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Losing Yourself: A Discussion with Michelle Molina

By: Michelle Molina, Associate Professor, Religious Studies/History/Gender Studies, Northwestern University

Thursday, January 12, 2023 | 7:00pm

Despite our contemporary discourse about mental health that emphasizes “bounded” selves, we have to ask, are the boundaries of “self” firm for anyone? The past provides a playground of images, texts, and ideas with which we can begin to trouble contemporary storytelling about “the self” that emphasizes a singular self.  This lecture and conversation will draw upon images and ideas from the religious history of possession in the western world to show how questions about the “containment” of a self or the formation of “identity” have always been coupled with concern about the permeability of bodies/selves, or, perhaps more troubling, the desire to lose one’s self. In a discussion that will range from Augustine of Hippo’s god to Ingmar Bergman’s spider god, we will think about can be learned about the malleability of self/selves. A primary goal is to examine the way that  “religion” on screen points toward the problem of selves that are largely formed by others, sometimes other-worldly “others.” 

Movies referenced: Through A Glass Darkly; Jesus Christ Superstar; Saint Maud; and Annihilation.

Michelle Molina (PhD, University of Chicago, 2004) 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. Molina’s book, To Overcome Oneself: The Jesuit Ethic and the Spirit of Global Expansion is published with University of California Press. The book 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. More about Dr. Molina at