The Sophia University-Institute was born from an intuition had by Chiara Lubich (1920-2008), foundress of the Focolare Movement. Ever since her youth, Chiara Lubich hoped to pursue studies as a path to truth. For this reason, she planned on specializing in philosophy, but World War II destroyed her dreams for the future and impeded further studies.
Then, against the backdrop of the war, her search for truth was illuminated by the life of the Gospel, which opened a new path to discover God’s loving intervention in the events of history and in the life of each person. The IUS has its roots in this experience of knowledge and studies and which now forms the foundation for the new Sophia Institute.
Sophia Institute’s methodology is the fruit of years of experience in the Focolare Movement’s interdisciplinary study center, the Abbà School. The center was founded by Chiara Lubich in 1989 to explore and develop the cultural and doctrinal implications of the charism of unity. This group, coming from different nations and cultural traditions, meets regularly and is comprised of about thirty university professors and experts in various disciplines: theology, philosophy, ethics, law, political theory, economics, sociology, medicine, psychology, the natural sciences, mathematics, communications, the arts, linguistics and literature, as well as in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
In this encounter, every discipline finds space to relate with the others. Against the backdrop of this trans-disciplinary approach, the most varied methods and paths to knowledge can find value and meaning, thus helping to build an integrated vision of the world in which every discipline brings its specific contribution.
The truth - wrote Plato – is like fire set off from a spark between two stones rubbed together, after a long communion of life. The recall to what - in the Christian context – was experienced by the disciples of Emmaus in their encounter with the risen Lord, invites one to a reality that can be lived out even today.
A pilot project experience in applying the methodology of the “Abbà School” to University level education was the Summer School: “For a Culture of Unity,” hosted in Switzerland and then in Italy and Germany, from 2001 to 2007. Held for two weeks each summer, the four-year program of study was open to college and graduate students from different disciplines, nations and cultures. Every year, 50 new students shared in this unique experience. Thus, more than 250 students from 37 countries participated in the program. Many have already begun their professional and academic careers, bringing with them the cultural heritage gained through the summer school.
During its first years of life, the Sophia University-Institute has proven to be a center of excellence for academic research, attracting students from various disciplines and cultures seeking a Masters or a Doctorate, as well as professors and researchers from other universities, who spent different periods of time at Sophia.
A brochure reported on student experiences and special events at the end of the first year. At the beginning of the second year, the traditional “Liber annualis” was published, which documents the work of the Institute and of its teaching faculty, as well as degrees attained by graduating students.
The press activities of Sophia include the biannual publication of the “Sophia” academic journal (about 600 subscribers), the launching of the research paper and essay series, “Universitas” (8 volumes), and the more committing “Per-corsi di Sophia” (following the first volume, three others are being edited), which collects research and inter-disciplinary lectures given at the Institute.
Through the “Sophia Lecture Series,” the Institute promotes additional academic-cultural programs that are open to the public, such as open dialogue meetings with well-known cultural exponents. Further important events in the research program include an annual Seminar that involves the entire Institute (the talks are published in the “Sophia” review ) and other seminars and events promoted by the different disciplines.
Significant are the academic agreements to collaborate and to mutually recognize credits and degrees, sealed with other academic, ecclesiastical and civil institutions in Italy and other parts of the world, in line with the provision of the “Bologna Process.”
Mention should also be made of Summer Schools and specialized courses, in Italy and other parts, in synergy with individual expressions of the Focolare Movement, with diocesan level entities, different associations and academic institutions.