During its annual meeting this year, the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network for Africa (JENA) organised the First International JENA Conference on the Implementation of the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) with a focus on the role of knowledge, research and collaboration, from August 6th to 9th. The Conference brought together Jesuits and lay partners from the both the social and intellectual ministries who included about 35 experts along with the JCAM President Fr. Orobator and the Secretary for Social Justice at the Jesuit Curia in Rome (The Jesuit Central Office), Fr. Xavier Jeyeraj. The Conference discussed ways to deploy and track the implementation of the UAPs on all levels and scales.
In February this year, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) announced the four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) which will provide a guideline for Jesuit apostolic engagement for the next 10 years. The UAPs are an ambitious roadmap to guide Jesuit efforts to contribute to the transformation of the world. The UAPs, which really are a mission given to the Society of Jesus by the Pope, are a means we Jesuits want to engage to support global efforts to promote wellbeing, both material and spiritual, end all forms of poverty in the world, reduce inequalities, fight against climate change and promote inclusive, equitable and quality sustainable development for all.
JENA is seeking to become one of the leading actors in the debate, analysis, the development and implementation of UAPs and promoting the contribution of universities and academic centres throughout. The UAPs appeal to all Jesuits and collaborators the world over to raise awareness of how the problems and realities of the planet affect us all. JENA members want to display firm commitment and effective leadership in the assumption of these global challenges.
Linking Faith, Knowledge and Depth
As we work toward the reorientation of development practice towards social and ecological justice, JENA is influenced by the fact that knowledge is a force for good for it provides our apostolic engagement with the needed depth of understanding of issues. We understand that those with knowledge have the capacity to shape choices, and to frame the possibility architecture under which we can build a more just world. It is for this reason that we seek to transform JENA into an active knowledge network by enhancing our capacity for analysis and by promoting knowledge collaboration within the Jesuit networks, and to cultivate within JENA the capacity to influence the future of Africa and the world.
In his letter to the Jesuits announcing the UAPs, the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa stated that “responding to the call of the universal apostolic preferences (UAPs) necessitates that we strive more than ever for the intellectual depth that our foundational charism and tradition demand…” Fr. Sosa emphasized that … intellectual depth should characterize all forms of the apostolate of the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits).” For the Jesuits there is a deep link between the service of faith and the need for intellectual depth for through the intellectual engagement we express our faith with intellectual consistency. This is crucial to the mission of the Jesuits.
Knowledge Economy and Epistemic Justice
We work in Africa, among, and with African peoples. It is now widely acknowledged that Africa accounts for far too small a fraction of global knowledge production. Only 2.6% of the world’s scientific publications involve the participation of an African author. Africa’s fraction of global expenditure on research and development is a meagre 1.3%. JENA’s orientation towards knowledge development and communication for the promotion of justice and toward promotion of the right policies to promote knowledge development in Africa as a whole aims to help correct this.
With the words of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ in mind, we are aware that the “fragmentation of knowledge often leads to a lack of appreciation for the whole, for the inter-relationships between things, for the broader horizon” to which we travel. For Africa, the consequences of a marginal contribution to knowledge production is a lack of influence over framing, decision-making and prioritisation. In development work, the implication is that although African organisations may be trusted with implementing projects, the tasks of investigation, analysis, ideation and influence are carried out elsewhere, and pursue visions that are not dreamed by Africans. Humanity too is starved of the wealth of knowledge transmitted from African innovation and analysis. The situation demands correction.
At JENA, we want to make a conscious contribution to the pursuit of epistemic justice. We understand this to be an extension of our work on social and ecological justice. Our efforts as a network pursue a more inclusive practice of knowledge production and promotion of a knowledge economy in Africa, one in which African voices play an equitable role. Through the practice and promotion of quality research, writing, film, publication and distribution, we intend to advocate for an informed and responsive struggle for integral justice. We believe that through these contributions, we set about completing the picture of variegated yet inter-connected human experience. As Pope Francis has averred, ‘there can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology.’
Our Knowledge Derives from Our Frontier Experience
JENA’s emphasis on knowledge production offers to the world the discernment and knowledge engendered by our members’ fusion of Christian ethics and frontline experience. Drawn from work in communities beset by the ravages of poverty and vulnerability to ecological violence and extreme climatic events, these perspectives are not merely African. Instead, they complicate the African story, offering insights from an enduring engagement with communities struggling to survive and thrive through crises. This experience is refracted through the diligent labour of Jesuit social centres, universities and institutions of learning. We propose to advance a fusion of the situated sympathies of the Social Centres with the scholarship of the Intellectual Apostolate.
JENA is instituting mechanisms through which its associates and members can improve their capacity for the production of legible, impactful knowledge. We want to connect the world to more ways of seeing and knowing. We want to supply new channels of understanding and sympathy. This will not work against their present proficiencies but will equip them with tools for knowledge development and analysis, and give them access to spaces from which they can more fully participate in, influence and determine global discourse.
JENA has recently developed a knowledge management and communication (KMC) strategy. Through its KMC JENA is instituting an ongoing practice of information transmission from the social centres and the intellectual ministries through information technology. We want to make accessible and influential communications that promote an integral ecology approach to healing the planet.
In addition, a planned October-November 2019 workshop will bring JENA’s research abd writing working groups into a working relationship with invited representatives of influential academic journals. Through an iterative round of collaborative co-writing, reviews and edits with experienced writers and editors, JENA’s associates will work towards the publication of quality research. These papers will represent new insights into the thematic areas that are the focus of our work. With a target publication date of early 2020, we hope to make a first step in the collective triumph over the barriers that stymie African knowledge production relevant for the promotion of justice, sustainable development and the eradication of poverty.
We want JENA’s associates to be acknowledged for the expertise they have gained through experience. We want to situate the use of intellectual analysis and knowledge production as a fundamental component of our work in social and ecological justice. We want to insist that experience and a practice of information sharing, knowledge exchange and discernment can produce legitimate contributions to the human capacity of seeing and knowing our common home.
Along with those working for justice from other parts of the world, we envision a fruitful dialogue between scientific-technical language local knowledge and the popular expressions of the people. The tasks of the future, contending with the crises of the climate, water, food, energy and the environment demand reflection and debate across the multiple perspectives from which we contend with the world. A correction of the models that have brought the world to these crisis demands a practice of questioning, a study of the workings of the systems that have produced the present state of the world. As Pope Francis avers, “strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach”, JENA working across disciplines