Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 17
 
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
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University’s Faith and Work Initiative Uses “Love in Truth” as Centerpiece

Ellen Gilbert

“I am very pleased with how the conference went from several perspectives,” said Princeton University Faith and Work Initiative Director David W. Miller as he reflected on the recent all-day program “Civilizing the Economy: A New Way of Understanding Business Enterprise” that drew participants from around the world.

The conference took Pope Benedict XVI’s recent social encyclical on the marketplace, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) as its centerpiece. Breakout groups considered the implications of the encyclical from the perspectives of religious scholars, economists, employees and shareholders, and CEOs.

“When the Pope speaks, people listen,” joked Mr. Miller in his opening remarks as he recalled the old E.F. Hutton ad and described the considerable media attention Caritas in Veritate has received.

The conference was a mix of modern and classical influences. Jazzed up versions of “The Hallelujah Chorus” and other religious standards gave the opening moments the air of a revival meeting as early morning guests filed into the main auditorium of the Computer Science building. Speakers came from as far away as Australia and Italy, and from as near as the Princeton Theological Seminary.

In his introductory comments, Mr. Miller mentioned that at a gathering the previous evening, participants were each asked what he or she would say to the Pope if they were given three minutes alone with him. Mr. Miller did not report on the answers except to say that they were “fascinating.”

The Faith and Work Initiative is finishing its second year as a presence at Princeton University. The program reaches across disciplines to consider how decisions affect not only large corporations, but “living, breathing individuals.”

Last week’s conference reflected the center’s multidisciplinary approach. “Many conferences are attended only by people within a narrow discipline or field,” said Mr. Miller in reviewing the day’s events. “While that is fine and certainly has its place in academia and parts of the public square, the issues raised by Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate are not limited to just one narrow discipline, such as religion or economics. Rather, for the encyclical to have any value it requires earnest and creative engagement from CEOs, senior executives, scholars of religion, business school academics, economists, employees, and other stakeholder activists. And we provided a forum to do just that with precisely this rich and diverse range of conversation partners. The attendees — almost 200 people — reflected a similar range of professional diversity and personal interest in the economic sphere.”

“Many conferences stay at a high level and the speakers never really roll up their sleeves and get into the difficult and important issues,” Mr. Miller observed. “That was not the case with this conference. I was delighted that the guest speakers and panelists offered such candid, insightful, and constructively critical ideas.”

The “need for business to be reality-based and informed by positive values” was observed by Fordham University Theology Professor Christine Firer Hinze, one of the day’s first speakers. Although the economy and business should be grounded in love and truth, she noted that “reciprocal giving and receiving doesn’t have to be sentimental or warmly intimate.”

Other speakers emphasized the importance of grass root movements in offering “bottom-up solutions.” Leonardi Becchetti of the University of Rome Faculty of Economics identified a “three-sided world problem” consisting of poverty and unemployment, environmental concerns, and cultural factors. Solutions cannot be one-sided and trust is paramount, he noted.

Mr. Miller was particularly pleased with the interactive nature of the event. While “many conferences are designed for attendees to be largely in ‘listening mode,’ this conference allowed plenty of opportunities through breakout sessions and general question and answer sessions to interact with the keynote speakers, panelists, and fellow attendees.”

“So, yes, I am very pleased with the design, execution, and outcome of the conference,” Mr. Miller concluded.

“Of course the real work begins now,” he added. “Motivated and challenged by the Pope’s encyclical, we all — Catholic and non-Catholic alike — have a lot of work ahead of us to design and implement creative new ways to operationalize some of the Pope’s ideas for ‘a new understanding of business enterprise’ to better serve the common good.”

Webcasts and podcasts of all the sessions will be made available on the Princeton University Faith and Work Initiative website, http://faithandwork.princeton.edu. Mr. Miller will also be blogging about it at http://faithandworkblog.com.

Those wishing to be added to the Faith and Work Initiative newsletter distribution list may email Mr. Miller at dwm@princeton.edu.

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