Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

Students should anticipate undertaking 150 hours of focused learning in this unit. This may include online activities, reading, webinars, preparation of assessment tasks and so on. Webinars may be offered either weekly over a twelve week semester, or in intensive blocks.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Students of programs in Ignatian Spirituality need to develop knowledge, understanding and skills in this discipline because it helps them to demonstrate a capacity to evaluate the various ways in which their personal development impacts upon and contributes to their professional roles. Ideally, every Christian seeks to know God more intimately, to love God more dearly, and to follow God more faithfully. Ignatius of Loyola discovered a method for achieving this goal through reflection on his own experience; his development of the Spiritual Exercises was his way of sharing this gift with others. This unit assists participants to deepen their understanding and practice of prayer, develop their capacity to identify the Spirit of God in their lives, and grow in the ability to discriminate between that Spirit and other ‘spirits’. Based on (i) the Rules for Discernment of Spirits, and (ii) the Election in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, this unit will provide a theoretical framework for personal discernment and decision-making as well as discernment in common. Discernment is a key focus of the Exercises, and this unit aims to help all participants arrive at a sophisticated, contemporary understanding and appropriation of it.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe the Rules for Discernment of Spirits in the Spiritual Exercises [313-336], including the patterns of spiritual consolation and desolation, and the strategies for dealing with these experiences (GA4, GA6)

LO2 - Explain the process of Election in the Spiritual Exercises [169-189] in the context of personal and communal decision-making (GA4, GA6)

LO3 - Articulate a critical, reflective, values and skills-based understanding of the ways in which discernment can be applied to communal, social, environmental and political issues (GA4, GA6)

Graduate attributes

GA4 - Think critically and reflectively 

GA6 - Solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives


Topics include:

  • The meaning of discernment in the Ignatian tradition;
  • Discernment and spiritual freedom;
  • Rules for discernment close reading (Weeks One & Two of the Spiritual Exercises);
  • Discernment and Election: “Times” and “Ways”;
  • Discernment: the psychological factors;
  • Discernment and Social Justice;
  • Discernment and “Ecological Conversion”;
  • Discernment and the Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus;
  • Discernment in Common;
  • Discernment and Spiritual Conversation.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, which reflects the standard volume of learning for a unit in a university qualification of this Australian Qualifications Framework type.

The unit is normally offered in scheduled online mode, a way that blends the use of online delivery of learning materials and activities that can be undertaken synchronously and asynchronously. This means that students can undertake some learning activities on their own at times that do not depend on the availability of others, and other learning activities that are undertaken interactively with other students and teaching staff at the same time. Using scheduled online delivery means that students do not have to be at the same place as each other, but can interact remotely.

In order to benefit from this mode of learning, students need to be independently motivated. Units offered in the course normally follow a cycle: students complete preparatory activities before meeting together; in webinars, students work collaboratively with each other and the lecturer to clarify, extend and apply what they have learned; and after each collaborative session, students reflect critically on their personal experience and observations in light of materials covered in the unit. As the cycle is repeated, students bring new understandings to bear on further issues and ideas, so that each cycle of learning deepens the one before. Students co-construct a supportive and encouraging learning community through their active participation in classes as well as through offline engagement, such as through discussion boards.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy of this unit has been designed to enable students to demonstrate their self-appropriation of the content.

All assessment tasks are designed for students to show their achievement of each learning outcome and graduate attribute. They require students to demonstrate the nexus between their learning, dispositions, and spiritual practice, and the evidence on which this demonstration is based. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Hurdle Task Contributions to Discussion Forum (minimum of 4). This task enables participants to demonstrate active reflection on their learning in this unit, in dialogue with others.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA6

Critical reflection on selected readings (2000 words). This task is designed to enable students to demonstrate appropriation of the Rules for Discernment. 


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA6

Integrative essay (3000 words). This task is designed to enable students to consolidate their learning through critical reflection on how to apply Ignatian discernment in a variety of contexts. 


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA6

Representative texts and references

Conroy, Maureen. The Discerning Heart: Discovering a Personal God. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1993. 

De Mello, Anthony, Gerald O'Collins, Daniel Kendall, and Jeffrey LaBelle. Seek God Everywhere Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. New York: Doubleday, 2010. 

Dyckman, Katherine, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert. The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001. 

Gallagher, Timothy. The Discernment of Spirits: The Ignatian Rule for Everyday Life. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2005. 

Gallagher, Timothy M. A Handbook for Spiritual Directors: An Ignatian Guide for Accompanying Discernment of God's Will. Chestnut Ridge, NY: Crossroad, 2017.

Gallagher, Timothy M. Teaching Discernment: A Pedagogy for Presenting Ignatian Discernment of Spirits. Spring Valley, NY Crossroad, 2020.

Kiechle, Stefan. The Art of Discernment. Making Good Decisions in your World of Choices. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2005. 

Liebert, Elizabeth. The Soul of Discernment: A Spiritual Practice for Communities and Institutions. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015.

Thibodeaux, Mark E. Ignatian Discernment of Spirits in Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Care: Going Deeper. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2020.

Toner, Jules J. A Commentary on Saint Ignatius' Rules for the Discernment of Spirits : A Guide to the Principles and Practice. St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1982.

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