Northwestern Events Calendar


Inventories of Ruin: The Demise of the Mexican Jesuits, in Three Acts — Michelle Molina & Matt O'Hara

When: Friday, February 25, 2022
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Danny Postel  

Group: Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Category: Academic, Lectures & Meetings, Multicultural & Diversity, Global & Civic Engagement


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J. Michelle Molina is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and History at Northwestern. She is the author of To Overcome Oneself: The Jesuit Ethic and Spirit of Global Expansion, 1520–1767 (2013) and co-editor of Rethinking the Human (2010). She studies the Society of Jesus in the early modern period. She has explored 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. To Overcome Oneself 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.

Having studied Jesuit global expansion, Molina has turned her attention to a period of “contraction” for Catholic missionary evangelicalism. She is now writing a book about the expulsion of the Jesuits from Mexico in 1767. The book tells the story of the arrest, expulsion, and aftermath through the study of three kinds of inventories. The first are the lists of books and objects that the Jesuits were compelled to leave behind after their arrest. The second inventory is the accounting of self that shapes the conversion narrative 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 third inventory is the collection of “memorias” or obituaries of dead Jesuits from the Mexican Province, composed by José Felix de Sebastián from the moment of the arrest in 1767 until 1796.


Matt O′Hara is Provost of Stevenson College and Professor in the History Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he is also affiliated with Latin American & Latino Studies and the Research Center for the Americas. He is the author of The History of the Future in Colonial Mexico (2018) and A Flock Divided: Race, Religion, and Politics in Mexico, 1749-1857 (2010) and co-editor of Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America (2009).

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