Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Context of Economic Personalism

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Context of Economic Personalism

Article excerpt

Economic personalism can benefit by viewing itself in relation to other contemporary and historical efforts to understand the relationship between theology and economics. This essay summarizes some of those efforts, focusing on themes that are pivotal to the economic personalist enterprise. In particular, the views of social economists, Kuyperians, Christian mainstream economists, and Christian solidarists are treated. The article concludes by suggesting that economic personalism must reflect the best insights of each of these groups, offering a truly interdisciplinary approach to economics and social thought.


When the term economic personalism was first coined five years ago, it was presented as an effort to "generate new economic models," bringing together the insights of economic science and Christian moral philosophy. As such, it was said to represent a departure from any previous intellectual achievement. (1) In certain respects, this was indeed the case. In other ways, however, economic personalism is simply another movement within a tradition of thinking much broader and historically richer than was perhaps recognized at the time. (2)

Economic personalism is an interdisciplinary initiative that aims to provoke integrative thinking among the fields of philosophy, theology, and economics. Gregory Gronbacher, whose work laid the foundation for economic personalism, envisioned the new paradigm's first concern to be effecting a mutual understanding between personalism and mainstream economics. The insights of personalism, it was thought, would lend economists a fuller picture of the human being, which is, ultimately, the object of study for both economists and personalist philosophers. In turn, economic science might have something to offer moral thinkers who were concerned with human interaction in the socioeconomic sphere. (3)

While economic personalism's initial focus on Christian personalism and Austrian economics was original, this was not the first attempt--nor is it the only contemporary effort--to investigate the relationship between economics and the disciplines of philosophy and theology. The architecture of interdisciplinary thought on this junction is complicated and multifaceted. While this survey will not be comprehensive, it will attempt to capture some of the major attempts of the last century to bring about an understanding between theology and economics. (4)

The focus of the article will be on theology rather than on philosophy because economic personalism, while utilizing much of the method, language, and insight of the philosophical school of personalism, ultimately answers to the social-ethical thought of the Christian tradition. There are other patterns of thought, then, that might be seen as operating at the crossroads of philosophy and economics while eschewing engagement of any theological tradition, but these are less relevant for mapping the place of economic personalism in the current geography of interdisciplinary cooperation.

I hope that this survey will provide a helpful schema of past and contemporary efforts to think through the relationship between theology, Christian social ethics, and economics. In so doing, it will enable economic personalists and those who are inclined toward that approach to understand the larger context of their efforts. In addition, it will attempt to clarify both the commonalities and differences that exist between economic personalism and other methods of engaging the challenging task of intellectual rapprochement between theology and economics. It is possible that this clarification will enable more significant cooperation among the various individuals and groups working in this field.

Social Economics

One intriguing area of inquiry into the relationship between theology and economics is that of a strikingly diverse group of scholars who work within a field they call social economics. …

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