On The Frontier of Complex Social Challenges



Dear Faith & Work,

In days of old, the stars in the sky had special significance. Stars helped track time. Stars were a reliable tool for navigation, whether for ancient mariners or freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad. Stars also played a role in religious beliefs and narratives. Stars pointed people towards something bigger than themselves. Stars reminded people of where they came from and where they are heading. Stars helped illuminate the darkness and give hope.

Today, however, we often can barely see the stars at night. They’re blocked out by competing lights. When saying the word star, we’re more likely to think of a star salesperson or a movie star than the stars above. Most of today’s stars are ephemeral, and soon fade from memory and relevance.

This past year at the Faith & Work Initiative we reviewed our strategic plan to ensure we’re following our guiding star and are headed in the right direction. We’re looking forward to the journey ahead at the intersection of work, ethics, faith, and leadership.

Amidst this busy holiday time, particularly with the stresses that Covid has brought into our homes and work responsibilities, we invite everyone to pause and look to the stars in your life. May you find your own North Star that beckons you to follow, that faithfully guides you, and that brightens your life and work. And may your own inner star shine brightly on others, bringing hope and light to your workplace, organization, and all those you touch now and in the new year ahead. 

See you in 2022!

Best regards,

David Miller field photo.jpeg
News to Use

Sneak Peek

As part of an upcoming conversation with Forbes contributor and CEO Leadership Journal editor, Robert Reiss, I observed that it seems we’re living in a strange time right now. Parts of the world are beginning to open up from the pandemic, while others are shutting down. Parts of the world are open to collaboration and peace while others are ideologically and relationally closing down. Covid has exacerbated the push and pull of non-financial factors as business leaders seek to identify risks and protect their employees. Both investors and consumers increasingly insist that company CEOs take public positions on polarizing societal issues, including how to combat racism, fix our nation’s failing public school systems, and manage immigration thoughtfully. How can corporate leaders address these issues in a well-intentioned way that is creative, fair, and sustainable, and not just empty platitudes to appease public pressure?

Here’s where considering the wisdom and resources of faith traditions might connect with these and other such issues. These traditions remind us that corporate life is not about programs but people. It’s about cultivating a covenantal mindset instead of a contractual one; about relationships not transactions. And faith traditions talk about individual and societal transformation for the greater good, not just what’s best for me or my company. And faith traditions also remind us of the profound stewardship responsibilities that God has given humanity to tend to the garden in sustainable and generative ways, i.e., to be responsible trustees of the resources and environment entrusted to us.

Let me close by wishing each of you health and happiness in the holiday season. A heartfelt thank you to all those who have supported our work this past year. The Faith & Work Initiative is 100% funded by your contributions. For those that would like to support FWI with a tax deductible year end gift we would be most appreciative!

With gratitude,

David W. Miller, Ph.D.

Director, Faith & Work Initiative

Princeton University

Let's Connect

What is Life?

One would think this is a fairly straightforward question to answer. Biology is the field devoted to its study. Wouldn’t the biologist need to know what life is in order to study it? Historically, the questions of biology have ranged from life’s origins, to its emergence, and, to its constant development and change. Recent advances in fields as diverse as astrobiology, bio-engineering, A.I., and information theory, however, have returned to this more elementary question: what is life?  

 In one of my current research projects, I engage this question as an ethical philosopher and as a philosopher of religion—specifically as it relates to difference. How should we think about “life” in its myriad forms? Whether it’s your puppy on the sofa sitting next to you, or a stranger on the far side of the world, or one of the thirty trillion non-human microbial cells in your stomach, or that bit of kale in your noon-day salad, how do we account for apparent difference when there is such deep biological continuity? What does difference really mean when life shares so much of the same “stuff”?

 The relationship between the peculiarity of life and the inevitability of difference produce an ethical tension. From a cosmic perspective, biological life is perhaps the rarest resource in the universe. Human life is but one of life’s many forms. And yet each form busily differentiates itself while also consuming other forms to preserve its own life. How then should we relate, and what is our responsibility to life’s other forms? In answering this question, I draw on the fields of astrobiology, bio-engineering, world religions, history, ethical philosophy, zoology, ecology and literature. My aim is to place the rich diversity of life’s forms in productive tension with life’s shared fundamental structure—and, of course, the reality that life lives off other life.   

 This dense ethical sorting is upstream from most people’s daily concerns. The downstream effects, however, are already impacting people’s lives and their places of work. Whether it is our diet, hygiene decisions, treatment of animals and vegetation, care for one’s stomach gut health, or even the manner in which we perform our duties as veterinarians, biologists, farmers, medical doctors, or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officers, we are affected by this upstream sorting. The purpose of this project is to bridge these dense upstream decisions with an ethical awareness of the lived realities of everyday exchange.

Michael J. Thate, Ph.D.

Associate Research Scholar

Faith & Work Initiative

Princeton University


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Public Engagement and Thought Leadership

Towards a "Restoration of Trust?"

From the classroom to the boardroom, from the factory floor to the C-suite, from Denver to Davos, over the past months we’ve been involved in stimulating conversations around the intersection of work, ethics, and faith. Stemming from the growing lack of trust in society’s institutions, David Miller and Michael Thate co-authored Towards a "Restoration of Trust?", exploring how companies and other organizations might embark on a journey to restore trust by drawing on the insights and wisdom found in faith traditions.

An Ethics Perspective on Facebook

Michael J. Thate interview in Forbes discusses the ethical questions arising from Facebook’s history and recent whistleblower revelations in an article with Curt Steinhorst of Forbes Magazine.

How to Succeed without Selling Your Soul

We offer seminars, classes, and mentorship for the student community at Princeton University. We also offer international courses in cooperation with our international partners. Our work also takes us into the community to offer opportunities to speak to various constituencies including Princeton alumni, scholars, and marketplace and corporate leaders. This Spring our course offerings include Business Ethics: How to Succeed in Business without Selling Your Soul and Responsible Conduct in Research:

  • Students will learn basic ethical theories and develop practical tools for personal and applied ethics in business, entrepreneurial, and broader marketplace contexts. The course focuses on and explores the role of religion and spirituality as a resource for ethical formation, frameworks, and decision-making. The class will explore weekly contemporary case studies, wider trends on faith and work, and include guest CEO visitors from different industry sectors and traditions.
  • This course educates the graduate student of engineering in the responsible conduct of research. The lectures provide theoretical background information as well as case studies about ethics in day-to-day research situations, in publishing and peer-review, in student-advisor relationships, in collaborative research, as well as in the big picture and considerations of long-term impact. 
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 “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Irish immigrant and Canadian farmer Nelson Henderson

Please support FWI with your tax-deductible gift gifts. Click here to learn the many ways you can send your financial support. All gifts will receive the recognition of Princeton University. Please also let Jeri Schaefer know of your gift so FWI can track its arrival and also express our thanks to you.

  • George Bauer, Chairman, GPB, Ltd.
  • Marc Belton, Founder, Wisefellows Consulting
  • Rich Berg, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder Performance Trust Capital Partners
  • Brill Garrett, Jason Garrett Starfish Charities
  • Pat Gelsinger, CEO, Intel
  • Lou Giuliano, Non-Executive Chairman, Vectrus
  • Tom Horton, Partner, Global Infrastructure Partners
  • Dale Jones, President and CEO, Diversified Search
  • Yung Bong Lim, Managing Partner, RDG Funds LLC

  • Gene Lockhart, Chairman & Managing Partner, MissionOG
  • Mimi Pivirotto Murley, Leading civic volunteer
  • Wendy Murphy, Managing Director and Global Practice Leader, ZRG Partners
  • Craig Philip, Director, Vanderbilt University Center for Transportation Research
  • John Tyson, Chairman, Tyson Foods, Inc.
  • Kevin Weiss, CEO, Spireon, Inc.
  • Toni Townes-Whitley, President, US Regulated Industries, Microsoft
  • Jacob Worenklein, Chairman and CEO of US Grid Company
  • Johanna Zeilstra, CEO, Gender Fair

Princeton University


Faith & Work Initiative

Princeton University

Keller Center for Innovation

Engineering Quadrangle

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ 08544


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The Faith & Work Initiative is a teaching and research center within the Princeton University School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Keller Center committed to exploring ethics, values, and practices of exchange on the frontier of complex social challenges. We explore foundational meanings and promotes ethical awareness across our constituencies at every phase of life and work. To do so, we look back—both in terms of the histories of ethical philosophy and also the varying authoritative traditions of religious communities. We approach such histories and wisdom traditions as beneficial for understanding as well as framing contemporary global challenges. With our team of ethical philosophers, philosophers of religion, and historians, as well as our global partners from a range of other disciplines, we commit to this rigorous portfolio of offerings for students, academic peers, religious communities, and leaders in the marketplace.