By Matt Johnson, News and Marketing Editor/Writer, Regis University
Christopher Pramuk wears multiple hats at Regis University, but one of his job titles — Chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination — receives the same reaction from almost everyone who hears it.
“[People] almost universally say that it’s the coolest job title they’ve ever heard,” Pramuk says.
One word from that title, Pramuk says, draws particular attention: imagination. The word’s inclusion in his title is not an accident. When he joined Regis for his second stint at the University in 2017, he advocated for the specific title because he hoped to help the University and the Jesuit network imagine the future of 21st century Jesuit education.
“Without imagination, we risk losing hope and just accommodating ourselves to the way things are — becoming well-adjusted to society as it is,” he explains. “‘This is reality. The sooner we accept it, the better.’ That’s not very far from despair or cynicism.”
In a practical sense, Pramuk applies his unique title by serving as a resource to Regis’ five colleges to help them infuse their work — whether in the classroom, in research or in a staff role — with elements of Ignatian spirituality.
Under the banner of Regis’ Office of Mission, he has served on search committees for major University roles, bringing an Ignatian-centered approach to the practical activity of vetting and considering candidates. Most Regis students hear from Pramuk at University gatherings, as he excels in distilling the philosophy and spirituality of Ignatius into digestible “Mission Talks.”
He also speaks to some of the areas where University staff may come into philosophical or theological disagreement with Church officials. One such situation occurred last year, when Denver’s chancery office and a Regis administrator shared conflicting views over LGBTQ issues on campus.
“The Jesuits have always been called to the frontier of thought and culture, and sometimes that brings tension points with the hierarchical church,” he says. “Sometimes it brings creative tension points with the culture — being within a culture but also being a voice of critique.”
As might be expected for someone so focused on imagination and expansion of mind, interactions with Pramuk in any of his roles at Regis are anything but standard. A conversation in his office is often accompanied by the soaring tones of a classical music soundtrack. As an associate professor of theology at the University, Pramuk sometimes begins class by picking up his guitar and playing a song for his students. He shares, “A student wrote me an appreciative note at the end of a class, saying, ‘I felt like when I walked into your class, time slowed down — time disappeared.’”
Even as a professor of theology, Pramuk brings a philosophical perspective to his classes and creates space — both physically and mentally — for his students to expand their perspective and thought. He follows the philosophy of one of his favorite Catholic writers, Thomas Merton, who encouraged the lay community to embrace contemplation when many believed it was reserved for priests and monks.
“Merton was very influential in helping ordinary folks recover a sense of the contemplative dimension of everyday life,” Pramuk says. “In my teaching, I strive to really create what I would call a contemplative space of deep listening, appreciation for silence when it is helpful, and deep engagement with text, music, poetry and art.”
For Pramuk, however, contemplation alone is not enough. Taking cues from a number of pioneering Jesuit thinkers — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Pedro Arrupe, Karl Rahner, Anthony de Mello — Pramuk stresses the importance of embracing the Ignatian value of contemplatives in action.
“The monk more or less consults with his abbot or his spiritual director, but otherwise he lives a vow of silence,” he says. “St. Ignatius invites us to a communal way of thinking and imagining together into the future, and trying to build the kingdom of God in our little corner of the universe.”
To cultivate contemplation in action within higher education, Pramuk stresses the importance of the liberal arts and interdisciplinary thought. As education in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields becomes a nationwide focus, Pramuk fears for institutions that become overly reliant on a technologically focused mindset. Focusing only on STEM, he says, risks cutting out the “realm of desire” that the arts often speak to. “We need the wisdom and expertise of all of our disciplines to speak the different languages that can help us move together as a human community,” he says.
He also encourages Jesuit colleges and universities to share resources and bring people together for dialogue, so that individual institutions can grow together and avoid overspending resources to support Ignatian-centered programs. One such successful partnership he cites is Regis’ and Creighton University’s joint program that offers faculty and staff the opportunity to make an Ignatian pilgrimage in Spain.
On an individual level, to bring Ignatian thought into one’s core being, Pramuk advises reflection — through journaling or merely slowing down — at the end of the day. Such a practice offers space to listen to oneself and to the call of God, and to one of Pramuk’s favorite activities: using one’s imagination.
“Find little ways to structure these little spiritual exercises or disciplines into your daily life — to slow down long enough to pay attention, to interrogate those experiences and to learn to trust them,” he says. “And, even better, to bring them into dialogue with others in community.”