On a balmy, 60-degree February afternoon, David Miller, director of Princeton University’s Faith and Work Initiative, visited the University of Denver campus for a fireside chat with Daniels College of Business Dean Brent Chrite. As Miller took a long drink of water and removed his suit coat, he told the crowd gathered in Maglione Hall at the Sie International Relations Complex that he was glad they weren’t chatting next to an actual fire. He was, however, looking forward to igniting a discussion on how to succeed in business without selling your soul.
Miller, who earned a Master of Divinity and a doctorate in ethics from the Princeton Theological Seminary, is an expert in incorporating spirituality into the workplace. In addition to his research on this topic, Miller also teaches the course, “Business Ethics and Modern Religious Thought” at Princeton University, and is an advisor to corporate executives on ethics, values-based leadership, culture and the role of faith at work.
Before sitting down with Chrite for a fire-free fireside chat, Miller discussed how he approaches ethics—a topic at the heart of Daniels’ mission, vision and values—in the classroom and with his private sector clients.
“Ethics is not about compliance, it’s about character and culture,” Miller said. “It’s a human story, it is not a legalistic or a patronizing story. It’s about creating a corporate culture where people are bent towards the good rather than the bad.”
When Chrite came on stage he asked Miller how he became interested in this type of ethics-based, theological work. Miller, who was working as a senior executive in international business and finance in London at the time, explained how he experienced what could only be referred to as a calling to study theology.
Chrite asked, “I’m wondering, for our students in particular, and for those of us who haven’t been trained theologically, could you offer any tips for us to have a stronger sense of direction in the workplace and beyond?”
Miller explained the biggest pedagogical challenge he experiences is to convince others, especially his students, that they have the capacity to do something unethical. “Because once they understand that, we can ask, ‘So, now what are we going to do about it?’”
At the end of their discussion, Chrite noted how some might suggest that mixing faith and work is a slippery slope.
Miller explained how it’s possible to combine the two by referencing the integration model in his book, “God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement.”
Ultimately though, Miller acknowledged that “behavior trumps belief.”