Talking with Peter McDonough (page 2)
Talking with Peter McDonough
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4
  You've published two books about Brazil. Why the interest in Brazil?
 Power and Ideology in Brazil

The Politics of Population in Brazil: Elite Ambivilance and Public Demand

The afternoon after defending my dissertation, my wife and I and our baby daughter were on a plane to Rio de Janeiro, where we stayed for four years, until 1973. The Ford Foundation had awarded a large grant to the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, and I became Michigan's “man in Rio.” So it was mainly adventitious. The fact that my wife Josefina is Portuguese did help in learning the language.
  Why have you written two books on the Jesuits?

The project grew out of my interest in the decay of authoritarian regimes, combined with a curiosity about similar changes in Catholicism. By the early ’80s, I had written one book on the erosion of military rule in Brazil and was embarked on another about the transition from Francoism in Spain. The cultural factor in all this, not just the Latin ambience but also the role of the church, fascinated me.
     So I thought I would do something about Catholicism in the aftermath of Vatican II, with a focus on the U.S., because our girls were growing up and I wanted to be at home as much as possible. Besides, I had attended Jesuit schools for a total of nine years, and the workings of the order were at least superficially familiar to me. As it turned out, my first book on the Jesuits (Men Astutely Trained) was about the decades leading up to Vatican II. The recent book covers the period since then.
     By the way, the title of the new book (Passionate Uncertainty) is a garbled version of a phrase from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.” Remember that last line from first stanza: “The best lack all conviction, while the best are full of passionate intensity.”
     My reasons for writing about the Jesuits have shifted. I’ve rediscovered something from the days when I dreamed of becoming a writer. Empirical analysis is at the core of social science; many of us would also like to see the results of such analysis used to change the world in one way or another. Both these things matter in ways that differ from what poetry or fiction — “creative writing” — is supposed to do. But you can also reach people emotionally by telling stories about spiritual experience. I get letters and phone calls from readers of the Jesuit books. By contrast, publishing something about, say, democratization can be like dropping a pebble down a bottomless pit. It’s gratifying to get a response. And the Jesuit books sell.
How have the Jesuits operated in countries where you have lived and studied?
  Well, in most of Latin America, including Brazil, Jesuit numbers have fallen, as they have in the U.S. In South Asia (mostly India), Jesuit numbers have grown, and that’s just about the only region where growth is the norm. By the end of the ’90s, the number of Indian Jesuits surpassed the American contingent, who had been the largest group since the end of the ’30s (having overtaken the Spaniards). We are witnessing the end of the American era in the Society of Jesus.
     The distinctiveness of the American Jesuits has consisted in their work in education. There are 28 Jesuit colleges and universities and 45 Jesuit secondary schools in the U.S. This commitment is diminishing, because numbers are shrinking; it reflects the agenda of immigrant Catholicism. Elsewhere, the investment of Jesuits in institutional education, though significant, hasn’t been so high.
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