The University of St. Thomas

Center for Catholic Studies | John A. Ryan Institute

Goa Conference: Report

Goa Conference: Report

Summary Report

on the

Third International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education:

Rethinking the Social and Spiritual Life within Business
 

International Centre, Goa, India
January 10-12, 1999


The purpose of this Symposium was to enhance the Catholic character of business schools by examining the interdisciplinary relationships of Catholic social thought and management practice and theory. Despite the distance as well as twelve visa denials from the Indian government, we still had 60 participants who included scholars and practitioners from 20 countries in the areas of law, theology, finance, philosophy, engineering, management, economics, and marketing.

The focus of this year’s symposium was "Rethinking the Spiritual and Social Life within Business." As we came to the East to discuss this question, we came to India, a land as John Paul II points out in Fides et Ratio, "so rich in religious and philosophical tradition of great antiquity. A great spiritual impulse," he writes, "leads Indian thought to seek an experience, which would liberate the spirit from the shackles of time and space and would therefore acquire absolute value." This Indian context was very helpful in creating a climate to explore the spiritual depths of the meaning of work and business. It was indeed an honor to be in India as a group, where a certain feel took over the participants, which fostered a spirit of solidarity. Even though we came from different lands and disciplines, the group itself participated in the importance of the "universality of the Human Spirit" by engaging each other with respect, critical inquiry and a sense of purpose.

At a time when there is so much said about spirituality and its relationship to work, the conference added an important Catholic voice to this question. Why there has been an interest in spirituality and work as we approach the new millenium is difficult to say. Maybe, the discussions in professional ethics have left people empty because they have disconnected their work from questions of ultimacy. Maybe our so-called post-modern world has run its course and now is unable to respond to the deep desire for personal integrity and wholeness in the human spirit. Whatever the reason, Catholic universities need to respond to this interest and desire to understand and participate in the spirit at work. Our conference in Goa was one such response.

If this question of spirituality and work is not to be a fad, as Deborah Savage pointed out in her paper, we need to respond to it with the richness of what the Catholic intellectual tradition has to offer. Many of the papers have done precisely this by drawing on scripture, John Paul II, Teilhard de Chardin, Josef Pieper, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner, and others and relating their insights to the world of work. What is critically important to this discussion of spirituality is to ground our inquiry in a tradition that has the capacity to carry this conversation forward. From this conference, it seems clear that the Catholic social tradition plays a critically important role in this conversation.

As we moved through our conference, we examined the meaning of the social and spiritual life of business in light of the practical context that many of the participants work, namely, the research and curriculum of our universities. Of course, we cannot provide one monolithic response to this question, but rather a multitude of responses in light of our specific cultural situations. Yet, our questions had a common characteristic as we discussed the curriculum. Some of those questions included the following:


What are the implications of spiritual knowledge as it relates to the curriculum and research of the university?
How is the question of spirituality within business addressed and taught within a Catholic university?
What obligations do Catholic universities have to the Church on this question?


While these questions do not lend themselves to easy answers, they have been questions relatively unexplored largely because, as Sergio Bernal noted in his paper, of the unfamiliarity with the great Christian social heritage on the part of the majority of both Catholics and non-Catholics. As the US bishops noted recently, this unfamiliarity of the Church’s social tradition "poses a serious challenge . . . since it weakens our capacity to a be a Church that is true to the demands of the Gospel." Our conference and the publications on the Web that follow provide ways to change this "unfamiliarity" with the tradition.

This question of spirituality within the curriculum faces a great challenge within the modern university and should not be underestimated. In the past 100 years professionals, including managers, have become socialized into the practice of their fields within a university setting. This socialization within the university has tended to exclude religious and spiritual knowledge from its mode of inquiry, since its subject matter is "too subjective" and thus not empirical. Yet, without a robust and deeply philosophical and theological discussion over "for why do we do these things," which by its nature is a spiritual question, we relegate religious and spiritual knowledge to the private domain of one’s life which begins the process of disconnecting and disintegrating students "from the major force that connects most adults to the common good." Christopher Dawson explains the danger of the modern university well when he states:

Instead of the whole intellectual and social order being subordinated to spiritual principles, every activity has declared its independence, and we see politics, economics, science . . . [and business] organising themselves as autonomous kingdoms which owe no allegiance to any higher power.


The foundations of these autonomous kingdoms are laid in universities where schools of thought look more like silos than webs of interconnecting relationships. Studies have shown that even religiously affiliated universities face the problem of a fragmented curriculum that "plagues personal integration and the development of moral maturity."

The fact must be faced that as we address the question of spirituality in the business curriculum, we come to it not with a lot of experience or history; yet, we must address it. The very last session of the conference, a panel examined models of incorporating spirituality into the business curriculum. They discussed four ways to incorporate spirituality into the curriculum:

Develop courses on spirituality within the business curriculum;
Incorporate spirituality within already existing business ethics courses;
Design theology courses for those who have liberal arts requirement;
Integrate spiritual questions of human meaning throughout the curriculum especially introductory and capstone courses that serve as "signatory" marks of the program.


The panelists provided syllabi to show participants how they taught their courses.

The evaluations of the conference were overwhelmingly positive. Most of the participants were so thankful to have a forum in which to discuss the relationship between Catholic social thought and management. They particularly found this "community of scholars" a unique experience compared to their typical academic meetings. They felt a deep spiritual solidarity of working with people throughout the world on enhancing the Catholic character of their business programs. Many of the participants were surprised by what others were doing to incorporate spirituality in business.

One of the suggestions we implemented from the evaluations of the Second International Symposium in Antwerp, Belgium was to have the papers sent out beforehand. Participants found this extremely helpful for it allowed us to have shorter presentations and longer discussions. This type of preparation for the conference was more time consuming as well as more expensive, but in light of the outcome, it was worth the effort and expense. At our next conference we will attempt to post the papers on the web and let people print the papers themselves which will reduce postage and printing costs.

There were several very valuable suggestions from the conference participants. One of the suggestions we received from the Goa evaluations was to have working sessions on curriculum reform prior to the conference, which would then be presented for the other participants. We will attempt to have discipline-based working groups to examine practical ways to incorporate Catholic social thought throughout the business curriculum at our next symposium. Another suggestion was to provide a position paper, which would outline the topic and its implications in broad terms. Along with this suggestion, participants felt that there needed to be a stronger beginning to the conference with a plenary speaker who could provide the participants with a strong orientation. Other suggestions included: develop case studies, integrate participant interests into the conference directory; attract more business people; develop better quality control concerning papers; provide more sessions on the theological and philosophical underpinnings of Catholic social thought, include more thought on actionable items. There was also several suggestions on themes for upcoming conferences: participation and business, Catholic social thought and business ethics, option for the poor, poverty eradication and business, corporate governance and Catholic social thought, business decision making and formation of conscience, communication, marketing and truth telling, sustainability of the environment and business, globalization and Catholic social thought, information technology and the virtual organization, and neo-liberalism and financial capitalism.