first studies program aims to impart a broad intellectual formation that includes an immersion into the real world of human experience—particularly the experience of the poor and marginalized. It will involve exploring the complexities of the human condition and growing in solidarity with those most in need. It will aim to develop the skills necessary for learned and collaborative ministry that takes occurs in a spirit of dialogue and cultural sensitivity. All of these things are just as important for the formation of Jesuit brothers as they are for Jesuit scholastics. Again, the program is about growing as a person called to know, love, and serve God in the Society of Jesus.
Yes, MAPS would be excellent preparation for a PhD program in philosophy. Not only will you have taken at least ten graduate courses in philosophy by the time that you earn the degree, but you will have completed an integrative capstone project that will demonstrate your ability to integrate and synthesize philosophy not only with other academic disciplines but with contemporary issues in human experience. You will establish close relationships with Fordham’s distinguished philosophy faculty who will mentor you in your ongoing discernment and provide you with important letters of recommendation when the time comes to make application to programs.