giovedì 12 dicembre 2013


Gerald Grace, borrowing from the sociological constructs of Pierre Bourdieu, speaks of the significance of the spiritual and cultural  capital of religious orders in providing  a significant catalyst in the development of Catholic education in England and Wales.[1] This article endeavours to explore the extent to which spiritual capital is a critical issue for Catholic schools and ways in which such capital may be strengthened within Catholic school communities. It will investigate the background the term, suggest links with other key concepts such as culture before surveying potential challenges and opportunities for 21st century Catholic schools.
                                                                                                                                              John Lydon

The nature of spiritual capital
In The Forms of Capital,[2] Bourdieu begins by arguing for an inclusive rather a reductionist view of capital, defining the concept as a reality broader than a reserve of wealth in the form of money or property owned by a person or business and human resources of economic value. He suggests that capital presents itself in two further fundamental guises beyond the narrow confines of accumulated pecuniary assets available for use in the production of further monetary assets to embrace social and cultural capital. Bourdieu defines social capital as made up of social obligations (‘connections’) which is convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital thus reflecting a fundamental Bourdieusian belief in an interdependent relationship between the three forms of capital. [3]
In the context of Grace’s use of Bourdieu, the concept of cultural capital is more germane. Bourdieu argues that cultural capital exists in three forms:
§  Embodied state – in the form of long-lasting dispositions of the mind and body
§  Objectified state – in the form of cultural goods
§  Institutionalized state – in the form, for example, of educational qualifications.

Bourdieu claims that he developed the notion of cultural capital to explain the unequal academic achievement of students from different social classes rather than uphold the traditional view that academic achievement was simply the consequence of innate ability or aptitude. In an tangential attempt to explain why some schools appear to have maintained a distinctive Catholic ethos it would, presumably, be possible to  include mission statements and written accounts of distinctive charisms of, for example, religious orders in the ‘objective state’ category in so far as they constitute an articulation of the lived reality ( an ‘embodiment’ of) of such charisms. With regard to the institutionalized state, the schools which have emerged as a result of the long-lasting dispositions of members of religious orders could be regarded as having accrued cultural capital in this context, representing the expression of the distinctive charism or ethos by a living institution or community.

Grace builds on Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital in his adoption of the term ‘spiritual capital’. Having interviewed sixty headteachers in three different cities in the United Kingdom, in the final chapter of his book Grace formally defines spiritual capital:

Spiritual capital is defined here as resources of faith and values derived from commitment to a religious tradition.[4]

Grace is, in effect, expressing a certain quality which he had encountered when interviewing his sample of headteachers, a quality which becomes a “source of empowerment because it provides a transcendent impulse which can guide judgement and action in the mundane world”.[5] He maintains this spiritual capital is derived from the formation experienced by those headteachers in their secondary schools and teacher training colleges, with a particularly powerful influence arising from the various religious orders present in these institutions.

While Grace recognises that the building up of spiritual capital will, in the first place, involve a knowledge of the deposit of, in this case, the Catholic faith, the crucial nature of such capital resides in the ability of school leaders to embody such capital. In other words the extent to which spiritual capital constitutes a source for empowerment will be in proportion to the extent to which headteachers embody such a resource by demonstrating a personal faith commitment together with an ability to make that which is spiritual and transcendent a living reality in dealing the business of everyday life in schools. In the context of Grace’s work in general, the efficacy of such capital will be tested most rigorously by the extent to which schools are able to maintain a distinctively Catholic culture in the face of the relentless challenges posed by the pervading culture of consumerism which Grace highlights as a potentially corrupting influence.[6]

It could be argued that Grace’s definition of spiritual capital in terms of “resources of faith” is overly general.[7] In reviewing and contrasting research in Catholic education in the pre- and post-Vatican II periods, he articulates findings which point to the extent to which a distinctive Catholic ethos has had a positive influence on behaviour and academic outcomes. He does not, however, explore in any depth specific characteristics in respect of individual leaders in relation to the resources of faith that contribute to such an ethos or culture, the latter being Grace’s preferred term. It could also be argued that Grace focuses on the influence of headteachers as opposed to leadership teams or core groups of committed teachers. He does, in fact, recognise the limitations of his application of the concept of spiritual capital in asserting that “the resources of spiritual capital in Catholic schooling extend well beyond the that possessed by individual headteachers”. [8]

Links with Aquinas, Groome and Flynn
Habitus, Depth Structures and Culture

Notwithstanding these limitations,  the concept of spiritual capital as articulated by Grace is regarded by James Arthur as “a major insight or thesis in the context of maintaining the mission and integrity of Catholic schooling”.[9] In attempting to draw out what is constituted by the concept of ‘spiritual capital’ in relation to the individual headteacher , Grace draws on Bourdieu’s use of the term habitus by which he means a lasting, general and adaptable way of thinking and acting in conformity to a systematic world-view.[10] In defining habitus as “deep-structured cultural dispositions within a community or institution” Grace’s use of the term ‘disposition’  resonates not only with Bourdieu’s ideas but also with Aquinas’ concept of habitus or disposition as an abiding characteristic in relation to the individual person.

The notion that habitus is a perennial as opposed to a transitional reality constitutes a seamless connection between the work of Bourdieu and Grace on the one hand and Aquinas on the other. Grace’s use of the term ‘deep-structured’ further resonates with Thomas Groome’s concept of the depth-structures of Catholicism. Groome[11] argues that the most effective schools have a characteristic set of ideals-they value people, they are optimistic about people and society, they promote community and relationships, they help to develop spirituality, they emphasize issues of justice and peace, they respect diversity, and they teach critical thinking.  For Groome these values arise out of the “depth structures” or “core convictions” of Christianity and they are embedded deeply in the “ethos and style” (the total culture) of the school.

The connection between Grace/Bourdieu’s use of the term habitus with that of Aquinas is encapsulated by Groome when he suggests that the characteristics of the depth-structures of Catholicism

“often exist beneath Catholic Christianity’s institutional expression or accidental features. Much as the deep structures of people’s characters shape who they are, so the depth structures of Catholicism combine as its distinctiveness, albeit with varied expressions.”[12]

The concept of habitus is linked intimately with that of school culture since the latter derives from the collective contributions of members of a particular school community. Timothy Cook makes the claim that when religious communities staffed Catholic schools, socialisation of teachers occurred naturally as the religious communities went about their work. He then goes on to emphasise the significance of communities of religious in designing and building Catholic culture in the Catholic schools of the USA.[13]

While a full discussion around the nature of culture is beyond the scope of this thesis, it is interesting to note that the following definitions of culture, on the one hand, and Catholic culture on the other are linked in that both emphasise the importance of embodiment. Thomas Sergiovanni and John Corbally define culture as “the system of values, symbols and shared meanings of a group including the embodiment of these values, symbols and meanings”[14], echoing Groome’s description of depth-structures. Marcellin Flynn’s definition of Catholic school culture reflects the first definition, replacing the word ‘embodiment’ with a more specific reference to the activity of the members of the school community and its formative influence:

“ The culture of a Catholic school expresses the core beliefs, values, traditions, symbols and patterns of behaviour which provide meaning to the school community and which help to shape the lives of students, teachers and parents. In short it is the way we do things round here.”[15]

Spiritual Capital and Vocation
Grace argues cogently that spiritual capital is derived from the past school leaders and teachers who have been immersed in the habitus of  the depth structures of the Catholic school system, particularly that found within schools sponsored by religious orders. Such spiritual capital has, according to Grace, benefited the Catholic educational mission internationally, particularly in the context of Catholic school leadership. He then goes on to suggest that the leadership modelled by members of religious orders has led to the promotion of a sense of vocation among Catholic school teachers and leaders and, as a result of programmes of formation led to the realisation that the mission of a teacher constitutes being both a “professional and a witness”.[16] The sense in which having a vocation and being a professional are, in essence, simply aspects of the pathway of discipleship seems to be encapsulated in the two references to the word ‘vocation’ found in the Declaration on Christian Education of the Second Vatican Council:
“Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools. This vocation demands special qualities of mind and heart, very careful preparation, and continuing readiness to renew and to adapt.”[17]
The notion of witness reflects the sacramental perspective, that all ministry should be modelled on that of Christ, in the context of discipleship and the call to all the baptised to share in His divine life. While the sacramental perspective in general is rooted in the Incarnation and expresses the belief that God is encountered in the world through the mediated presence of Christ and the Church, more specifically in the context of Catholic education this perspective focuses on the person of the teacher who, in essence, models his or her ministry on that of Christ. Both Timothy Cook and Grace recognise that the intensive formation programmes of religious orders ensured that teachers were immersed in the culture of their particular congregation and, while there were distinctive characteristics within such cultures, the notion of modelling or emulation constituted a consistent paradigm.

Spiritual Capital – Contemporary Challenges
There has been much written about the impact of the decline in the number of religious in schools. In a wider context scholars such as James Arthur have questioned whether there is still a critical mass of English Catholic parents, teachers and pupils associated with Catholic schooling who are able and willing to sustain and ensure that the Church’s unique teaching on the educational purpose of presenting a Catholic worldview to children. This article will focus on Catholic teachers and the extent to which spiritual capital is being accrued among a critical mass in order to sustain the Catholic Church’s distinctive educational vision.

Defining a “critical mass” presents the first challenge. The Catholic Education Service (CES) insists that, in Primary and Secondary Schools, the Head Teacher, Deputy Heads and the Head (Co-ordinator) of Religious Education “are to be filled by baptised and practising Catholics.”[18] This must constitute a minimum and one would presume that the School Chaplain would also be included in this category. The CES, in its latest published census,  (2012) reports that overall 55% of teachers in maintained schools in England and Wales are Catholics constituting 68.1% of Primary teachers and 44 of Secondary teachers. The statistics do not, however, affirm whether or not these teachers are practising Catholics as defined by Mgr. Marcus Stock:

“…someone who has been sacramentally initiated into the Catholic Church and who adheres to those substantive life choices which do not impair them for receiving the sacraments of the Church and which will not in any way be detrimental or prejudicial to the religious ethos and character of the school.”[19]

If Grace Davie[20] is right in suggesting that Europe is marked by a culture of “believing without belonging”, characterised by a profound mismatch between religious values that people profess (believing), and actual churchgoing and religious practice (belonging), it could be at least postulated that a the religious lives of a proportion of the overall 55% of Catholic teachers will not reflect Stock’s specific definition. While it may be an overstatement to suggest that the majority have moved from an institutionally Catholic identity to a more autonomous search for spirituality, one of the key questions for Catholic school leaders revolves around the promotion and maintenance of spiritual capital as an empowering and motivating reality. In other words a critical moment has been reached when there is a need to move from defining spiritual capital to researching effective means of sustaining it.

I have argued elsewhere[21] that, for schools with religious order trusteeships, it is possible to transmit the distinctive charism of the Order to committed lay people, primarily by the  modelling of that charism by religious, when present, and committed lay people. Evidence suggests that the majority of teachers in one network of schools are dedicated to maintaining the charism, notwithstanding the challenge of retaining a school’s Catholic mission in a culture marked by an ever-increasing emphasis on performativity.

A second strategy could focus on a reservoir of recently retired Catholic headteachers who possess this capital. This would involve the creation of a project organised by the Bishops’ Conference through the Catholic Education Service within which such headteachers could have a critical influence on their successors. Recent research by this author among Catholic headteachers in the South East of England found that their emphasis was on ensuring that future Catholic school leaders are theologically literate which could open a window for formation of aspiring deputy heads  involving recently retired heads.

This latter research did, however, reveal that the headteachers interviewed placed a greater deal of emphasis on modelling Catholic identity rather than formation programmes for aspiring heads. In a recent article Dr John McDade suggests “we have said too much to Europe, and Europe doesn’t want to hear any more from us, and that is a psychological condition which is very difficult to address.” He goes on to suggest that the focus now should be on learning to witness in coherent ways and giving priority to the category of witness.

McDade’s point is deeply relevant to spiritual capital and Catholic schools and resonates this author’s previous research in which headteachers in Salesian schools were convinced that their distinctive ethos would be maintained by living it rather than talking about it, the latter being significant only in a supportive sense, contributing to solidarity around a common witness modelled in the lives of teachers themselves.

[1] Grace G., (2002), Catholic School:, Mission, Markets and Morality, London, Routledge Falmer:
[2] Bourdieu, P., (1997), The Forms of Capital in Halsey, A H., et al (1997), Education: Culture, Economy, Society, Oxford, Oxford University Press
[3] See Silva E B., & Edwards L., (2005), Operationalizing Bourdieu on Capitals: A Discussion on ‘The Construction of the Object’, Manchester, Economic & Social Research Council
[4] Grace, op.cit:236
[5] Grace, op.cit:236
[6] Grace, op.cit: Chapter 8 – Market Culture and Catholic Values in Education
[7] Grace has, however, elaborated his original definition in more recent scholarship see Grace, G., (2010),   Renewing Spiritual Capital: An Urgent Priority for the Future of Catholic Education Internationally in Grace, G., (Editor), International Studies in Catholic Education, London, Routledge Volume 2, No.2 October 2010: 117-128
[8] Grace, op.cit:238
[9] Arthur, J., (2002), Review of Catholic Schools: Mission Markets and Morality in British Journal of Educational Studies, VOL 50, NO. 4, Blackwell, Oxford
[10] Bourdieu, P., (1990), The Logic of Practice, Cambridge, Polity Press:54-65
[11] See Groome, T.H., (1998),  Educating for Life, Allen, Texas USA, Thomas More Press
[12] Groome: op.cit:56 (the author’s italics)
[13] Cook, T. (2003), Architects of School Culture, Washington D.C. (USA), National Catholic Educational Association
[14] Sergiovanni T.J., & Corbally J.E., (1984), Leadership and Organizational Culture, Chicago, University of Illinois Press:viii
[15] Flynn, M, (1993), The Culture of Catholic Schools, Homebush, NSW (Australia), St Paul:39
[16] Grace: op.cit:238
[17] Pope Paul VI (Second Vatican Council), (1965),  Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education), London, CTS n.5
[18] McMahon, Bishop M., (2009), Memorandum on Appointment of Teachers to Catholic Schools, published on the Catholic Education Service website
 [19] Stock, M., (2009), Catholic Schools and the Definition of a Practising Catholic, Birmingham, Archdiocese of Birmingham Schools Commission. Mgr. Stock, now General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, repeats this definition in his revised (2012) publication Christ at the Centre. (London, CTS)
[20] Davie, G.,  (1994) Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994
[21] Lydon, J., (2009), Transmission of the Charism : A Major Challenge for Catholic Education in Grace, G., (Editor), International Studies in Catholic Education, London, Routledge

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