Following the third round of meetings in Madrid, March 1-2, 2018.

Across Europe, the Society of Jesus maintains a large network of higher-education institutions and social-policy centres which every day educate tens of thousands of young people and scrutinize untold government proposals and policy initiatives. The HEST initiative (Higher Education for Social Transformation) seeks to mobilise this network of research bodies so as to challenge realities on the ground by advocating for constructive change founded on solid research. Going beyond an expression of our collective social responsibility, HEST is an attempt to put flesh and bones on one of the hallmark slogans of the Jesuit approach to life – that we should be men and women for others.

Seven research clusters have been established that seeks to direct this wealth of researching talent towards the issues that are most pressing in Europe today.

They are:

  • Ecology and Environmental Challenges
  • Economy, Poverty and Ethics
  • Christian Muslim Relations
  • Dialogue Science and Religion
  • Ignatian Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Migrations and Refugees

These clusters, made of experts, analysts and researchers – both “J” and “lay” – from across Europe, are meeting over the period of three years with the intention of providing meaningful and quality research so as to yield real-world advocacy proposals. They also hope to sharpen local recommendations through the pan-European cooperation and to strengthen the Jesuit Identity of Jesuit higher-education institutions.

The ambitious, ultimate aim, is that this project would roll for fifteen years, thoroughly transforming the internal self-understanding of Jesuit higher-education institutions and making a concrete difference for the most marginalised in our society.

I am a member of the “Economy, Poverty and Ethics” cluster, which seeks to take seriously the commitment made in Decree 1 of the General Congregation 36, that “Global Wealth Inequalities” is one of the issues that Jesuits must pay particular attention to. We met for the third workshop of our group in Madrid in early March. Made up of scholars and experts from Poland, France, Belgium, England, Ireland, and Spain, this group – largely led by economists – are eager to explore below the numbers and examine what is really happening in the European economy. A decade on from the last crash, there is widespread dis-satisfaction with the so-called “recovery”.

With this in mind, the group has focused on two critical issues:

  • Models for company-formation
  • Policies to deal with precarious labour

The first focus area will draw on Catholic Social Teaching to explore how the legal construction of corporations can place the pursuit of the common good right alongside the pursuit of profit. The second focus area will explore how the response to the economic crash of 2008 has left more and more people on the economic sidelines and how we should seek to address that issue.

Europe was struggling with awful weather, so delegates faces snowdrifts and airport delays to make the meetings. Madrid itself was buffeted by storm winds and flooding rains. But every delegate who gathered felt that the trip was more than worthwhile. The contemporary university is geared towards ever more intense specialisation and too often our individual research agendas, directed by abstract government rating-systems, gets disconnected from the real-world problems that we most want to address. HEST represents a different way of researching: inter-disciplinary, grounded in friendship and mutual values, dedicated towards the service of those most in need of help. In this, it is already a remarkable distillation of the finest parts of the Jesuit tradition.