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Despite historical and recent scholarship that demonstrates the need to appeal to the affective dimension of students to enable appropriate behavior, Christian business education is dominated by cognitively focused “worldview integration.” In this essay Kenman Wong, Bruce Baker, and Randal Franz argue for reimagining business education as a formational enterprise in order to facilitate a kingdom-oriented vision (telos) for business. The paper describes curricular and co-curricular practices that build “cultural liturgies” and counter-formational narratives to direct student hearts/affections appropriately. Mr. Wong, Mr. Baker, and Mr. Franz serve on the business faculty at Seattle Pacific University.

The task of “faith integration” in Christian institutions of higher learning (and business programs within them) is often approached as an exercise in the comparative study of “worldviews.” Classroom pedagogies commonly proceed by expositing a Christian perspective and then using it as a lens through which to critique and correct mainstream disciplinary content. In an accounting course, for example, biblical norms for truth telling might be held up as a standard for comparison. Undoubtedly, this sort of “integration” is important, as Christian ideas, assumptions, and ethics can conflict with secular ones at theoretical levels of engagement. Preparing students to “think from a Christian perspective” and to develop a “Christian mind” is a distinctive mission of faith-based institutions of higher learning.

While acknowledging these benefits, some scholars, most notably, James K. A. Smith, have recently challenged pedagogies aimed primarily at the development of cognitive abilities.1 More specifically, they question whether or not correct thinking alone provides a sufficient account of action/behavior. In addition, they point out that Christian higher education may unwittingly persist in a tradition (Enlightenment Liberalism) that holds certain perspectives (such as individual- ism, rationalism) in conflict with biblical ones. In light of biblical anthropology which sees humans as much more than merely cognitive beings (that is, rational “minds”), they argue that Christian education must also engage students’ affective dimensions (that is, the pre-rational, emotive, “heart”) in order to form the character needed to motivate behavior consistent with a “kingdom” oriented telos.2 As Smith states it,

The primary purpose of Christian education is the formation of a particular people … who desire the kingdom of God and undertake their vocations as an expression of that desire … [This] requires a correlate pedagogy that honors the formative role of material practices.3

The primary purpose of this paper is to build upon the work of these scholars and respond to their invitations to “explore particular possibilities” in the development of curricular and co-curricular activities that support “education as formation.” While some scholars have explored reforms to general/core curricula and co-curricular activities, the conversation has yet to be developed within the business academy.4 We intend to help fill this void by developing theoretical and practical implications for how university-level business educators might make character formation a greater priority, with lasting significance in the lives of their students.

At the outset, we acknowledge the challenging nature of the task. Some influential scholars who address matters of character formation (most notably, Alisdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas) are deeply skeptical that business and management are suitable contexts for virtue development.5 Similarly, James K. A. Smith uses business education as an example of how worldview integration falls short:

What if the rather abstract formulas of a Christian worldview turn out to be a way to tame and blunt the radical call to be a disciple of the kingdom? … Sure, we might think that we’re supposed to be moral, but we’ll continue this in terms of personal integrity (e.g., “honest” business dealings) or instrumentalizing existing cultural systems for charitable ends (e.g., redeeming exploitative business practices by donating a portion to charity) … In too many cases, a Christian perspective doesn’t seem to challenge the very configuration of these careers and vocations.6

The Challenge and Opportunity in Business Education

Business education is already formative. The question is: of what? Studies indicate that students emerge more materialistic and individualistic in orientation than when they first enrolled in business programs, and in light of the litany of recent corporate scandals, some scholars are questioning the societal consequences of the traditional business curriculum.7 Our concern is that if we are not overtly attentive, the unintentional result might be malformation of character.

Furthermore, business educators cannot just delegate character formation to other parts of the university. Psychologists have found that behavior lacks “cross situational stability.” Courageous or honest behavior in one context such as home life does not necessarily transfer to another, such as work.8 To combat these tendencies, Perry Glanzer argues insightfully that virtues need to be learned in “particular identity contexts.”9

These concerns demand the specific attention of business educators. First, business is often the largest, or one of the largest, majors at CCCU schools. Business is also one of our most powerful cultural institutions and it thereby provides many avenues by which hearts are shaped toward particular ends (through employment, ownership, production, promotion, lobbying, and so on). Second, consistent with Smith’s worry about the possible domesticating effect of worldview integration, scholars and practitioners from a range of traditions have been developing a “theology of business” that sees commercial activity as a means to advancing the common good.10 This vision requires, however, the participation of people with the “virtues” necessary to sustain and uphold it. Thus, the formation of character plays an indispensible role if we are to move beyond the rhetoric of “preparing students for a calling as opposed to just a career.” Third, recent large-scale ethics meltdowns have created significant interest in the development of management education efforts that affect actual behavior in positive ways. Finally, amidst the increasing threat to higher education as a whole, and business programs in particular, via the “flattening” effect of technology, a renewed and compelling focus on character formation could prove to be an effective and timely distinctive.

In what follows, we will sketch the core arguments of the “education as formation” thesis. Since Smith is a central figure in the recent revival of this conversation, and since his work has not yet been widely discussed and/or addressed by business educators, we will focus on his argument while contextualizing and augmenting it with the work of other historical and contemporary scholars. We will then briefly describe the emerging kingdom-oriented theology of business. Merging these two agendas in our final section, we will offer specific proposals for how faith-based business schools could re-imagine their pedagogical strategies, curricula, and co-curricular activities so that students can develop the habits of the heart necessary to sustain a vocational vision of business. While we hope to spark some new ideas, we also recognize that some of our proposals are already being practiced. In those cases, our hope is that this paper will affirm and connect such activities to the larger, more comprehensive, Christian character-formation endeavor.

Education as Formation

Through his Cultural Liturgies book series and a review symposium in Christian Scholars Review, James K. A. Smith has recently reawakened and advanced the argument that Christian education must be a formational as opposed to a merely informational enterprise. However timely this discussion may be, the idea enjoys a long history (as Smith and other scholars acknowledge).11 Aristotle articulated the “virtues” as those internal habits of character or excellences (arête) that enable human beings to flourish (eudemonia) and support civic life. Plato showed that genuine moral knowledge could be acquired only after a long process of transformation that is not purely cognitive, but rather awakens “a love for the good.”12 Augustine too understood the centrality of the affective dimension in ethics as a matter of “rightly ordered love.”13 As Steven Garber notes, Augustine also saw the end of education as character formation (“a way of life”).14

From its historical roots and its medieval synthesis with Christian theology via Aquinas, “virtue ethics” has enjoyed a resurgence in philosophy, theology, and other disciplines.15 Specifically related to the business academy, virtue theory (or variations thereof) has made inroads into sub-disciplines like positive organizational studies and ethics.16

While biblical ethics cannot be reduced to virtue theory, biblical portrayals of character development share with virtue theory an intimate concern for the inner dimensions of human persons.17 Christian life and maturation are described in terms of radical transformation through repentance and “conversion” (metanoia).18 The New Testament delineates the condition of the heart (dikaiosynē/ “righteousness”) as the wellspring for action.19 Jesus himself calls for a change of identity (good fruit/good tree) rather than mere compliance with respect to outward behavior.20 Similarly, Paul uses the imagery of “putting on Christ” and “putting on the new man” to signify this change of identity.21 The Bible’s central moral directive is not a call to follow and comply with rules and commands blindly, but rather to embody God’s character (via discernment) as personified by the story, life, and actions of Jesus.22 Moral instruction within the Bible is also communicated predominantly in narrative form, which engages our entire being, not just our cognitive faculties.

To the extent that prevailing models of contemporary moral education neglect such a focus upon inner qualities, they present a problematic obstacle to character formation. Most prominently, Lawrence Kohlberg’s cognitive development theory construes moral growth as a linear progression into higher stages of abstract reasoning that are purportedly free of moral content. Kohlberg believed that cognitive conflict between one’s existing level and more advanced ones in his six-stage model would motivate movement to a higher level. He was also convinced that, if provided with an appropriately stimulating cognitive environment, each person could reach higher stages that ultimately reflect reasoning characterized by “justice.”23

The influences of these types of theories on moral education in business have been significant. Business ethics, even as taught in many Christian institutions, is primarily aimed at reasoning. Attention to the inner qualities (“virtues”) of the person that affect moral sensitivity, imagination and identity is often an afterthought. Students are typically assigned dilemmas in the form of borderline cases designed to elicit critical thinking and the application of decision-making models. When referenced at all, it is not uncommon to see character employed as an additional dimension of analysis. For example, in Trevino and Nelson’s widely adopted and otherwise excellent textbook, Managing Business Ethics, virtue is reduced to a self-referential question, “how will the decision affect my character?” within a multi-step decision making model. 24

Although Kohlberg’s theory has drawn many criticisms, we will highlight a few that are central for our purposes. Paul Vitz notes that in neglecting the roles of narratives, emotions, and embodied experience, Kohlberg’s model offers a highly deficient account of moral development. Narratives come closer to how we actually conceive of our own moral lives, and engagement with the affective dimension and true-to-life experiences (versus “cognitive conflict”) alone are necessary components for moral development.25 Robert Coles points out that teaching moral reasoning alone is ineffective to produce behavioral change; he notes the significant gap that exists between getting an “A” in an ethics class and living according to one’s deepest convictions.26 As Craig Dykstra sums up aptly, Kohlberg’s model reduces religious faith to an “extension of our cognitive moral structures onto the cosmic plane,” so that “faith development never really affects moral development and religious beliefs do not really shape moral judgments.”27

Kohlberg’s model thus embodies an incipient reductionism: faith is reduced to cognitive capabilities, and morality is reduced to value statements. Whether the values derive from Enlightenment Liberalism or Christian “principles,” the effect is the same: moral learning is reduced to consideration of values to which one can give intellectual assent. Notwithstanding the valid and appropriate role of value statements in moral development, the unfortunate effect of this emphasis on values is to treat them as merely intellectual concepts.

It seems clear that movement toward a more holistic focus on intentionality which combines the cognitive and affective dimensions of the moral agent as a person of faith is necessary for true formation to occur. However, the question of whether character/virtues can actually be “taught” is a challenging one with a long history. Aristotle believed that the state and educational systems played significant roles, but his thought contains a paradox as he indicates that one must be already good to develop virtues.28 Numerous scholars, including Hauerwas and Joseph Pieper, note this circularity in both Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s accounts of virtue acquisition.29 Plato offers a more optimistic case in his cave metaphor, yet the prior concern of how we are prompted to “delight in the good” remains to be addressed. As Meilaender notes, if one is “to stand up, to turn his neck around to walk to look up at the light” to see beyond the shadows in Plato’s cave, a “love for the good” must be awakened.30

With respect to these questions, contemporary Christian scholars who advocate “education as formation” make insightful and unique contributions. Espousing a shared and more robust understanding of human personhood and the shared aims (telos) of Christian faith, they note that Christian institutions of higher learning are foundationally well positioned to engage in true formation.31 As William Deresiewicz affirms, “religious colleges – even obscure, regional schools that no one has ever heard of on the coasts – often do a much better job” of helping students become “souls” through fostering “communication between the heart and the mind.”32

Glanzer and Todd Ream argue that in order to help students “order their loves” appropriately, Christian higher education should aim to form the “Christian identity” of students. Building on the work of Arthur Chickering, they note that “identity” has a strong affective dimension.33 Similarly, Craig Dykstra emphasizes the role the imagination plays in the visional aspects of the moral life, particularly in our ability to see the world around us rightly. “Imagination” in the sense used here goes well beyond common uses of the term that connote fantasy or pretending, but rather is a “faculty” that shapes who we are and how we perceive the world.34

Connecting our imagination to our spiritual formation, he notes, “religious faith is not a matter of being confirmed in what we already implicitly know, but of being moved to new ways of seeing, knowing, feeling and relating. And this has everything to do with how we make moral judgments and decisions.”35 Based on this robust conceptualization, Dykstra argues that character development is best understood as the process of “imaginal transformation.”36

Consistent with these themes, Smith develops his theory of “cultural formation.” Smith’s major criticism of “worldview type” integration is that it is based upon a deficient anthropology (stemming from a Descartian conception of rationality as the kernel of human nature), and so it tends to focus on the realm of ideas, arguments, and propositions. In contrast, he argues that biblical anthropology reveals us to be teleological creatures created to worship, and thus we may rightly be called “liturgical animals.” Therefore, our actions are more a function of what we love (a desired telos) than what we think. Smith explains, “What we love is a specific vision of the good life, an implicit picture of what human flourishing looks like.”37 Since we are more “lovers” than “thinkers,” he contends that “education” and formation happen unconsciously through “cultural liturgies” which are “rituals of ultimate concern that are formative for identity and inculcate particular visions of the good life.”38 “Thick” practices that seem innocuous, such as a trip to the mall, shape our actions and direct our loves, even without explicitly presenting themselves in the form of ideas, arguments, and propositions. Although not all habits or practices play significant roles in shaping our identities (are “thick”), neither are they “neutral” in their formational effects.39

In order to counter these formative liturgies, Smith argues that Christian worship, and Christian education as an outgrowth of it, must take an affective focus with formative habits and practices of their own, that then become second nature to us over time and that direct our affections toward “desiring the kingdom.”40 “It is in such practices, that our love is trained, shaped, disciplined and formed. And, it is to some extent, only in such practices that this can happen,” Smith argues.41 Appealing to our rational faculties alone is insufficient for inculcating these “counter formational” habits and desires. Rather, they must be reached through our “bodies.” All practices and habits aim to make us certain kinds of persons and point us toward specific ends.42 He argues, “in short they are meaning-laden, identity forming practices that subtly shape us because they grab hold of our love – they are automating our desire and action without our conscious recognition.”43

Charles Taylor’s conception of the pre-cognitive “social imaginaries” in which our “worldviews” take shape come much closer to the Bible’s focus on the heart (cardia) as the seat of action.44 Instead of merely comparing ideas and theories (as worldview critique tends to do), Smith argues,

We should be discerning to what ends all sorts of cultural institutions are seeking to direct our love. In short, we will only adequately ‘read’ our culture to the extent that we recognize operative there an array of liturgies that function as pedagogies of desire.45

More specifically, we should be examining stories, images, and myths by asking questions like the following ones about “liturgies,” whether secular (like going to the mall) or spiritual (worship within the church): “What vision of the kingdom is implicit within it?; What story is imbedded in its practices?; What does it envision as the good life?; What kind of people does it want us to become?; What does it want us to love?”46

For Christian higher education to be distinctive and effective, therefore, “it must reconnect itself to the ‘thick practices’ of the church.”47 Smith strongly suggests using the term “ecclesial colleges and universities” over “Christian colleges or universities” in order to emphasize this relationship, and to illustrate his belief that the latter “makes it easier to traffic in the abstraction of Christianity as an intellectual system.”48 He continues,

The ecclesial university would be a counter cultural institution without being an anti-cultural institution; rather it would be an institution forming and equipping a peculiar people to unfold creation’s cultural possibilities in a way that accords with the cruciform shape of the kingdom in the “not yet” of our sojourn.49

Smith’s strong focus on the affective dimension offers a clear target for facile critiques on the basis of anti-intellectualism. Thus Smith, a philosopher by training, clarifies that while he points to the insufficiencies of cognitive worldview integration with respect to character formation, he has “no interest in abandoning intellectual rigor for emotional fervor.”50 He also notes that his use of “heart” is a return to “the biblical and Augustinian language” of describing “the affective seat of human identity and action.”51 Indeed, we do well to remember that the biblical Hebrew word for heart (leb) does double duty, often representing the idea of “mind” as rendered in modern English, referring to the seat of consciousness and willfulness. The English expressions, “to know something by heart,” and “to want with all my heart” illustrate this meaning. In Pascal’s famous bon mot, “The heart has its reasons, which reason knows not.”

Business and Human Flourishing

As noted earlier, some scholars who have addressed matters of virtue/character have expressed their concern that business activities tend to encourage a narrow focus on utility and “external goods,” which can serve to deform character. They may be encouraged to know that a theological vision for business is emerging within diverse Christian traditions. Scholars and business leaders from Anabaptist, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and Reformed backgrounds have all argued that when properly grounded in a kingdom-oriented telos,52 business works on behalf of the common good as defined by the biblical concept of shalom.53 This vision seeks not only to provide apologetic support for business (pointing to its nobility as a legitimate vocation), but also to engage it in a prophetic manner, delineating what needs to be transformed in order for business to participate more fully in the mission of God. Consistent with Smith’s ideal of being “counter cultural without being anti-cultural,” these scholars and practitioners are not content to compartmentalize “personal integrity” or charitable endeavors as being separate from core business activities. They advocate working to repair and “redeem” the larger systems and structures of business so that they more closely resemble the “not yet” aspects of the kingdom.

More specifically, proponents of this vision hold that the central purpose of business is not to maximize profit, but rather to act as an institution that mediates God’s presence in the world through serving multiple constituencies and working for justice and mercy.54 Following Luther, businesspeople are to take up the call to act as “God’s hands and feet” and adopt an identity that is worthy of being called “regents” in carrying out his will and purposes. While there is some disagreement about the exact role and priority of profit, a legitimate place is given to it as either a means to other objectives (funding an organization’s greater purposes) and/or as a way to serve shareholders who invest their capital.55 However, profit is never seen as the only, or even the most important, objective of business.

Business organizations and individual practitioners serve as co-laborers in God’s mission by reflecting his creative, providential, and relational character traits. When businesses responsibly combine natural resources with human ingenuity to develop and bring to market, products and services that better people’s lives, they reflect parts of the nature of God. Oliver Williams offers turning sand into silicon chips as a primary example of reflecting the creative nature of God.56 To be certain, these should be “life enhancing” products or services or “good goods,” whereas products and/or services that are harmful or that offer dubious value are disqualified.57

Business Education as Formation 1

To recap the argument so far, a more comprehensive account of behavior sees us as affective beings who are ultimately shaped by practices and habits (“liturgies” versus “worldview integration”) that shape what we love (telos) and who we are (identity). In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith argues that since we are liturgical beings, worship within the church is central to the task of formation. Although formation per se is not the point of worship, a unique understanding of, and orientation toward, the world is carried forward in our spiritual practices. According to Smith, worship is “counter formational” in its pre-cognitive, material, and embodied practices that shape our social imaginaries. Among the important formative “by-products” of worship that seem especially important for business students and practitioners are: a different orientation toward time (for example, Sabbath and the liturgical calendar are counter to the 24/7 busyness and commercialization of the world); a call to be image bearers/vice-regents in the world tasked with ruling and caring for creation; a “re-narration of the world” and our identities toward serving others through the reading of the scriptures and sermons; hospitality, community, and grace-filled inter-dependence through greeting of one another in fellowship and the passing of peace; and the practice of a “kingdom economics of gratitude” through tithes and offerings.58

Following Smith’s contention we ask, how then can business educators “extend and amplify the genius that is implicit in the practice of Christian worship?”59 How can we connect what we do to the “thick practices” of the church in order to reflect “liturgically informed learning” that more effectively shapes the social imaginaries of students toward a kingdom-oriented vision for business?60

Although Christian institutions of higher learning and individual departments within them cannot and should not act as substitutes for the church, we can nonetheless build deeper resonance in multiple ways. Following the contours of Smith’s argument, we shall in the balance of this paper re-envision business program curricula and co-curricular activities using a formational lens.61 What follows here is by no means comprehensive, and we do not presume to offer definitive prescriptions. Our goal is to begin a conversation. To be sure, many faith-based business programs are already engaged in some of what we will suggest. However, we are convinced that a formational perspective provides a powerful organizing principle which breathes new life into many of these practices and imbues formerly optional co/extra-curricular activities with fresh meaning and significance.

First, we explore the need to emphasize our shared telos and unique location within the “ecclesial college.” Second, we consider ways to engage in cultural exegesis of not only the ideas and theories of our discipline, but especially of the embodied “rituals” and practices in which we ask our students to participate. Third, in order to help students anticipate the forces that will compete to direct their loves in their chosen field, we explore some methods to help students identify and unpack workplace “liturgies” that exist in the practices and “institutional homes” of business. Finally, we suggest some counter- or re-formational practices. By re-framing education as a fundamentally formational enterprise, we hope better to enable and encourage students to see and practice business (or any other pursuit) as an expression of their Christian vocation to seek and desire God’s kingdom.

Shared Telos

It is essential that business programs emphasize and practice, at both the curricular and co-curricular levels, the shared telos of Christian faith within their larger university and church contexts. Hauerwas warns that “business ethics is a bad idea” if it is carried out as an independent, autonomous enterprise that requires no connection to traditions and/or mediation by the church.62 Moreover, Glanzer worries that professional identities will develop apart from “Christian identity” unless the connections are made explicit.63

While these relationships may seem obvious and/or natural at a Christian university, there are often tensions that exist between professional programs and other parts of campus. Business faculty often feel a degree of defensiveness about their departments being treated as morally suspect and/or as a mere revenue generator for the larger institution, with a tenuous, at best, mission fit. These feelings in turn may lead to a “go it alone” rather than a bridge-building approach.

In practical terms, emphasis must be placed on how business can be a path to participation in God’s creative and redemptive activity. As Smith states, “Our ultimate love is oriented by and to a picture of what we think it looks like for us to live well and that picture then governs, shapes and motivates our decisions and actions.”64 The goal then is to “repaint” or “re-story” business—to imagine business within the “grand narrative” of Scripture, and to see its role as deeply embedded in Christian life. In addition to building the theological “case” for business, students must be able to connect their own personal, vocational stories (and “career aspirations”) to the bigger, kingdom story. The story of God creating the world and then establishing his kingdom provides the context within which Christians live and breathe. The question then becomes, what is business’ role in this story? And as business students and/or practitioners, what is our role in the story? How do I (specifically, personally, uniquely) fit into the story? In what way(s) does my work in business contribute to and continue the story of God’s redemptive work?

Since most business professors are not theologians, however, we may lack the formal training and/or language and categories with which to make these connections. To overcome this hurdle, we commend the example of those CCCU campuses that have engendered collaboration between business faculty and their colleagues in theology and humanities departments. On our own campus, professors from both the Business and Theology schools have partnered in faculty development activities (such as theological instruction and critique of papers from a theological perspective), co-teaching of courses, and cross-curricular course listings.65

At the very minimum and provided there is a common understanding within the larger institution, emphasizing our connectivity and shared understanding of the telos of our teaching would mean that business faculty should become familiar with what students are learning about in their general “core” and Bible/theology curricula. They can then build upon that content in their own courses. To the extent that our curriculum is compartmentalized, students may come to adopt a bifurcated view that theology, humanities, and wider concerns of human conduct do not apply to business. Undoubtedly, these connections could prove stretching, yet rewarding. To help develop interdisciplinary capability and collaboration among faculty, short courses or seminars can be offered (over the summer or other breaks from teaching) in which instructors of core and theology courses familiarize faculty across the campus with their course curricula. A Christian telos requires building on the resources of the whole university at both the general (discipline) and specific (individual) level.

Cultural Exegesis

While we affirm efforts to engage in worldview critique, it is also necessary to “unmask the powers” that reside within the embodied practices of our own programs that shape student affections. As Smith argues, an adequate account of Christian action begins with cultural analysis in order to identify the “communal, embodied rhythms, rituals and routines that over time quietly and unconsciously prime and shape our desires and most fundamental longings.”66

The goal here is not just to use established business practices (“proven techniques”) to achieve kingdom outcomes (such as reconciliation, poverty, eco-stewardship, health, and so on); rather, the point is that we must examine the practices themselves to discover whether they have embedded values that are not necessarily consistent with kingdom principles. We cannot be faithful to the outcomes we seek while using tools/techniques that may be antithetical to our purposes.

For example, one common business school offering that functions as a ritual comes in the form of big events in which esteemed business leaders are asked to speak on campus. Often, the speaker is a prominent (and typically wealthy) alumnus of the institution. Students are expected to dress professionally, and a fancy meal may be served. Ironically, these events are sometimes held in the same venues in which formal worship takes place (a chapel, church commons, or performance hall). Often, it is such an honor to have the speaker connected to the institution, the event is promoted well in advance with faculty members encouraging attendance in class, and formal invitations are sent to reinforce the point. Donors, alumni, parents, and other community members may also be invited to attend. Local elected officials may come to rub shoulders with the speaker and the media may even send a representative.

Students will excitedly come to the event, receive a nametag, and be ushered to their seats, all while musicians are playing softly in the background. A call to order will be made, a blessing offered, and the meal will begin. Before dessert is finished, the university president will stand, and after a hush falls over the crowd, he or she will offer a brief stump speech for the school before passing the podium to the dean or chair of the business program who, in turn, introduces the guest of honor.

While these events are important for multiple purposes—inspiration, community engagement, promoting the institution, inculcating students in professional norms of behavior and dress, and so on—they may also have other unintended formative effects. Beyond the worldview content, students will experience the pomp and circumstance and lavish attention paid to the speaker. They will feel the deference with which their teachers, the university administrators, and members of the community venerate the special guest. Somewhere in the back of their minds or hearts, they may even wonder, “what would it take for me to be treated like that someday or how can I achieve this level of ‘success’?” They might then be driven in their further educational and vocational pursuits toward a similar vision of the “good life.”

Perhaps all of the attention accorded the speaker is well deserved, and yet we must be intentional about the effects of these activities by asking questions such as the ones Smith suggests: “What vision of the kingdom is implicit within it (their message)? What story is imbedded in its practices? What does it envision as the good life? What kind of people does it want us to become? What does it want us to love?”67 We might want to ask additional questions, such as these: In inviting specific speakers, how are we defining “success?” What have they sacrificed to achieve their success? And what is the operative telos of business contained in the message they bring? Unless we are intentional in answering these types of questions, and using them as “screens” for program evaluation, these events can become rituals whereby students’ hearts are trained toward inappropriate aims. Such questions also help shape the development of (counter-) formational liturgies (we propose some examples below).

Another regular co-curricular business school practice takes the form of “service learning” projects (for example, a group of business students participating in a Habitat for Humanity build or students in a marketing or accounting course offering pro bono consulting services with a local non-profit over the course of a term). While these assignments are undoubtedly formational in helpful ways, they might also tacitly bifurcate business and kingdom values. In other words, they may fortify the often unspoken presumption that business impacts society chiefly by funding charities or supporting volunteerism. Consistent with Smith’s concern, service-learning activities can also reinforce the idea that poor business practices may be redeemed through acts of charity. To the contrary, our goal should be to develop an integrative understanding of service within the concept of faithful business practice, as opposed to practices that suggest service as merely an “add-on” to the aims of business. Moreover, we strongly suspect formation happens best through regular rhythms and practices that go beyond episodic events (such as “charity for a day”).

Business students participate in some regular curricular activities which also function as “cultural liturgies.” Across multiple classes, they might be expected to practice, and be assessed on (often via grading “rubrics”), specific learning objectives. As examples, students may be required to practice “skills” in presentation, writing, critical thinking, collaboration, professionalism, and even “ethical decision making.” Students are put through these paces in order to satisfy accreditation standards (“learning assessments”) and/or to respond to what employers say they want in newly minted graduates. The intent is that these practices will, over time, become second nature, that is, a part of who they are.

At face value, having students engage in practices is exactly what we should be doing. If we see our primary goal as preparing students to “succeed in the marketplace,” then our curricula should be aligned with the needs of employers. However, employers most likely desire those habits conducive to making profit (note the implicit, albeit erroneous, assumption regarding the purpose of business). Thus, the types of virtues that support a kingdom vision for business may well be downplayed if perceived to be in conflict with what the marketplace demands. For example, some employers have given us feedback that our students are “too nice” and “not assertive enough.” We are not exactly sure how to interpret this data, but we often wonder if “assertive” is a softened euphemism for “aggressive” or “cutthroat.” If so, should we blindly give employers what they want by encouraging (or requiring) ruthless competition between students, and then developing an applicable rubric to measure such behavior? While some of our students do need to be more assertive, perhaps we ought to take this feedback as a partial affirmation of the aims of our formational practices. Hauerwas has argued that universities may appropriately “corrupt youth” by training them to not fit in with the values around them.68 After all, should not students habituated in kingdom practices look somewhat different from counterparts who have been shaped by different objects of affection?

Workplace Liturgies

Beyond assessing the formative effects of our own pedagogical practices, we also need to give students the tools necessary to identify, read, and critique the formational aspects of specific practices they are likely to encounter in their future workplaces. As Andy Crouch argues in his book Culture Making, we are both shaped by culture and are culture-making beings, so we should be intentional about the artifacts we create and use. Therefore, the ability to read and decode cultural situations is vital. Through cultural exegesis assignments students can learn to “de-construct” a business practice or experience to uncover implicit telos, values, and virtues. Analogous to Smith’s shopping mall example, we suggest taking students on “exegetical” field trips to corporate offices (such as a sky scraper, with an art-filled lobby, awe-inspiring views, impressive private offices, validated parking, and so on) or to a “cube-farm” (with its “hush” of busy workers, glow of multiple monitors, shared work space, casual attire, isolation from “front office,” and so on) or a call center. We could then have them “un-pack” the setting and experience to identify its underlying assumptions and describe the directions in which it might shape workers and visitors alike. This exercise could be applied to a variety of practices: financial reports; “dashboard” metrics; org-charts; office/factory/shop layouts; website and intranet design and content; marketing materials and the company’s “brand”; and to the characteristics of the product/service itself. Such exercises would function to give students “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.” They may see, for example, that the compelling convenience and expectation of “always on” connectivity via technology may not simply be something which is merely neutral (as technology is often interpreted to be), but rather, it may well serve as a “thick practice” that promotes the worship of work and/or over-identification with it.

Likewise, we might inquire about common business metaphors (“making money,” “hauling in a whale,” “beating the enemy,” and so forth) that paint pictures of business as something that may be far adrift from its true purpose as service to God and neighbor. We might inquire about how the use of material incentives as motivational tools can detract from participation in a compelling and properly directed mission and a spirit of camaraderie, personal growth and development. We might ask for example, what the practice and metaphor of “stacked ranking” says about employees and organizational culture. How might fixation on sales or other numbers lead to the worship of mammon? How might the use of big data in marketing and workforce analytics lead to a particular conception of persons and how we relate to each other? To be certain, we are not arguing that any of these practices are inherently bad. They each have their merits. However, it would be careless to assume that they are neutral with respect to shaping us into certain sorts of persons.

Counter Formation

Our efforts would be incomplete without the proactive building of “counter formational” practices and rituals. Some of what we describe reflects overt connections to worship (as Smith suggests), but all embody practices that shape students’ imaginations and what they might come to love. In what follows, we will specifically focus on: 1) stories; 2) mentors and exemplars; and 3) other embodied experiences.

The formative power of stories is well known, and yet they still seem under-utilized in business school curricula. Even case studies, which are commonly used teaching tools in business subjects, often fail to take advantage of the formative potential contained in stories. As Stewart and Hill note:

While the case study method has proven itself as a valuable process for ethical analysis, it is, in itself, deficient in promoting character development. Its spectator viewpoint, while helpful in producing cool rational analysis, often misses the affective aspect of learning all together. Dispassionate critiques make for excellent critical thinking skills, but may not engage students’ personal values and convictions … Unlike case studies, narratives, such as books, movies and biographies, make no pretense of being morally neutral. With complex plots, characters and outcomes, they provide an emotional hook for students, a story with which to resonate.69

The biblical story has a profound impact by re-narrating our worlds and giving us a moral outlook. In addition to reading the biblical story, Glanzer suggests telling more stories about “saints” in order to develop virtues.70 Along these lines, we encourage the regular practice of reciting the stories of businesspeople and organizations whose actions exemplify a kingdom vision for business. In addition to some well-known examples of global and national firms (Herman Miller, Service Master, and so on), there are many smaller, localized accounts of faithful business owners.71 To be certain, the point should be faithfulness of the businesspersons, and not how they were even more “successful” doing it this way. Moreover, examples of “noble/faithful failure” (businesspeople whose Christian commitment is not necessarily measured in terms of market success) should also be among the stories represented. Similarly, some of the most powerfully impactful speakers invited into our classes have been those who “fell from grace” into unethical behavior, and were able to reflect upon it, and invite students to experience the redemption at work in their repentance.

Taking the power of narrative one step further, students can be encouraged to discover and disseminate previously untold stories. As part of a course, students could be assigned to find and document an organization or person manifesting their faith in creative ways through their business. The stories can then be recorded and transmitted in many different formats (written or video, for example). At two institutions of which we are aware, the best such student videos are awarded prizes (established by an endowment) decided by their peers at an “academy awards” type screening. These stories are posted to a dedicated website so future students and people in the broader community might be inspired to follow their example.72 At another institution, students have submitted written papers as nominations for an annual regional award, sponsored by the local Rotary Club and PBS station, honoring good business practices. Many of the student-nominated organizations are recognized and invited to attend the televised award ceremony held and filmed during a well-attended Rotary Club meeting. Finding, telling, and celebrating stories of faithful/ethical businesspeople helps re-write the dominant profit-centric narrative in the minds and hearts of the students who tell the stories and those who hear them.

Because Christian formation takes place in community and not in isolation, students also need regular, direct contact and meaningful relationships with faithful businesspeople.73 Mentors and role models turn abstract ideas into concrete realities.74 At their best, mentors become trusted sources of advice and form the beginning of a support community for students. Of course many students may be too intimidated to seek out mentors on their own and/or may lack the network of relationships to have access. To overcome these hurdles, establishing a formal mentoring program can help.75 This will require staff or volunteer time to recruit and screen mentors and match them with students (typically based on the student’s professional field of interest). In our experience, members of the business community, especially alumni, are often excited to serve as mentors. They are eager to share wisdom with students and provide “what they wish they’d known before they started” advice. Mentors fill a vital role that many students will find hard to come by without the type of intentional help the university can offer through its extensive relationships in the community. Rather than formation however, many students participate more for the pragmatic purpose of building a career “network.” Furthermore, some mentors may embody values and practices that are antithetical to kingdom principles. Thus, mentors (and students) must be carefully screened and matched to encourage the growth of the kind of imagination we hope to develop.

The irreplaceable role of community suggests that we need to be deliberate about building connections while students are enrolled and creative in continuing our efforts beyond the on-campus experience. In our own program, we are engaged in nascent efforts to build faith-based “communities of practice.” We are working with business and church leaders to create venues where businesspeople gather to learn and advise one another in their professional lives on matters of faithful practices. So far, these have taken the form of half-day sessions which are hosted at a company that opens its doors and practices to scrutiny, where they showcase their successes and also solicit suggestions for areas in which they struggle. Visitors learn from what their hosts are doing and what others share about their own hard-earned experiences. We plan to incorporate students into these communities in order to embed them into a supportive structure that could carry them beyond their university experience. To the extent that such networks include alumni as well as other local businesspeople of faith, they can serve as an effective means of extending the influence and reinforcing the values and practices learned on campus. Moreover, partnering with churches to convene “communities of practice” would help integrate members’ weekday work lives with their kingdom vocations. In addition, these communities help students experience regular rhythms of embodied practice, which are essential to personalizing and internalizing a desire for the kingdom.

Of course, formative experiences often happen outside the classroom. Co-curricular opportunities (internships, field-trips, service projects, study-abroad, and so on) are profoundly important in shaping students’ hearts and minds. But with all of these direct experiences, the challenge is capturing the learning in a way that truly internalizes the experience.76 Learning through experience is a valuable, but often optional, part of the typical modern business program. In order to maximize the effect they have on formation, more intentionality and capacity development is needed in terms of capturing and reflecting upon the experiences. Reflection is a skill; therefore it needs to be taught. Whether in the form of journaling (or “blogging”) or the explicit, formal assignment of reflection projects after experiential encounters, students ought to graduate with a mastery of this skill and a rich store of personal observations.

Lastly, as a symbolic ritual of community membership, we would suggest a formal commissioning of business students. Each spring, many CCCU schools make space (either in chapel or a special service) to “commission” students who are going on missionary assignments for the summer. Ironically, while much has been written over the past several decades on the nobility of all legitimate work (including business) as a sacred calling, we have seldom seen a chapel service in which students pursuing business (or other professional) callings are “commissioned,” too. To pronounce a blessing on students interning or serving in summer employment in the worlds of business, accounting, engineering, law, government, scientific research, architecture, education, and health would make a powerful statement and offer a potent reminder about all work potentially participating in God’s mission. Doing so would certainly situate all work within worship and would function as a small but formal “ritual” that could direct students’ hearts toward the kingdom. A parallel service for graduating students might serve to initiate them into the broader “community of practice” in their chosen field.


Reimagining education as a formational enterprise is a challenging but necessary endeavor. Business programs usually enjoy large enrollments in Christian colleges and universities, and as a core cultural institution, business has a powerful impact on how we “order our loves.” The emerging kingdom-oriented vision for business would be well served by educators who understand how they are already engaged in the process of formation and who intentionally restructure what they do—in and out of the classroom—to shape students’ affections accordingly.

Our aim in this paper has been to build upon emerging scholarship and to begin a conversation about how business education might look if it were conceived as a formational enterprise in Christian institutions of higher learning. While the well-documented pragmatic nature of business students stands as a tall obstacle in our task, we are encouraged by students who have described rather dramatic shifts in their lives. They thoughtfully articulate how they once thought and acted as though business were only about “making money,” but how they now see it as a means to use their divinely given gifts in the service of God and their neighbors. Most importantly, this shift has not just occurred in their “thinking.” It is reflected in the sorts of careers they are now pursuing and how they go about “doing” their work. Truly, their hearts and desires have changed.

Cite this article
Kenman Wong, Bruce D. Baker and Randal Franz, “Reimagining Business Education as Character Formation”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 45:1 , 5-24


  1. See James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009) and Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). Also see Perry L. Glanzer, “Moving Beyond Value – or Virtue-Added: Transforming Colleges and Universities for Redemptive Moral Development,” Christian Scholars Review 39.4 (Summer 2010): 371-377.
  2. We use the biblical Greek word telos to connote the aim, intent, and culmination of Christian faith [2 Cor. 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:5]. See Smith, Desiring the Kingdom; and Glanzer, “Moving Beyond Value – or Virtue-Added: Transforming Colleges and Universities for Redemptive Moral Development.”
  3. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 30.
  4. See Glanzer, “Moving Beyond Value – or Virtue-Added: Transforming Colleges and Universities for Redemptive Moral Development.”
  5. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984); and Stanley Hauerwas, “Preaching as Though We had Enemies,” First Things (1995).
  6. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 218.
  7. Bruno Dyck, “What Happens when Students are Taught Two Different Approaches to Management, the First Consistent with Mainstream Management Theory, the Second Consistent with Catholic Social Thought,” paper presented at the Eighth International Conference on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education (Dayton, OH, 2012). See also Long Wang, Deepak Malhotra, and J. Keith Murnighan, “Economics Education and Greed,” in Academy of Management Learning & Education vol. 10 no. 4 (2011), 643-660.
  8. Kwame A. Appiah, Experiments in Ethics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).
  9. Glanzer, “Moving Beyond Value – or Virtue-Added: Transforming Colleges and Universities for Redemptive Moral Development,” 393.
  10. For an Anabaptist perspective, see Bruno Dyck & David Schroeder, “Management, Theology and Moral Points of View: Towards an Alternative to the Conventional Materialist-Individualist Ideal-Type of Management,” Journal of Management Studies 42.4 (2005): 705-735. For a Catholic perspective, see Michael Naughton & Helen Alford, Coordinators, “Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection,” Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace and the John A. Ryan Center, (2012). For Reformed (or Reformed leaning) perspectives, see Jeff Van Duzer, Why Business Matters to God: (and What Still Needs to Be Fixed) (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010); and Kenman Wong and Scott Rae, Business for the Common Good (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2011).
  11. See Jaeger Werner, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, trans. Gilbert Highet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).
  12. Gilbert C. Meilaender, The Theory and Practice of Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 50, 56, 61.
  13. Augustine, City of God, XV.23 cited at Also see Augustine, “On the Morals of the Catholic Church,” in Waldo Beach & H. Richard Niebuhr, eds., Christian Ethics: Sources of the Living Tradition, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1973).
  14. Steven Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.)
  15. For philosophical accounts of virtue theory, see MacIntyre, After Virtue; and Elizabeth Anscombe, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Philosophy 33 (1958). For theological accounts, see Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983); and William C. Spohn, Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics (New York: Continuum, 1999).
  16. Daryl Koehn, “A Role for Virtue Ethics in the Analysis of Business,” Business Ethics Quarterly 5 (1995): 533-539.
  17. Spohn, Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics, 29.
  18. Mark 1:4; Luke 24:47; Acts 11:18; 2 Cor. 7:9-10; 2 Pet. 3:9.
  19. Mat. 5:17-20.
  20. Luke 6:43.
  21. Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10. See also Gal. 2:20.
  22. 1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1; 1 Thess. 1:6.
  23. Lawrence Kohlberg, Essays on Moral Development, vol. 2: The Psychology of Moral Development (New York: Harper & Row, 1984).
  24. Linda Trevino & Katharine Nelson, Managing Business Ethics 4th Edition (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 46-48. See also David Gill, “Upgrading the Ethical Decision Making Model for Business,” Business and Professional Ethics Journal 23.4 (Winter 2004): 135-151.
  25. Paul C. Vitz, “The Use of Stories in Moral Development: New Psychological Reasons for an Old Education Method,” American Psychologist 45 (1990): 709-720.
  26. Robert Coles, “The Disparity between Intellect and Character,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 42.4 (September 1995): A68.
  27. Craig Dykstra, Vision and Character: A Christian Educators Alternative to Kohlberg (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 27. For similar critiques see Meilaender, The Theory and Practice of Virtue, 93; and Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 129-130.
  28. This brings to mind of course the famous “Meno Paradox” of Socrates. Murray Rae has shown with exquisite biblical insight how this paradox demonstrates the inherent irreducibility of Christian ethics, in contradiction to the cognitive development theories such as Kohlberg’s. Murray Rae, Kierkegaard’s Vision of the Incarnation: by Faith Transformed (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997).
  29. Hauerwas, A Community of Character, 138-142. Also see Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966).
  30. Meilaender, The Theory and Practice of Virtue, 51.
  31. Glanzer, “Moving Beyond Value – or Virtue-Added: Transforming Colleges and Universities for Redemptive Moral Development,” 38-39.
  32. William Deresiewicz, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” New Republic (July 21, 2014). Accessed at: Also see William Deresiewicz, The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (New York: Free Press), 2014.
  33. Perry Glanzer and Todd C. Ream, “Whose Story, Which Identity? Fostering Christian Identity at Christian Colleges and Universities,” Christian Scholars Review 35.1 (Fall 2005): 15-16.
  34. Dykstra, Vision and Character, 76.
  35. Ibid., 27.
  36. Ibid., 78.
  37. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 52.
  38. Ibid., 86.
  39. Ibid., 82-83.
  40. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 4.
  41. Ibid., 13.
  42. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 83.
  43. Ibid., 83.
  44. Ibid., 230.
  45. Ibid., 73.
  46. Ibid., 95 & 134.
  47. Ibid., 220.
  48. Ibid., 221.
  49. Ibid.
  50. James K. A. Smith, “From Christian Scholarship to Christian Education,” in Todd C. Ream, Perry L. Glanzer, David S. Guthrie, Steven M. Nolt, John W. Wright and James K. A. Smith, “Review Symposium: Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation,” Christian Scholar’s Review 39.2 (Winter, 2010): 231.
  51. Ibid.
  52. See footnote 2.
  53. See, for example, note 11.
  54. See Albert Erisman, “Ethics at Flow Automotive: A Conversation with Don Flow,” Ethix (April 2004). Accessed at: Also see Erisman and Wong, “An Orchard with Fruit that Lasts: A Conversation with Cheryl Broetje, Ethix (Dec. 2005). Accessed at:
  55. Van Duzer argues that while profit is a necessary concern for every business, profit is not the purpose of business. See Van Duzer, Why Business Matters to God.
  56. See Marc Gunther, Faith & Fortune. A more extensive consideration of entrepreneurial creativity as a marker of the imago Dei is given in Bruce Baker, “Silicon Valley and the Spirit of Innovation: How California’s Entrepreneurial Ethos Bears Witness to Spiritual Reality,” in Theology and California, J. Sexton, ed., (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014), 163-187.
  57. Naughton & Alford, “Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection.”
  58. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 155-205.
  59. Ibid., 226.
  60. Ibid., 223.
  61. While our focus is upon our specific discipline of business, we hope these reflections might serve as a model of engagement for other disciplines, too.
  62. Stanley Hauerwas, “Abortion: Theologically Understood,” in John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, eds., The Hauerwas Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 609.
  63. Glanzer, “Moving Beyond Value – or Virtue-Added: Transforming Colleges and Universities for Redemptive Moral Development,” 384.
  64. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 53.
  65. One promising result is that some theology faculty members have come to require student participation (yes, in theology courses!) in a social venture competition sponsored by the business program.
  66. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 8.
  67. Ibid., 95, 134.
  68. Stanley Hauerwas, Christian Existence Today: Essays on Church, World and Living in Between (Durham, NC: Labyrinth, 1988).
  69. Alec Hill & Ian Stewart, “Character Education in Business Schools: Pedagogical Strategies,” Teaching Business Ethics 3 (1999): 179-193, 185.
  70. Glanzer, “Moving Beyond Value – or Virtue-Added: Transforming Colleges and Universities for Redemptive Moral Development,” 398.
  71. Good examples include Broetje Orchards for holistic care of immigrant workers’ families, Flow Motors for transparency and attention to “polis,” Bob’s Red Mill, for sharing ownership with employees, and Bell Cabinets (Steve Bell) for voluntarily and painstakingly repaying all of his creditors after bankruptcy.
  72. See
  73. D. Michael Lindsay and M. G. Hager, A View from the Top: An Inside Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2014).
  74. Connie R Wanberg, Elizabeth T. Welsh, and Sarah A. Hezlett, “Mentoring Research: A Review and Dynamic Process Model,” Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management 22 (2003): 39-124.
  75. Tammy D. Allen, Lillian T. Eby, and Elizabeth Lentz, “Mentorship Behaviors and Mentorship Quality Associated With Formal Mentoring Programs: Closing the Gap Between Research and Practice,” Journal of Applied Psychology 91.3 (2006): 567-578. Also see Regina P. Schlee, “Mentoring and the Professional Development of Business Students,” Journal of Management Education 20.3 (June 2000): 322-337.
  76. For discussions of experiential learning and the importance of structured reflection see: David Boud and David Walker, Experience and Learning: Reflection at Work (Geelong, Australia: Deakin University Press, 1991), and D. Scott DeRue, and Jennifer D. Nahrgang, et al., “A Quasi-Experimental Study of After-Event Reviews and Leadership Development,” Journal of Applied Psychology 97.5 (2012): 997-1015.

Kenman Wong

Seattle Pacific University
Kenman Wong, Ph.D. is a Professor of Business Ethics at Seattle Pacific University From 2016-19, he was the founding Creator and Producer of Faith & Co.

Bruce D. Baker

Seattle Pacific University
Bruce Baker is Professor of Business Ethics at Seattle Pacific University.

Randal Franz

Seattle Pacific University
Randal Franz is Professor of Management at Seattle Pacific University.