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Mark S. Markuly and Marc Cohen

Making Business Schools the Meaning-Making & Purpose-Seeking Accelerator of Jesuit Universities

In recent decades, social science studies, particularly among younger generations, have identified the growing human hunger for deeper meaning and purpose in work. Meaningfulness and purposefulness have always been important to human happiness, and the traditional goal of a liberal arts education has been to prepare students not only for the life of work, but also for a life pregnant with a sense of personal vocation. Jesuit universities have a reputation of excellence in this area, offering educational experiences informed by the Italian Renaissance that formed Ignatius of Loyola and the rich ancient Western sources of eudaimonia, the Greek notion of living a life of human flourishing or living well, rather than just existing. For universities, such a learning outcome is easier to describe and measure in some professions. The service orientation of fields like nursing, social work, journalism, criminal justice, law, non-profit leadership, education, or ministry have a natural connection to meaning and purpose – serving people in need or the higher goals of human societies. Preparing students to work in the business sector, on the other hand, can make the meaningfulness and purposefulness of work more opaque, elusive to identify and articulate, let alone measure. In some cultures, the challenge of finding meaning and purpose in business has been called a “split-soul” phenomenon, a dissociation between one’s sense of identity and the value system and behavioral patterns of a personal life versus those expected at work. But studies are showing that younger people consider such dichotomous living unacceptable. They expect to find meaning and purpose at work. They want to do good while they are doing well, and they will trade off financial rewards for this more holistic experience. Meanwhile, the mounting pressures in many service professions has resulted in workers finding their work life increasingly less fulfilling, more stressful, with diminished meaning and purpose. This has become such a growing culture change that some universities have launched centers, institutes and programs that focus on cultivating meaning and purpose in work environments, as well as private life. This presentation will describe the entrepreneurial opportunity these cultural changes and research trajectories offer business schools at Jesuit universities. Such schools can become an accelerator for practical education that cultivates meaning, purpose and human flourishing at work. The workshop will propose an educational matrix that blends the contemporary research of meaning-making and purpose-seeking across academic disciplines, with ancient interfaith and philosophical insights, and interprets all of this knowledge through the prism of the educational tradition of the Society of Jesus, which has been educating people to go forth and “set the world on fire” for 500 years. The presentation will also suggest that as professions become more pressured, and organizational structures increasingly fragment and disconnect traditional vocational visions, one of the historically more difficult places to experience meaning and purpose in work – business – can initiate a renaissance in the vocationally-driven form of education that has been imagined in the Inspirational Paradigm.