Paper and Plenary Address Previews

Keynote Addresses 

 
Four Decades of Influence: Investors Bridging Morality and Markets
Laura Berry, Executive Director, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility
 
One way to more closely align business and religion is by leveraging the power of shareholders.  Although some shareholders are motivated strictly by returns on capital, many are not.  Investors often consider a range of firm and industry attributes, from product identity to employee relations to sustainability, to name a few.  Drawing on her deep experience with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, keynote speaker Laura Berry explores the issues, challenges, and possibilities of faith-directed shareholder strategy. She will offer insight on bridging the role between morality and markets, and how religious investors have had demonstrated influence on policies promoting justice and sustainability throughout the corporate world.
 
Usury, History's White Elephant 
Charles Geisst, Ambassador Charles A. Gargano Professor of Economics and Finance, Manhattan College and author, Beggar Thy Neighbor 
 
Credit enables capitalist economic growth, yet excessive extensive leverage and debt have been the source of most financial crises from the Renaissance to the present.  In his conference keynote address, noted financial historian Charles Geisst will review and compare Christian, Jewish, and Islamic admonitions about lending, borrowing, and usury, and argue that those traditions continue to play a key role in modern notions about free markets, economic justice, and banking regulation.  Professor Geisst also will reflect on the relevance of doctrine about debt and usury in the three faith traditions to today’s financial environment.
 

Paper Presentations

 
Setting the Story Straight: The Role of Narrative in Establishing the Moral Imperatives of  Capitalism 
Bruce Baker, Assistant Professor of Business Ethics, Seattle Pacific University
 
The moral legitimacy of capitalism has been called into question by the market collapse of 2008 and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Bruce Baker diagnoses the diminished authority of religious narrative in the popular moral imagination as a root cause of the apparent “morality gap” in financial markets and business management.  Professor Baker offers a broad, integrative overview of the cultural and historical trends in economic theory, business education and religious tradition in this penetrating analysis. He suggests that the moral legitimacy of our market-driven society hinges upon the interpretive role of religious narratives capable of providing a meaningful framework for transcendent values at the heart of capitalism.
 
Guiding Lights for Morally Responsible Behavior in Organizations: Revisiting the Sacred Texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Susan Case, Associate Professor, Organizational Behavior, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University
 
 This paper explores ways the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the Torah, Talmud, Bible, and Qur’an) provide guidelines for morally responsible behavior in business. Religiously derived ethics, forming a source of our earliest ethical education, are relevant to managerial behavior, even for those unaffiliated with organized religion. Across these religions, integrity in character is required for virtuous behavior. The unrecognized commonalities in how these Abrahamic religions discuss required behavior for everyday interactions and business transactions can guide demonstrations of integrity within and between diverse groups of managers and employees in our rapidly globalized world where religious tension is increasing, and workers often confront and have to resolve moral challenges in the workplace about right and wrong. The religions’ similar conceptualizations of marketplace integrity are discussed, followed by comparisons of their ideas for morally responsible behavior applicable to business and the economy. These include workplace dignity and mutual responsibility of employers and employees; integrity and transparency in buying, selling, and usury; environmental stewardship; and business social justice and responsibility. The paper concludes with implications for workplace practice: a deeper understanding of ethical standards for personal behavior; and, applications to enhance ethical considerations in business decision-making when confronting moral challenges.
 
The Causes and Cures of Unethical Business Practices – A Jewish Perspective 
Steven Resnicoff, Professor of Law, DePaul University
 
There is an increasing awareness that business leaders – as well as rank and file employees – are materially compromising the ethical teachings of the leading religious traditions.  Moreover, there is a largely shared sense that circumstances in the modern workplace and global marketplace tend to exacerbate this phenomenon.  My paper examines these issues through a Jewish prism, illustrating how Jewish teachings explain many of the problems and suggest specific ameliorative steps.  Where appropriate, I cite secular studies that, without mentioning the Jewish sources, independently demonstrate the soundness of these insights. 
 
Is there an Ideal Islamic Market? An Examination of Islamic Perspectives on the Structure and Substance of Markets
Ayman Reda, Assistant Professor of Economics, Lebanese American University
 
As capitalism continues to spread globally, there is a growing interest in the roots and viability of capitalism in the Islamic world.  There, as elsewhere – especially in the wake of the recent financial crisis – discussions of market-based capitalism often are connected with notions of economic utopia.  Professor Ayman Reda investigates the notion of an ideal Islamic market as a vision for an economic utopia.  He argues in favor of the view that an Islamic vision for an economic or market utopia exists, one that is demonstrably different from alternative Western visions.  He then delineates the probable structure and substance of the ideal Islamic market, first through the lens of Islamic economics, then through a careful reading of relevant Islamic scripture (the Qur’an and hadith) as well as commentaries of notable Islamic theologians and exegetes.  The Islamic vision that emerges is preeminently concerned with the acceptable nature of market exchange and the ideal character of market participants.
 
Economics as Religion: A New Perspective on the Recent Financial Crisis
Robert Nelson, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland
 
Among the important factors in the collapse of Wall Street in 2008 was arguably a large ethical breakdown in the financial sector that preceded it.  The sources of good ethical behavior are multiple but religion ranks high among them.  In thinking about the role of religion, most people think first of Judaism, Christianity and other traditional religions.  The concept of religion should be extended, however, to include “secular religions” which were among the most powerful religious influences of the twentieth century.  This paper argues that many people on Wall Street once believed in a “religion of economic progress” that once provided an important motivation for ethical behavior.  Working on Wall Street was not simply a matter of making as much money as possible individually but was also to play a key role in a national economic system that served a larger redemptive purpose in the transformation of the nation and the world through the workings of economic progress.  By the twenty-first century, however, this religion of economic progress was fading, contributing importantly – as this paper argues – to the large ethical failures of Wall Street.  
 
Everyday Idolatry and the Ideology of Free Markets 
Moses Pava, Dean, Sy Syms School of Business, Yeshiva University
 
This paper suggests that especially extreme forms of free market ideology, which have permeated the culture of global finance and economics, and have come to dominant, if not monopolize business and political discourse, come perilously close to a kind contemporary and everyday idolatry. If it is true that the language of idolatry helps to portray and communicate a more multi-dimensional view of the contemporary crises, it may be expected that the Jewish tradition (as well as other monotheistic traditions) might also provide useful resources to combat idolatry.
 
God’s Grace and the Marketplace: Why Mainline Protestant Churches Have Difficulty Offering Moral and Ethical Guidance to Business Managers and How They Can Do Better 
Sarah Duggin, Director, Law and Public Policy Program and Professor of Law, Catholic University of America
 
One of the most important tasks facing religious traditions today is to help people live faithfully in the workplace.  Unfortunately, the principle of separation of faith and business has become almost as deeply engrained in our society as the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state.  Bringing faith to life in the workplace requires us to overcome the business-faith divide by engaging texts, teachings and traditions in new ways.  Mainline denominations have not been as active in this work as one might expect.   This paper looks at some of the reasons why these churches have had difficulty offering robust faith perspectives on business ethics.  It argues that Mainline denominations have important theological and practical contributions to make as people of faith seek to understand the intersection of faith and work.  The paper concludes with ideas for how Mainline churches – and all religious traditions – can engage more deeply in the emerging dialog in ways that benefit people of faith, businesses and society.  
 
Religious Liberty and the Business Corporation
Ronald Colombo, Professor of Law, Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University
 
The First Amendment famously declares that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the free exercise” of religion.  Although nonprofit corporations have long enjoyed the protections of the Free Exercise Clause, whether these same protections extend to religiously committed for-profit corporations has long been an unsettled question.  In the wake of Affordable Care Act’s “Contraceptive Mandate,” this question now demands a definitive answer, as several business corporations have invoked the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty in demanding an exemption from this law.  My paper posits that business corporations ought not to be categorically excluded from the protections of the Free Exercise Clause.  Such an exclusion would violate both the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, which was adopted to broadly protect the freedom of individuals to exercise their religion as they saw fit.  To some, this entails careers and participation in the worlds of business and commerce.  Moreover, recent changes in corporate law and business practices have given rise to companies that can be considered genuinely expressive associations, bringing together investors, directors, employees and customers dedicated to particular principles and values – including religious principles and values.  This blurs the distinction between profit and nonprofit corporations, and undermines the notion that only nonprofit corporations can serve as an authentic vehicle for the exercise of religion.