Academic Programs 

Spiritual Exercises and the Formation of Conscience   (ET-520)
Fall 2003

Through a historical and contemporary study of spiritual exercises, this course explores how spiritual practices can shape ideas, attitudes and values.  Three areas of spiritual practices will be examined: self-examination (formation of conscience, care of the self), attention to the world (perception, imagination), and hearing God (prayer, fasting).  The course explores how these practices lead to the proper love of self, world and God.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Wednesdays, 4:30-6:50 p.m.

Heidi Gehman
Adjunct Professor of Theology and Ethics

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500


Course Syllabus


Course Texts:

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
St. Augustine, Confessions
Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises
Sallie McFague, Super, Natural Christians
Mark O’Keefe, Becoming Good, Becoming Holy
Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Theresa of Avila by Herself

Articles on Reserve:  

Pierre Hadot, “Spiritual Exercises,” “Ancient Spiritual Exercises;” Iris Murdoch, “The Idea of Perfection;” and Simone Weil, “Refelections on the Right Use of School Studies,” “Forms of the Implicit Love of God,” and “Concerning the Our Father.”

Aims of the Course:

1.  Retrieving and critiquing historical forms of spiritual exercise for their relevance to the contemporary situation.

2.  Understanding the relationship between ancient philosophic and Christian forms of spiritual exercises.

3.  Connecting “spirituality” to moral formation, and reflecting on the role of religious practices in shaping the values which guide our lives and activities.

4.  Attending to the various directions of attention--self, world, and God--in spiritual exercises and how each affects our ability to love properly.

5.  Gaining a broader understanding of conscience as our capacity to become full human beings, to live in a way that best allows our potential for goodness to be expressed.

6.  Applying what we’ve learned through individualized reading and/or exercises.


            1.  Two 3-5 page reflection papers                10 points each     (20%)
2.  Final 12-15 page paper                            65 points            (65%)
3.  Attendance and participation                    15 points            (15%)
Total                                             100 points

Further instruction on requirements will be given in class as the due dates approach.  All written assignments should conform to the Seminary’s “General Guidelines for a Research Paper.”

Weekly Schedule:


September 10: Formation of conscience: care for the self, attention to the world, hearing God

September 17: What are spiritual exercises?

Reading:  Pierre Hadot, “Spiritual Exercises” and “Ancient Spiritual Exercises”

First Segment:  Self-Examination

September 24:  Stoic self-examination

Reading:  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

October 1:  Augustine and the interpretation of the self before God

Reading:  Augustine, Confessions, selections

October 8:  Conversion

Reading:  O’Keefe, Becoming Good, Becoming Holy, Chapters 2 and 3

Assignment due:  What is the relationship between self-examination and conversion?  Address the views of at least two of the authors read in this segment.  (3-5 pages)

Second Segment:  Attention to the World

October 15:  Attention to nature

Reading:  Sallie McFague, Super, Natural Christians, Chapers 1-4

Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies”

October 22:  A different vision

Reading:  Sallie McFague, Super, Natural Christians, Chapters 5-7

Iris Murdoch, “The Idea of Perfection”

October 29:  Justice and love

Reading:  O’Keefe, Chapters 5 and 6

Assignment due:  How do the concepts of justice and love relate to the act of paying attention to the world around us, according to two of the authors read in this segment?  (3-5 pgs)

Third Segment:  Hearing God

November 5:  Ignatian spirituality

Reading:  St. Ignatius, The Spiritual Exercises

November 12:  Teresa of Avila

Reading:  Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Theresa of Avila, selections

November 19:  Prayer, love, and moral action

Reading:  Simone Weil, “Concerning the Our Father,” and “Forms of the Implicit Love of God” O’Keefe, Chapters 7 and 8

Assignment due:  One page preliminary description of final paper and bibliography

November 26:            No class, Thanksgiving

The Students Respond

December 3:  Student reflections

Reading:  Chosen in consultation with professor

December 10:  Student reflections

Reading:  Chosen in consultation with professor

Final Paper is Due December 


Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500