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Business ethics expert featured in new book

by Dennis K. Brown, Notre Dame News and Information

November 29, 2004

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The views of a University of Notre Dame management professor on the interplay between religious values and the world of business are featured in a new book by Fortune magazine senior writer Marc Gunther.

Titled "Faith and Fortune: The Quiet Revolution to Reform American Business," the book tells the stories of corporate leaders who are at the forefront in building businesses in which profits and values coexist.

To better understand the role of religious faith in the development of ethical executives, Gunther interviewed experts from three faith traditions, including Rev. Oliver F. Williams, C.S.C., associate professor of management at Notre Dame and director of the University’s Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business.

"I … felt sure that religion has useful things to say to businesspeople," Gunther writes in the chapter titled "A Priest, a Minister and a Rabbi. "After all, most big companies disappear or die within a span of forty or fifty years … By contrast, Christianity has endured for two thousand years and Judaism has been around for even longer. They have proven that they can adapt to changing markets. I decided to seek out a priest, a minister and a rabbi who had thought about business. If nothing else, they would know something about sustainability, I figured."

Among the issues he explored with Father Williams was the change in Catholicism’s position on business – from the medieval belief that commerce was "at best tolerable and at worst pernicious," to a fundamentally favorable view. Citing two influential documents on the subject – the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter "Economic Justice for All," written in 1986, and Pope John Paul II’s encyclical "Centesimus Annus" five years later – Father Williams said a "sea change" in Catholic social teaching has rejected socialism in favor of capitalism, but only a capitalist model in which business and the economy serve humanity, not vice versa.