Symposium on Religious Values and Corporate Decision Making: Foreword

Article excerpt

Preparations for our February 2004 Conference on Religious Values and Corporate Decision-Making took place against the backdrop of an avalanche of corporate accounting scandals, which were provoking much soul searching among business leaders and managers, and also within the legal profession.1 In some sense, our long-planned agenda seemed to fit well as a response to the intensified search for resources to retrieve a sense of orientation and professional integrity.

As we brainstormed on how to shape the panels and discussions, I mused with Joseph Geoghan, former General Counsel of Union Carbide, whether the corporate scandals should be our focus. This is not an exact quote, but it captures the gist of his response: "The issues here stand on their own - they are bigger and more important than just a response to the scandals." Now, especially with a bit of hindsight, I can see the wisdom of this perspective, and how it also captured the heart of the work of the Conference sponsor, the Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer's Work.

Since the mid-1990s, Fordham Law School has been at the forefront of efforts to explore the challenges and benefits of integrating religious values into the practice of law. Following the success of groundbreaking conferences that explored the theoretical, ethical and practical implications of "religious lawyering,"2 Fordham's Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer's Work now devotes an annual conference to in-depth conversation and scholarship about the legal, ethical, and cultural implications of bringing religious values to bear on a particular area of legal practice.3

True, for many religious values may serve as an important source of orientation in the midst of a crisis. But the deeper challenge is more constructive, more positive - and perhaps, in many ways, more ordinary: to articulate what religious values capture and express at the heart of human experience, and then to explore how this can inform all aspects of life, including the law, including business life.4

It was in this spirit that lawyers, corporate executives and academics in the fields of management, economics and law gathered for the conference on Religious Values and Corporate Decision-Making. While the recent scandals were certainly one of the many topics discussed, the panel discussions and the projects showcased could be characterized not so much as a bandage to cover over ugly wounds in the midst of a crisis, but rather as a deeper and more consistent effort to construct positive models for business life. In this light, it is not surprising to see that business professionals are increasingly considering a number of creative resources that might help sustain their commitment to professional integrity and social responsibility, among them religious values.

The program was also designed to acknowledge and take very seriously the important questions which arise in the course of this integrative endeavor. For example, in our increasingly complex and pluralistic business environments, might drawing on religious beliefs generate otherwise avoidable conflicts and misunderstandings? Discussions did not shy away from some of the more difficult questions. As Mark Sargent, Dean of Villanova Law School, explained, "there should be a place for people to incorporate religious values into corporation decision-making, but as an empirical matter there is very little room."5

Others were especially cautious because they saw that the effort to draw on religious values could become a source of conflict. But in their discussion of particular problems, many of the panelists were clear that it would be impossible for them to wall off their personal values. As Joseph Geoghan explained, "I strongly believe in the maxim that there is no rule of separation whatsoever between the principle that I apply in my personal life as a Roman Catholic and those applied in my business career. The norms and standards I would apply [to the case at hand] would be influenced by the social justice teachings of the Church, beginning with the primacy of labor over capital. …