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J. Michelle Molina

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2004


Geographic Field(s):  Latin American and Caribbean History

Principal Research Interest(s):  Trans-regional Religious History, Jesuits, Gender and Subjectivity, Early Modern Europe and Colonial Latin America


J. Michelle Molina (Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2004) studies the Society of Jesus in the early modern period. She explores Jesuit spirituality in an effort to understand how individuals – both elite and commoner -- approached and experienced religious transformation. In particular, she has been interested in examining the impact of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises – a meditative retreat geared toward self-reform – on early modern global expansion. Molina’s book, To Overcome Oneself: The Jesuit Ethic and the Spirit of Global Expansion, is published with University of California Press. The book examines the impact that this Jesuit program of radical self-reflexivity had on the formation of early modern selves in Europe and New Spain. She offers a novel retelling of the emergence of the Western concept of a “modern self” by demonstrating how the struggle to forge and overcome selves was enmeshed in early modern Catholic missionary expansion.

Momentarily emerging from the early modern period to bear witness to events in her own era, Molina explains what it might mean that the new pope is a Jesuit. She has observed that it is best to situate this Jesuit pope in relation to the modes of self-formation found in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and, importantly, that this Catholic imperative to “know thyself” indicates that Pope Francis is well versed in what has been termed “philosophy as a way of life.”

Molina is now researching the life of a young Swedish Lutheran who, inspired by Voltaire, took up life as a merchant to learn more about the world and to find “true religion” based upon reason. When he boarded a ship to Corsica in 1769, his travelling companions were 200 Mexican Jesuits recently expelled from the Americas. In close confines with these members of the Society of Jesus for the duration of his five-week journey, Thjülen chose to convert to Catholicism and, shortly after arriving in Italy, he became a Jesuit.

The courses she teaches are varied, ranging from graduate courses on body and embodiment, upper-division undergraduate seminars on Christianity and colonialism, and a freshman seminar on philosophy and religion in the films of Woody Allen.

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