Mystery-driven institutionalism: the Jesuit Spiritual Exercises as a book of practices leading nowhere

Jose Bento-de-Silva, Paolo Quattrone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper discusses how mystery was imprinted into the Jesuit Spiritual Exercises, supporting their diffusion across space and time. It shows that the book of the Spiritual Exercises is a practice in itself and fosters a practice or set of practices. The book is more than an object: it is an action, unleashed not by the specification of what actions it dictates but by the mystery the ‘book-as-practice’ carries. The paper contributes to the literature on practice driven institutionalism, namely by showing how mystery furthers our understanding of the mutual constitution of practices and institutions. The Spiritual Exercises have been practiced for more than four centuries, even though their meaning is not stable and they are never fully understood. Therefore, our paper asks: how do the Jesuits understand what they have to do if the book does not prescribe everything? We argue that it is indeed this mystery that distinguishes religious practices, explaining their endurance across time and space and, henceforth, their institutionalisation. We show that the Spiritual Exercises are to be practiced and it is this practicing that allows them to diffuse and institutionalise a new understanding of how the individual relates to God. ‘God’s will’ is searched through the practicing, without ever being determined by the practice. It is by practicing the book that the mystery of ‘God’s will’ reveals itself. Moreover, ‘God’s will’ is never known or knowable. Instead, it is embodied and felt while practicing the book of the Exercises. Emotions thus reconcile, through mystery, the new logics and the practicing of it. Our paper contributes to practice-driven institutionalism by showing how mystery can drive institutionalisation processes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 Jun 2020


  • mystery
  • Jesuits
  • institutionalism
  • practice theory
  • institutional logics
  • religion


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