Acton Institute Powerblog

Why Christians in Business Should Read Poetry

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Writing for the Harvard Business Review, my friend (and coauthor) John Coleman argues that business professionals can benefit from reading poetry. While his article is not directed at people of faith, I think his claims are particularly relevant to Christians in the business world:

Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy. In the poem “Celestial Music,” for example, Louise Glück explores her feelings on heaven and mortality by seeing the issue through the eyes of a friend, and many poets focus intensely on understanding the people around them. In January of 2006, the Poetry Foundation released a landmark study, “Poetry in America,” outlining trends in reading poetry and characteristics of poetry readers. The number one thematic benefit poetry users cited was “understanding” — of the world, the self, and others. They were even found to be more sociable than their non-poetry-using counterparts. And bevies of new research show that reading fiction and poetry more broadly develops empathy. Raymond Mar, for example, has conducted studies showing fiction reading is essential to developing empathy in young children (PDF) and empathy and theory of mind in adults (PDF). The program in Medical Humanities & Arts (PDF) even included poetry in their curriculum as a way of enhancing empathy and compassion in doctors, and the intense empathy developed by so many poets is a skill essential to those who occupy executive suites and regularly need to understand the feelings and motivations of board members, colleagues, customers, suppliers, community members, and employees.

Read more . . .

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Also see, in Acton’s Religion & Liberty quarterly, “Why Should Businessmen Read Great Literature?” by Vigen Guroian.

    In every society, power must be humanized and used morally in order that
    free and civilized life might prosper. And in a money-based economy,
    businessmen and businesswomen wield great power and are frequently
    called into roles of civic and political leadership. This fact makes the
    question that heads this essay especially significant. A half-century
    ago, Russell Kirk, author of The Conservative Mind,penned an
    article titled “The Inhumane Businessman.” Kirk did not argue that
    businessmen were, as a lot, more inhumane, mean, or cruel than the
    average bank clerk, school teacher, or construction worker. But he was
    persuaded that businessmen were “deficient in the disciplines which
    nurture sound imagination and strong moral character,” and he argued
    that this is not good for America.

    Kirk lamented the turn to business education in our colleges and universities, which,
    he argued, was contributing to the cultural illiteracy of the business
    class. That trend has accelerated through the concluding decades of the
    twentieth century, leaving fewer and fewer of those engaged in business
    educated in the liberal arts. This is significant, and it is a
    determining factor as to why businessmen so often do not read great