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Journal of Business Ethics (2009) 90:115–121 DOI 10.1007/s10551-009-0031-2

Ó Springer 2009

Modernism, Christianity, and Business Ethics: A Worldview Perspective

David Kim Dan Fisher David McCalman

ABSTRACT. Despite growing interest in examining the role of religion in business ethics, there is little consensus concerning the basis or standards of ‘‘good’’ or ethical behavior and the reasons behind them. This limits our ability to enhance ethical behavior in the workplace. We address this issue by examining worldviews as it relates to ethics research and practice. Our worldview forms the context within which we organize and build our understanding of reality. Given that much of our academic work as well as business practice operate from a modern worldview, we examine how modernism shapes our beliefs and approaches to ethics in business and academia. We identify important limitations of modernism in addressing moral issues and religion. We then introduce the Christian worldview as an alternative approach to examining ethical issues in business KEY WORDS: Christianity, business ethics, modernism, religion, worldview

Introduction In the midst of ongoing corporate ethics violations, there has been great interest in discussing moral issues related to business including the corporate social responsibility debate and the introduction of business ethics in management programs (Conroy and Emerson, 2004; McWilliams and Siegel, 2001; Shannon and Berl, 1997). One intriguing outcome of this discussion has been attempts to integrate spirituality and religion into business practice as a means to address the seemingly intractable ethical problems that plague contemporary organizations (Gotsis and Kortezi, 2007; Singhapakdi et al., 2000). We say this is intriguing, because for hundreds of years, religion and spirituality have been literally exorcised from modern forms of

institutional organization. But does a blending of spirituality with commerce, a religious worldview with a modern one, offer a way to rethink our approach to business ethics? We explore this question in detail. In particular, we consider the Christian worldview as an alternative to the dominant modernist paradigm as a useful ethical perspective in the realm of business. Different faiths including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have much to say about business practice either directly or by implication. Arising from Judaism, Christianity values one’s work as fulfillment of spiritual life. In a similar vein, Islamic teaching promotes economic activity as a means to social justice and spiritual enhancement (Brammer et al., 2007; Epstein, 2002; Weaver and Agle, 2002). The positive link between one’s beliefs and higher ethical attitudes in the workplace is well documented (e.g., Conroy and Emerson, 2004; Longenecker et al., 2004). More recent research has examined workplace spirituality (e.g., Gotsis and Kortezi, 2007; Pava, 2003) and discussed the merits of integrating religion with corporate practice (Calkins, 2000; Epstein, 2002). In 2004, Business & Professional Ethics Journal devoted an entire issue to living the Christian life in the corporate world (see Chase, 2004). In practice, many business leaders have been explicit in basing their business decisions on their religious convictions. For instance, Truett Cathey, founder and chief executive of Chick-fil-A, decided to close the restaurant chain on Sundays in honor of the Sabbath (Weaver and Agle, 2002). Despite extensive work in this area, there is little consensus concerning the basis or standards of ‘‘good’’ or ethical behavior and the reasons behind them. Ethical standards are often implicitly assumed, or religious values such as those found in the golden rule or what is common across religions are strongly


David Kim et al. whether we can know anything with certainty (Daniels et al., 2000). Depending on one’s worldview, knowing what is (or should be) true versus false or ethical versus...
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