World Religions and Business

World Religions and Business

If there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development.” – Swami Vivekananda

Derived from the Latin word “religio“, which means something done with overanxious or scrupulous attention to detail, religion binds people together and draws them into a common fold of life.

Various religions may stand apart in terms of concentrating on inner explorations related to the concepts of enlightenment and peace (e.g. Jainism and Buddhism), and outer explorations such as the constant existence of a higher authority (e.g. Christianity, Judaism and Islam). Some may be cohesively organized in terms of hierarchy and control (e.g. Roman Catholicism), while some may be loosely bound (e.g. Hinduism). However, there is one thread that binds these all together; and that is, creation of codes of behavior to enable people to live with confidence and have significant impact on all aspects of their life.

Recognizing the value of this institution of religion, whose basis is the all-important human hope and faith, it’s very interesting to observe how it affects in general, the appeasement of the god of wealth. By virtue of being an integral part of an individual’s life and value system, religion is a part of the total truth that people in administrative positions have to address.

Research has established that religiosity is related to personality, cognition, stress coping mechanisms, overall health, marital patterns, political behavior, voting behavior, etc. All of these taken together and internalized as a religious identity may influence an individual’s behavioral ethics.

With the evolution of culturally diverse workplaces, greater religious accommodation would be required to achieve desired behaviors from the employees. Given that various religious sermons and business organizations are reaching a consensus on the basic tenet of making the world a better place, the study of the effect of religiosity on individual behavior, and how this affects business in turn, is beneficial to leaders on both these sides.

I would thus like to draw from various studies done in this domain to understand the relationship between various religions of the world and the market.

While honesty, trust, acceptance of responsibility, appreciation of the work done by others, and sensitivity to human needs are the inspired insights of Christianity, they are also the essential elements of business. In fact, scholars suggest that subtle issues like creativity, imagination, and perseverance also originate from a positive outlook of man towards the beauty of God’s creation. Insights of growth originating from one’s worship get transferred to one’s workplace as well.

Incidentally, the Christian clergy have enhanced the separation between religion and workplace religious discussion by ignoring business and condemning it for promoting inequality. Specifically, the Protestant concepts of work, grace and reward have lost their intrinsic interconnections resulting in a lack of standards of excellence for evaluation of the self and others in the corporate world.

On the other hand is Islam, which provides an integrated guidance for daily living, the constituents of sound economic practice included. It stresses on positive values such as being just and fair, generosity, honesty and cooperation and condemns the act of lying, cheating, hoarding, niggardliness, greed and excessive indebtedness.

Scholars have provided evidence from the scriptures bringing in the concepts that correspond to modern business practices, such as merit and competency in hiring, consultative decision-making, written contracts and witnesses, necessity of managerial hierarchies, globalization, performance-based rewards, fairness in contract negotiation, fair wage systems, protection of consumers, etc. This encourages liberalization where all economic decisions are passed through the filter of moral values and ethics before being subjected to the market.

Chinese culture as manifested by the Confucian traditions and ethos has been successfully applied to the integration of its labour force thereby upgrading their moral, performance and productivity. This involved putting into practice a tradition of thoroughness in work, strict discipline, emphasis on credibility, and inclusivity of expectations.

With reference to overseas Chinese managers, some researchers traced present-day beliefs of paternalism, personalism and a defensiveness derived from insecurity, to the socio-historical legacy of China.

The Shinto-driven notions of hierarchy, the sense of obligation between employer and employee, between citizen and country, and between the family and its members, the shame on not achieving objectives, face-saving and communication of one’s honest perceptions and beliefs shape Japan’s approach to business, besides helping explain wealth and economic expansion as a national necessity along with the importance of the role played by groups and women.

Further, Shintoism places a huge premium on maintenance of harmony, loyalty to leaders, and apologies and atonement for breaches of responsibility. Religio-cultural aspects also come into play. Scholars suggest that the propensity of Japanese people to work hard originates from their roots in agriculture-centred society. Having needed to obey nature and not overpower it, they are submissive to change and can adapt easily. There is no distinction in their minds between physical labour, spiritual training and character building.

With its concepts of communitarianism, fairness, equal treatment, honesty, and privacy, Judaism has a distinct impact on the expectations of all stakeholders in the process. Scholars point out that in the Jewish tradition, business is seen as a path to sanctity, wealth is seen as originating from God, the weaker sections are protected against theft and fraud, charity is seen as an obligation and mercy towards debtors is tempered with justice.

Hinduism started out with a tendency to not become an ‘-ism’ at all and finds its origins in the Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda and Atharva Veda), whose text is considered universal in nature. I look to the Yajur Veda, which talks of Karma (action), and is a commentary on action, duties and responsibilities. Karma is one of the salient features of Hinduism and the teaching of Gita viz. Karmanye vadhikaraste maa faleshu kadachana – A person has the right to do his karma but not to think of its fruits.

Hinduism is built on the pillars of Dharma (way of life), Artha (wealth and prosperity), Kaam (desires) and Moksha (nirvana) and is based on the teachings of Vedas, Smriti (especially Manusmriti), the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, and other religious literature. The basics are that Moksha, considered to mean freedom, can be attained by Karma as effort, by a steady detachment from the expectation of results of our actions, and a life that balances the other three elements. I am forced to keep this part only to a topical mention since it merits a special write-up, in my next blog

To study and understand these issues essentially means how to enrich one’s life materially and spiritually, to strike that all-important balance between these two seemingly diverse worlds that are at the core of our world.

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