Religion and the Professional Ethos: The YMCA, Dale Carnegie, and the “Business Man”

Lance Cummings


Many Protestant ways of thinking, derived from Judeo-Christian ideologies, are embedded in the discourses and practices of professional communication, even when religious ideologies are not overtly seen. To demonstrate this, I first examine the close ties between Christianity and the pre-disciplinary formations of professional communication in the Young Men’s Christian Association’s (YMCA) teaching of technical and business writing. Secondly, I show how the YMCA’s construction of character and business ethos is rearticulated by one of the most influential figures in business culture, Dale Carnegie . In his popular book first published in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1981), Carnegie used the “psychological man” to rearticulate the religious, masculine ethos of the nineteenth century for the business world, while retaining ethical checks derived from religious discourses on cultivation, discipline, and self-control. Though professional communication classrooms and textbooks still retain many of these relational principles and the masculine persona they entail, this professional ethos is rarely balanced by the deeper ethical implications of Carnegie’s holistic vision. Re-incorporating a more holistic vision, while also reflecting on many of the masculine and individualist leanings, can help us understand how the professional ethos is influenced by other religious and ethical perspectives, perhaps deepening how we deploy the professional ethos in the United States and abroad.


religion; business; ethos; ethics; YMCA; Carnegie

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