The University of St. Thomas

Center for Catholic Studies | John A. Ryan Institute




Our title, Managing As If Faith Mattered, was inspired by the subtitle of Ernst F. Schumacher’s famous book, Small is Beautiful. Through his ironical subtitle, Economics As If People Mattered, Schumacher wanted to indicate how far economic thinking had strayed from its real object and purpose – promoting the human person in the social situation of an economy – and how he hoped that his book was a step towards re-directing economics towards this goal. Our contention in this book is similar: much management theory and education has lost sight of the fundamental reasons for which we go into business, and our book is an attempt to re-orient management thinking towards the realization of management’s fundamental goals, using the resources of the Christian social tradition to help us do this.

In our title, therefore, we imply that most management education treats management as if faith did not matter, just as Schumacher implies that most economic theory treats economics as if people did not matter. While Schumacher’s implication is only partially true, and therefore particularly ironical, the implication of our title is probably largely correct. Even in religiously-based universities, one is often hard-pressed to find anything in the curriculum of the business school that could connect the practice of management to the religious tradition of the university.

This problem extends beyond the business school into the wider world of work itself. We have been educated and trained, by default usually, to work as if faith is in a category completely separate from our work. While we may adhere to a religious tradition, we tend not to see the relevance of that tradition to our work. If anything, we actively think of things the other way around: we cannot let the ethical or religious principles of our faith interfere with the way we manage the perplexities of organizational and professional life, for fear that this would compromise our efficiency or our return on capital.

To manage as if faith does not matter is an assumption so pervasive in our education, work and culture that we tend not to question its legitimacy, but accept it as a so-called “fact.” Yet, to operate unreflectively as if faith does not matter blinds us to the possibility that faith might matter. We encourage you to be bold and not to follow the crowd in their unexamined assumptions. Instead, we challenge you to consider seriously that it might just be possible to manage as if faith mattered where organizations are created to serve the common good and to promote the dignity of the human person.

The first thoughts for this book began in the summer of 1994 when we began meeting with Gary Atkinson, Robert Kennedy, and Bernie Brady, to discuss the relationship between Christian social thought and management. The impetus for this discussion came from several sources. The first and foremost was our vocation as teachers. Were we adequately fostering a genuine integration between faith and work in the education we were giving our students?  Were we helping them overcome the gulf that is so often encountered between their liberal and their business education? Were we helping them penetrate the connections between the philosophical and theological traditions we have come to call the Christian social tradition with the discipline of management?  Our answer was clear: we still had a long way to go.

Similar to our vocation as teachers, we were also concerned about the mission of our universities. In 1990, John Paul II issued a document called Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities), which articulated the importance of integrating the faith of the Church into the whole of the university curriculum in Catholic universities. Since management students form a significant number of students at Catholic and Christian universities, it was clear that if this call was to be taken seriously in the university as a whole, it had to be taken seriously in these faculties.

What hindered our progress initially was the lack of material on this topic. Bob Kennedy articulated the problem most clearly: “Proponents of the Christian social tradition have devoted relatively little attention to issues in business practice, preferring to direct their attention to larger questions of political economy . . . [hence] the implications of this tradition for management remains unclear.” As people who were teaching theology, philosophy and business in a Catholic university, we felt this dearth of material as a great hindrance to our ability to communicate the links between the Christian social tradition and the management disciplines. Since these links provide the basis for seeing the work of the Christian manager as a vocation, and since their role in the curriculum is crucial to the fulfillment of the mission of a Christian, and in particular a Catholic, business school, this lack of teaching material had much wider consequences for management and theological education. It was in response to this lack of material that we wrote this book.

Over the intervening six years, the landscape of the question of faith and work has changed dramatically. Something has happened. Ten years ago, the questions of faith and spirituality seemed confined to the private realm, to be discussed publicly only in churches or during retreats. Now, conferences, seminars, workshops and journals have awakened the importance of the religious and spiritual dimension in the human search for meaning in all departments of life.  As part of this awakening, this book makes its particular contribution by connecting the richness of one particular religious tradition, the Christian social tradition, with management theory and practice. Our hope for you, our reader, is that the ideas and practices discussed within these covers will help foster a deeper integration of faith and work in your life.

This book is the first volume of a series on Christian social thought and management to be published by the University of Notre Dame Press.  It provides a broad introduction to the connections between Christian social thought and management by focusing on such leading principles as the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, the universal destination of material goods, and the cardinal and theological virtues as these relate to critical questions in management: organizational purpose, job design, wages, ownership, product development, and the like.  The second volume addresses the foundational question, What is the nature and purpose of business?  It will collect papers from the disciplines of law, finance, theology, management, economics, and philosophy, each addressing this critical question within the Christian social tradition and with particular emphasis on the Catholic social tradition.  The third volume will also be an interdisciplinary work within the Christian social tradition, but it will focus on the topic of wealth creation and distribution, a crucial issue as we face increasing globalization as well as increasingly disparate distributions of wealth.

Until we have a robust, realistic and interdisciplinary engagement of managerial questions with the riches of the Christian social tradition, we will neither do justice to the profound implications this tradition has for management, nor will we, as faculty teaching at Christian and Catholic universities, adequately fulfill the missions of our institutions. For some examples of how one might teach a course on the relationship between Christian social thought and management, click here.