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The Arrupe Program in Social Ethics for Business

The Program's Mission

The mission of Woodstock’s Arrupe Program in Social Ethics for Business is to develop, refine, and communicate an empirically-based Christian social ethics for business. The Arrupe Program pursues its mission following the Woodstock Theological Center’s unique approach to theological reflection, at all times employing a method of research, reflection, understanding, and judgment in a cumulative and iterative process that honors the data of experience. It engages the talents and attentive listening skills of highly qualified and experienced business leaders working with theologians and academics. Faithful to this approach, the Arrupe Program’s collaborators, theologians and business leaders, frame the investigation, explore and come to understand the data, reach insights (theological and practical), make judgments, offer conclusions and suggest actions from the perspective of what will be useful to those in the business community.

The Steward Leadership Initiative

Over the past several years, the Arrupe Program’s collaborators employed this process to conclude that the prevailing business leadership approaches fell short of the mark. Indeed, even business ethics from a Christian perspective found in the popular and academic literature and espoused by renowned business leadership experts lacked something crucial. The prevailing approaches were seen as “top down”, “rules based” articulations imposed upon those in business which sometimes disregarded the actual experience of business leader. They failed to account for the dynamics of the interior life of the individual business person or entrepreneur.

As articulated by Woodstock Senior Fellow, John Haughey, S.J., what has been missing was is a question of identity: “The self-understanding of those in positions of leadership that all the resources at their disposal do not belong to them but to God. They are entrusted to use them in order to carry out God’s purposes.”

Participants in the Arrupe Program's 2008 Business Leaders Seminar

In 2008, the Arrupe Program launched its Steward Leadership initiative, to address this need. This project probes how the values that make up "Steward Leadership" are identified, lived, and spread by business leaders.  Understanding what makes a Steward Leader tick and how to promote Steward Leadership more broadly became the order of the day.  The several aspects of the Steward Leadership Project include:

  • Foundational Research. Identify chief executive officers who manifest Steward Leadership values. Survey and interview those executives to craft a comprehensive list of the essential elements of Steward Leadership and reliable measurements for assessing effectiveness in fostering and perpetuating core Steward Leadership values. 
  • Business Leaders Seminars in selected cities.  The Seminar involves business leaders and theologians. Its format includes a pre-meeting “think piece”, presentation on a topic by well-respected professors, and exploration of crucial questions raised in freewheeling conversation with the professors and among participants.
  • Theological Reflection Symposium: Energy, God and our Kinship with Nature.  The Christian is charged to give account of the use of the assets, talents, and resources given to him/her. With the challenge of climate change, the U.S. Bishops have asked business leaders, and all Christians, to address the environmental impact, of their uses of the resources entrusted to them in their account as stewards before the Lord. Woodstock initiated and filmed a symposium of theologians who addressed this topic, the record of that discussion will be the subject of further conversations among the theologians participants with business leaders, the products will then be revised and edited for further discussion and ultimate publication. 
  • Woodstock Business Conference chapters continue to thrive and grow.  They provide a valuable network for the exploration of ideas relating the integration of faith and work and for the dissemination and refinement of solid understandings relating to Steward Leadership in business practice. 
  • A Graduate Business School Course to be developed by Woodstock’s Arrupe Program and its associates in conjunction with a leading business school to provide an additional means to communicate the new Christian social ethics for business being developed by the Arrupe Program.

Relationship to Woodstock's Strategic Goals

The importance of the Arrupe Program is emphasized in the 2006 Strategic Plan prepared by Woodstock's Board of Directors, which ses an urgent need in today’s world for a program that:

... reaches out to those in the business world, helping them to integrate faith, family, and business and developing business practices that reflect their most authentic religious values. The Center seeks to provide business people with a grounding in theology and an empirically-based ethics for business that is rooted in the actual experience of corporate executives, and draws from the rich Ignatian understanding of decision-making and human nature.