Promoting Ethical Reflection in the Teaching of Social Entrepreneurship: A Proposal Using Religious Parables

Abstract

This paper proposes a teaching alternative that can encourage the ethical reflective sensibility among students of social entrepreneurship. It does so by exploring the possibility of using religious parables as narratives that can be analysed from Ricoeur’s hermeneutics to provoke and encourage ethical discussions in social entrepreneurship courses. To illustrate this argument, the paper makes use of a parable from the New Testament as an example of a religious narrative that can be used to prompt discussions about social entrepreneurs’ ethical dilemmas. The paper adds to the limited works that consider the teaching of ethics within social entrepreneurship education. It also advances studies that seek alternative strategies to teaching ethics in business contexts, making these strategies discernible for discussion within the broader business and management literature.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The fact that we are focusing on religious parables’ literary character implies setting aside all questions associated with religious faith, since no religious or theological meaning is taken into account from their use.

  2. 2.

    Many scholars have emphasized that since the inception of social entrepreneurship as a research field, there has never been a unique discourse that depicts a general understanding of the phenomenon. Although the heroic discourse of the social entrepreneur has spread widely from the US to all over the world, it is worth mentioning that there have been other discourses (for further details, see the works of Defourny and Nyssens 2010; Teasdale 2012). Currently, various discourses and conceptualizations coexist in different parts of the world, because multi-vocal evidence is becoming more palpable with the maturation of the research in the area (see for further details, Karanda and Toledano 2012; Kerlin 2009; Urban 2008); thus, it may be difficult to speak in terms of a unique social entrepreneurship understanding or discourse. Nonetheless, there are some conceptions/discourses that have prevailed in a great part of the academic and formal teaching narrative (e.g. textbooks, case studies), as it is the rhetoric of the heroic social entrepreneur, especially in the Western world.

  3. 3.

    The Skoll and Ashoka Foundations are two of the most recalled examples that have contributed to create centres or courses dedicated to social entrepreneurship in relevant universities such as Harvard or Oxford (for further details, see the works of O’Connor 2006; Steyaert and Hjorth 2006).

  4. 4.

    It is worthy clarifying that the rosy picture of social entrepreneurship is not exclusively driven by research and the academic elite. Instead, the popularity of the heroic view of social entrepreneurs appears to have been the result of matching ideas that have spread concurrently from several agents’ discourses (e.g. people from entrepreneurship and business life, voluntary and non-profit organizations, governments, popular press) (see, for instance, the works of Steyaert and Hjorth 2006; Teasdale 2012). We appreciate a reviewer’s note to provide some thought in this point.

  5. 5.

    The evidence comes, on the one hand, from a selective search of articles published in business ethics journals (Journal of Business Ethics, Business Ethics Quarterly, Business Ethics: A European Review, Journal of Business Ethics Education, Teaching Business Ethics) and, on the other hand, from a database search in EBSCO, SCOPUS and ATLA Religion database that used as keywords “parable” in association with various (social) business terms (economy, business, justice, marketplace and workers). From database results we focused on articles that showed specific parables in titles or abstract; the parable of the Labours in the Vineyard was one of the most cited (along with the Parable of the tenants—Matthew 21:33–46). Nonetheless, although the database search included papers published in some of the top journals of the New Testament such as Journal for the Study of the New Testament and Novum Testamentum, it should not be understood as a systematic review. The results obtained are in part dependent on the authors’ background and their own research process, so that the review may exclude relevant literature. In any case, it provided a useful and comprehensive coverage, since the objective was not to find a one-to-one correspondence between particular social entrepreneurs’ ethical problems and particular parables but rather to get a general overview of recent publications that referred to New Testament parables with a commercial or a (social) business imaginary.

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Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to the editor in charge of the Teaching Business Ethics section, Jill A. Brown, and to all the anonymous referees for helpful suggestions during the different rounds of revisions.

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This study was not funded by any person or organization.

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Correspondence to Nuria Toledano.

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Toledano, N. Promoting Ethical Reflection in the Teaching of Social Entrepreneurship: A Proposal Using Religious Parables. J Bus Ethics 164, 115–132 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-4077-x

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Keywords

  • Teaching ethics
  • Social entrepreneurship education
  • Religious parables
  • Narratives
  • Ricoeur