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Students Discuss Catholic Social Thought

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About 50 undergraduate students from six universities across the country convened in Washington, D.C., in April for the inaugural Symposium on Markets and Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

The two-day symposium was sponsored by the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics (GISME) and the Institute for Humane Studies. Participating students reflected on and discussed two books and five articles on how  Catholic social thought addresses issues of wealth and poverty, market social order, and the of the role of business leaders in the community. Students had prepared for the event through year-long book discussion clubs at each of the participating schools, including Catholic University, Creighton University, Lindenwood University, Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University New Orleans, and St. Louis University.

“They all came in prepared,” said Michael Douma, director of GISME. “There was much more preparation time involved than a traditional seminar or symposium. Georgetown served as the anchor of their year-long program.”

The Catholic social thought tradition, which has evolved over more than 100 years of papal encyclicals and scholarly commentary, is concerned, in part, with the relationship between markets and morality.

“There’s a tradition in the Catholic Church of speaking about the marketplace, about how to be responsible for more than just profit,” Douma said. “Catholic social thought tells people to consider the poorest, to try to pay reasonable wages, to worry about the employee as well as the employer. It’s about balancing social responsibilities with marketplace responsibilities.”

The readings included Pope Francis’ 2013 encyclical, Evangelium Gaudium, and Pope John Paul II’s Centesium Annus, as well as works by modern philosophers and theologians.

“[The symposium] offered an opportunity to more deeply engage with vital questions about faith and the market, and also to meet new people with a breadth of backgrounds and perspectives who could expand my thinking on the topic,” said Luke Buffington, a senior at Creighton University.

The Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics brings together scholars and teachers from different fields to advance understanding of the ethical issues inherent in the functioning of the market society. The symposium was the first of its kind for the institute.

For Mackenzie Vieth, a student at Lindenwood University, the weekend was an opportunity to learn from peers at fellow Catholic universities.

“As I sat and listened to everyone in my group discuss the topics at hand, it was clear to me that my generation has great minds,” she said.

“I took away a deeper appreciation for the importance of the type of dialogue the symposium represents,” Buffington said. “Both the deep gaps and great complements that exist between the teachings of the [Catholic] Church and our understanding of markets apparent in the readings make me aware of how much the church and the economics profession can gain from interacting in a deeper and more sustained way.”