Why a Business Model for Religion:
The world today owes its prosperity to the proper functioning of a free market system. This includes:
The regulatory framework for a level playing field.
The balancing of the suppliers’ freedom with the rights of consumers and society.
The accountability of the players to a variety of independent authorities.
However, since Marx’s 19th century analysis of religion using his economic theory of societies, there has been no systematic re-analysis of religion using the more recent free market models. This essay compares the management and business realm with the practices of organized religion. It calls for a paradigm shift in the study of religion.
The corporate world uses modeling techniques to dissect complex businesses and entire industries, to examine the supply chain dynamics of producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers, and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of various players. One also examines market share and competition, theregulatory framework, and so on. There is also considerable theory about group dynamics applicable to the politics of academe. Business models and paradigms can, therefore, bring creative new insights to religion, especially as practiced in capitalist societies.
Resistance from the Academic Cartel:
Some insiders to the academic field of religion are astonished when I talk about the fight for market shareamongst religions, about their brand management and franchise management, about the product life cycleand the use of promotions (such as Church Bingo and nowadays Church Yoga), or about hostile takeovers. Many disapprove of such sacrilegious language of commerce being applied to the holy arena. Some scholars recognize the potential for creative new insights. Yet others find it amusing.
But this new model allows me to realistically respond to the initial resistance I am getting from academia as an independent scholar entering the field of religion. Some scholars are defensive, perceiving me as a threat – a typical reaction when a consultant enters any new industry. These scholars have arrogated unto themselves the exclusive right to research on religion, trying to decertify those whom they cannot control, saying, “You don’t belong here,” or “You must submit to our rules,” and being fiercely defensive of any criticism of their high priests. There seems to be a cartel that controls the production of scholarship, an environment in which successful lobbying can often determine the ‘truth’ that gets sanctioned for distribution.
As in most industries, the academic discipline of religious studies also has many brilliant persons who are not threatened by new, creative and unorthodox approaches. But reminding me of corporate life, there are also minions and sycophants with their personal agendas – a visa, PhD, job, tenure, appointment on prestigious boards, and selection to academic panels and journals. Such persons are trapped inside “the game”. They have little incentive or courage to challenge the system from within.
In common with other fields of pursuit, many senior academicians have little time to think afresh, to read, or to make paradigm-shifting innovations, because they are overburdened with administrative and pedagogical duties, and the publish-or-perish syndrome.
This is where an ‘outsider’ has advantages: fresh perspective, nothing-to-lose attitude, lots of time to invest in learning, and creative models of thinking brought from prior experience. The power dynamics between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in a given industry are not so one-sided as might first be claimed by the ‘insiders’.
When the academic fortress assumes the aura of the Afghani caves, then intellectual battles have to be taken to the caves.
This essay raises the following questions:
What would religions look like if they were modeled on the mainstream, well-established paradigms of business?
What would be the practical consequences of religion being classified as a business?
What new insights might such analyses bring that do not now exist in the academic study of religion?
The last question is the ultimate test of whether such an inquiry holds merit, because any new model must deliver new perspectives or new insights in order to be worthwhile. Therefore, the essay concludes with a list of eighteen issues and perspectives provided by this modeling exercise, thereby claiming its usefulness.
- Business modeling became a new hermeneutics for the study of religion, alongside the existing hermeneutics of psychoanalysis, anthropology, and text analysis, then it would expand the field of inquiry.
This essay does not take a stand on the value or lack of value of spiritual life, nor about the validity of any specific religion’s claims. Hence, it neither criticizes nor defends spirituality itself. It merely introduces to Religious Studies, the language of Business, which after all, is what makes the world run today.
I shall illustrate that certain religions already think of themselves as being in a competitive market, and that making this explicit and public would only enhance transparency. Also, I hope to illustrate that in some areas, becoming more businesslike would upgrade standards of scholarship. Business methods of analysis are being seen here in a positive light.
The Theological Product:
The product portfolio of a given religion usually consists of three parts: theological, sociological, and historical identity.
In the case of the three great Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the theological product has two components:
(a) God’s love in paradise, and
(b) an insurance from Eternal Damnation in Hell.
The former is the positive theological product, and the latter incites fear of Hell. In Christianity, these two components are collectively described as ‘being saved’, and the benefits come only after death.
However, in the case of many Indic dharmas (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism), the theological product does not involve component #b as there is no notion of Hell. The notion of #a is of recovering one’s true nature and destiny, known as ‘sat-chit-ananda’ in Hinduism, and as nirvana in Buddhism. In Hinduism, one does not start off as condemned waiting to be ‘saved’. Instead, one’s inherent nature is blissful, pure, all-knowing, and divine. Many Indic dharmas offer this state of liberation in the “here and now”, as living saints claim to have achieved.
The Sociological Product:
The sociological product is a vast portfolio of benefits during one’s life as a member of the given religion’s community, including such advantages as:
Escape from caste or other abusive social or gender bias;
Enhancement of the convert’s self-image and identity by being seen as a member of the globally dominant culture;
Better job opportunities and financial assistance from certain well-financed religions exclusively to their own members;
Political power through block voting and lobbying.
Considering the empirically verifiable nature of the sociological product, could product liability issues lead toclass-action suits? For instance:
Indian Christianity has a caste system, whereas Christianity claims to free the convert from caste. Is this false advertising?
Is the offer of financial rewards to potential converts, even if indirect, a fair marketing practice or is it discriminatory?
One could evaluate the sociological side-effects of the product that are not properly disclosed: Hindu girls in Christian schools are often told to stop using mehndi and bindi, converts are often pressured to change their names, to boycott their language and culture, and sometimes to disown family and friends.
What are the problems caused by these unofficial aspects of the product, that are often delayed until the convert is firmly under their control? Are there adequate quality controls on the product to ensure that such social abuses do not occur even unintentionally?
Is there full disclosure prior to conversion? Is the conversion decision made under duress?
Prior to launching a new product in a large market, it is a good business practice to first test market it in a small market. However,
El Salvador is a small 100% Christian country that shares a common colonial history with many of the same countries that Christianity now targets for conversion. Since El Salvador is already Christian, Christianity should first seek to achieve sociological success in its various claims, there. Then only should Christianity proceed to justify its product claims to bigger and more complex markets such as India.
But, so far, Christian missionaries in El Salvador (and other similar post-colonized Christian countries) have been unsuccessful in eradicating the scourges they attribute to Hinduism in India. A test market’s statistical improvements on crime, child abuse, teen pregnancy, spousal abuse, drugs, divorce, poverty, etc. must demonstrate the success of the sociological benefits that Christianity, Inc. claims. Are these “Hindu problems” of India also “Christian problems” for many poor Latin American and African countries? A multivariate analysis could show whether a given problem is purely economic and/or historical rather than because of any specific religion.
The financial capital deployed per person to achieve success in a small test market must then be the basis to project the level of capital required to eradicate similar problems in India; and the sources of such amounts of philanthropy should be identified.
Until this is done, the sociological polemics that are the basis for much proselytizing must be viewed as misleading claims, and potentially as consumer fraud.
Is it an unfair marketing practice to make product claims that cannot be proved even in smaller markets where the supplier enjoys a monopoly without interference?
Historical Identity and Neurosis:
Historical identity, the third part of the product, is often disguised and not marketed explicitly, and yet is a part and parcel of the package deal. V. S. Naipaul explains this in the case of Islam2:
“Islam is not a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert’s worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense, and even after a thousand years can remain unresolved; the turning away has to be done again and again. People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism. These countries can be easily set on the boil.”
This explains the importance for Islamic invaders to destroy the past of the conquered people, their religious places, books, centers of learning, and even to try and convert their identity into becoming as Arabic as possible.
Elitist Indians and Pakistanis both assume the Macaulay identity (of becoming as British as possible). But at the grassroots level, the Indian masses are proud of their traditional identity nurtured in the Indian soil, whereas the grassroots of Pakistan are aspiring to an Arab identity that is alien to the region. The culture of the desert is being transplanted, by pressure, upon the people of forests and rivers.
Pakistanis insist that they are not Indian converts to Islam for two reasons:
(i) If they were seen as Indians who converted, it would be emotionally painful to accept the anti-India rhetoric, for people love their cultural motherlands.
(ii) If they are essentially the same as Indian Muslims, then, given the superior economic and social advancement of India as compared to Pakistan, the logic for a separate sovereign Pakistan could come into question.
To legitimize the two-nation theory to which Pakistan is committed, an un-Indian self-identity must be constructed and asserted vehemently. This Arabization of Islamic communities causes a neurotic behavior in the latter’s quest for a manufactured self-identity.
Amongst the major world religions, Buddhism is the least concerned with historical identity in the product line:
Buddhism has successfully migrated into the cultures of China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, and now the United States, and is also enjoying a revival in India, its homeland.
Yet, in each case, it acquired the cultural color of its host, and never attempted to destroy the native cultures.
This has led to unique blends in each instance – China’s blends of Buddhism with Taoism, Japan’s with Shintoism, Tibet’s with tantra, America’s with modernity and post-modernity, etc.
Hindutva is a contemporary Hindu movement trying to make the historical identity a central element of its product:
Hindutva espouses the literal interpretation of the Hindu epics such as Ramayana, and builds the modern Hindu identity on a lineage to the people represented in the epics.
However, large parts of Hinduism are unrelated to any such historical identity. ‘White Hindus’ and ‘white neo-Hindus’, the twenty million Americans practicing yoga/meditation, would clearly be one of the segments in the ahistorical category.
Too much focus on historicity has not only debarred newcomers into Hinduism, but has also made the legitimacy of Hinduism contingent upon the provability of ancient historical claims.
Hinduism’s theologies do not depend upon any history for their validity, in the same sense as the Laws of Gravitation do not depend upon proving the historical details of Newton’s life. This is where Hindutva might run the risk of canonizing and historicizing Hinduism into a prophetic revealed religion.
Whether such a Hindu historical identity is entirely a modern process is the subject of considerable debate.
The exclusivity claims of some religions is a serious bone of contention:
Some religions claim the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of having an exclusive franchise from God, in perpetuity. Others claim that there is no exclusive franchise for anyone, that God uses multiple distributors, and that God even has different products for different kinds of humans.
Some religions claim that the product is frozen by virtue of a unique historical revelation, never to be repeated again. Hence, their product life cycle starts from the historical founding of their particular religion till the ‘end of time’. They also claim special privileges as one tribe over all of humanity.
But Indic dharmas do not claim finiteness of time, and do not claim that the final representation of Truth is ever attainable in the normal human state. Hinduism has seen a series of rishis update the corpus of spiritual texts, and Buddhists likewise have seen many arahats and bodhisattvas bring new insights – the result being that the Indic dharmas have enormous libraries and not One Book. Rather than being afixed product, Indic dharmas are more of a process by which highly personalized and contextualized ‘svadharma’ (personal dharma) gets revealed and interpreted in accordance with the individual and the circumstances.
Many Hindus and Buddhists discard the notion of one absolute representation of Truth or of one exclusive path, just as most Americans reject the Soviet model of one airline, one kind of automobile, one breakfast cereal, and one official worldview.
Selling God’s Love:
The production cost for the theological product in every religion is typically “zero” — there is no cost-of-goods-sold for God’s love. And there is always infinite inventory available.
However, for the sociological product, the poor converts need to be serviced, and this is where revenuesthrough fund-raising are required. The fund-raising is most successful through emotional appeal. Hence, one highlights the terrible plight of the heathens awaiting deliverance through the new product. The gullible are implored to send their checks.
The three portions of the product family are inter-related:
The Abrahamic religions have theologies of collective salvation, a sort of collective bargain from God.
These collective theologies have the sociological effect of a tight community, because the community collectively expects salvation in paradise. Hence, relationships developed on earth are important because they continue in paradise.
This also causes them to focus on history, because the community is often seen as having been divinely chosen to do God’s work on earth and enjoy the rewards in paradise.
Often, such work turns into an obsession, outwardly projected to make sure that others are in compliance with the collective deal from God, unlike in the case of the Indic theologies of individual enlightenment. This is the basis for the ‘kick ass’ aggressive, militaristic, mentality of the pre-Reformation Abrahamic religions (such as large portions of Islam today), or marketing oriented mentality as in Christianity. Trade unionshave a similar tendency to impose on all members because the union’s viability is threatened if there is individual choice.
In Indic theologies, yoga, karma, reincarnation, etc are entirely individual and not collective, and hence the focus is on the unique inner journey of each individual.
The claim of exclusivity is a major feature of certain brands.
Try convincing an orthodox Muslim, for instance, that Allah-Koran-Mohammed is merely one of many legitimate paths, and that Hindu/Buddhist models are also legitimate. (This is entirely different than asking for mere ‘tolerance’.)
Or try to argue that just as Muslims regard Hindu images of divine to be ‘idols’, by the same logic, a Hindu or Buddhist could view the Muslim holy Kaaba (in Mecca) as an ‘idol’: after all, one billion Muslims turn towards the Kaaba five times daily, and are required to visit it at least once in their lives, and hence it would appear to be the most popular idol in the world as seen by an outsider!
Similar arguments with Christians reveal that beneath the veneer of inter-faith ‘tolerance’, there is often an absence of genuine respect for the legitimacy of the faith of others.
One might say that generic brands are viewed as a threat, even if they also include the same Monotheistic features. Hence, exclusivist monotheism is mono-brand-ism.
Appropriation as Brand Management:
Brand management has reached sophisticated levels in Christianity, given its extensive encounters with other cultures over the centuries. Christianity has successfully appropriated, under its own brand, the symbols of other religions:
Pagan ideas were introduced into early Christianity, while demonizing the brand of the pagans.
While there was genocide of natives in North Americans, in South America, the natives were often converted through a process of appropriation. Their own gods were appropriated as saints into Christianity, so as to make the converts feel comfortable worshipping the same symbols but in the context of Christianity.
Subsequent generations of converted Christians were then gradually weaned off their own symbols and gods, and moved into mainstream Christianity.
All this may be modeled as very successful and sophisticated brand expansion through acquisitions andhostile takeovers.
While protecting one’s own brand, the competitive strategy of market share expansion has often been to damage the other’s brand through a variety of methods, such as the following:
De-contextualizing the assets of the competitor: By removing positive aspects from a competitor’s brand and turning them into generic products – such as removing the “Hindu” signature from new age yoga, meditation, karma theory, vegetarianism, ecological theories, and even turning Hindu epics intoStar Wars and other generic renderings – one diminishes the proprietary claims of Hinduism.
Re-contextualizing the assets of the competitor: By appropriating positive things from the competitor’s brand into one’s own brand, thereby reducing the competitor’s advantage in areas where his product is stronger – a form of stealing.
For example: The Potta Christian Dhyana Kendra in central Kerala, with its own new railway station, is a famous organ of conversion for the Catholic Church. Its programs are based on Hindu techniques of yoga and meditation. Alcoholism and drug addiction, which are very serious problems for the Kerala Christians, are treated here by “dhyana” groups. Because of the center’s popularity, a new phrase,Pottayil Dhyanam Kuduka (to congregate for the Potta kind of dhyanam), is now part of the Malayalam language.
Young recruits are brought in big groups, trained as future proselytizers, and then returned to their native places to continue saving condemned souls. The graduates highlight their newly acquired “Christian” identities provocatively, and often do not accept ‘prasad’ offered by a Hindu, even by former friends and neighbors.
This alienation, taught by their pastors, has created many unhealthy social attitudes in Kerala that scholars have ignored in their sociological studies of India and the missionaries.
Mis-contextualizing the assets of the competitor: De-legitimizing the competitor by negative associations can be used to create taboos and negative brand value.
For instance, many scholars regard negative aspects of modern Indian society as being caused solely by Hinduism, even though these are, in many instances, the result of a complex social history, large parts of which included attacks on Hinduism by the same foreign forces that now charge Hinduism with the blame. Examples include: caste, dowry, child marriage, sati, poverty, and illiteracy.
Many of these phenomena certainly existed in earlier Hindu society, but in a different form, perhaps milder and not so rigid, and usually not consistently or homogeneously over time. But the popular myth spun by scholars has been to situate every scourge squarely within Hinduism and to superimpose obscure Hindu textual references to ‘prove’ that these are “Hindu problems”.
That many modern Hindus have themselves imbibed these manipulations in their own understanding of their identity, shows how successful the dominant culture has been in downgrading Hinduism.
This raises issues about the dominant marketer’s potential breach of unregistered trademarks of others, and about theft of intellectual proprietary rights, especially serious at a time when the west is vehemently protecting its own IPR in WTO3 and other global forums.
Also, one could use the US Federal Trade Commission rules as the basis for evaluating unfair competitive practices. Should unfair trashing of a competitor be subject to litigation as unfair competition?
Should unsubstantiated product claims about one’s own theological or sociological products be subject to the laws pertaining to consumer protection and truth in advertising?
Accountability and Transparency:
If judged as businesses, would religions sometimes be violating the Sherman Antitrust Act and Clayton Antitrust Act, along with other anti-monopoly laws4, given their penchant for market dominance regardless of means? Furthermore, would there be anti-trust issues concerning academic associations that subvert the religions they purport to study, by adopting the lens of the colonizer and proselytizer who target these religions?
I grant that religions should enjoy tax-free status. However:
By requiring them to file the same tax returns and SEC and other regulatory filings as businesses do, there would be greater transparency, audit accountability, and due diligence. One could give religions a zero percent tax rate, so that the purpose of such filings would only be a full disclosure in the same minute details as is the case of corporations. This would allow the public access behind the veil of secrecy that many religions normally wear.
For instance, the US is now investigating several Islamic religious organizations in the US for their alleged links to the Al Qaeda: Could this problem have been discovered earlier if the law had required them to file information in the same manner as the private sector does?
Standards of Discourse:
A normal business presentation starts with an executive summary up front, whereas a religion scholars’ meet could conclude with the audience still wondering about the intended message. (This, incidentally, is often considered as the hallmark of religion scholarship, while clear, straight talk is often considered ‘commercial’ and unscholarly!) I would support greater transparency:
The thesis must be stated up front as to what the scholar’s position is.
Supporting data should be logically organized, preferably with the main argument flowcharted.
Cross-examination by the audience should be allowed systematically, without factors of hierarchy or pedigree.
Too often, the contexts are left implicit, ambiguous and manipulated, and there is pretence of not taking a stand so as to be seen as objective.
A logical proposition must be refutable or else it is dogmatic. Too many intellectual propositions seem to bypass the system because of power plays and “who knows whom”. While similar politics exist in business, mediocrity succumbs to innovation, because of the market-based meritocracy.
Every successful corporate executive knows how to communicate in a clear and convincing manner, without the obscurantism that is so typical of religious studies. The frame of reference, segmentation system, and categories adopted – these must be explicit and must be defended.
By adopting business standards and practices, I am confident that the standard of communication, and the due diligence by opponents, would improve drastically.
It seems to me that many of the brighter students opt for science, business, medicine, etc., leaving religion with professionals who sometimes could not get into a more analytical and logical field. This could, perhaps, explain the prevailing standard of discourse in religious studies. (An analysis of SAT Math scores, comparing students majoring in religion with students majoring in science, business, medicine, could provide some clues.)
Finally, it seems that compared to the multi-disciplinary skills demanded of corporate executives, many academic scholars of religion are too narrowly focused:
Many scholars of Hinduism do not know much about its epistemology.
They do not know the various scientific theories of meditation, since these are often classified under cognitive science and psychology.
The Abrahamic religions are not rooted in the inner sciences the way the Indic dharmas are. This inexperience in the Abrahamic, Western approach to the study of religion has led to an inadequate recognition of these dimensions. Hence, theology is viewed mainly as a study of history, and the rest of religion is largely reduced to sociology.
The CEO’s Communication Skills:
The revealed prophetic religions are based on very exact instructions and commandments from what they have portrayed as a masculine, angry, and demanding God. What would be the rating of such a CEO of a Fortune 500 firm?
God’s communication has been sloppy and ambiguous, has been misunderstood by His own appointed distributors, and continues to be the subject of intense fights amongst those loyal to Him – not the hallmarks of a good communicator. Yet, He has failed to show up or to be accessible to genuine seekers who are desperate to know His rules directly, without distortions by middlemen.
Given how demanding He is, and how high the stakes are between eternity in Paradise and burning at the barbeque in Hell, His communication style and customer service should have been more efficient. To demand so intensely of one’s employees, one must also make the rules user friendly.
Why has He not issued a new release of his policy manuals for such a long time, especially since the original releases did not achieve the goals He had established?
Why did He privilege one tribe to act with the absolute authority of the human resources department to enforce His policies upon others, even after this department has failed for centuries, has done many evil deeds in His name, and continues to be incompetent?
In other words, why has God not reorganized his shop?
The CEO’s Ethics:
The actions of his middlemen depict God as violating equal opportunity laws. His appointed individuals use His words to vindicate criminal misconduct, including genocide and plunder:
In the Bible, He hates Jews and Blacks.
In the Quran, He cruelly condemns those who wish to reach Him by paths that are not Saudi controlled (as though bringing tourism business into Mecca were his vested interest).
In all three revealed religions, He utters hate speech against women.
He thinks of His created animals as objects for man’s pleasure, and nature as material rather than sacred. Based on the image projected by His own public relations department, this CEO appears neither eco-friendly nor respectful of His own plant and equipment.
Considering the diversity of His creation, why does He not appreciate that humans have different mental capabilities; that they are in different mental and emotional states; and that any one simplistic book of rules would hardly suffice for all, especially given the ineffective communication channels being used.
Why would any competent executive give exclusive rights of His franchise to one special group of distributors, without a merit based selection, and then leave the exclusivity provision intact despite non performance and abuse by the distributor for centuries?
If you were a CEO being falsely profiled in this manner by your own people, would you consider it slander and insubordination? On the other hand, if such a portrayal of a CEO were true, any Fortune 500 firm would surely fire that CEO!
It should be noted that Jesus’ character has many great CEO qualities, as mentioned in a book titled, “Jesus, CEO”5.
Militancy, Marketing, and Mysticism:
Militancy, Marketing, and Mysticism — these are the three alternative religious ethos and paradigms to interact with other religions:
Islam is still pre-reformation. Its ethos is often militaristic, not always literally violent; but, metaphorically, it has the attitude of conquering the world in Allah’s name.
Christianity still uses some of its historical militaristic language, but its ethos has shifted into the marketing model.
The Indic dharmas have a mystical outlook as their mainstream ethos. Christianity and Islam have sidelined their mystics into a corner for most of their histories, when they have tolerated them at all.
Though mysticism might be the desired ultimate destiny for humanity, it is impractical to realize this in the near future. Meanwhile, a mystical faith like Hinduism must survive the onslaught of militancy and market expansion by others, without itself becoming militant.
(Note that Sikhism was Hinduism’s response to Islamic militancy by becoming like Islam. It adopted many things from Islam, such as monotheism, one book, militancy, hierarchy and discipline; while retaining the essential theology of Hinduism, such as karma, reincarnation, Aum and mantras, epics such as Ramayana, vegetarianism, etc.)
To neither adopt militancy as a response to an aggressor, nor to be preyed upon as passive mystics, I propose that Hindu leaders adopt the marketing model for this stage of social evolution and globalization. Given the non expansionist Hindu ethos, it would serve for defensive marketing, i.e. protecting against others’ offensive marketing campaigns.
Interfaith dialogs would be more effective if they openly adopted the market model, seeing each others as suppliers of competing worldviews on a level playing field. This should replace the polite, politically correct but insincere talk that has not changed what is preached in congregations.
Questions and New Insights:
Like all thought experiments, this essay is not about any new facts or conclusions, but is intended to provoke questions by seeing old things in a new way.
Following are some of my observations and questions as a result of this exercise, and I invite readers’ reactions.
1. Many parts of the Religion field already operate like a business, especially the internal management in certain organizations. But this is not acknowledged explicitly and externally, because of the fear that the business aura would de-legitimize the divine sanctity of religion.
Given the credibility of merit based free marketing today, one is hardly able to reject the use of its time-tested theories:
I wonder why business school case studies have not focused on religion, considering that religion is larger in revenue and employment than many industries where management theory is applied.
Such an approach might raise the standards of due diligence, hermeneutics of logical analysis, and evidence cross-examination in religious studies, and help to create a level playing field with greater transparency.
Being less burdened by the baggage of dogma and sentiments, it would be a more rational system to balance between rights of producers and consumers.
It would challenge the criteria used in segmentation and comparative religion that have emerged from the dominant players over time.
Business analysis would force a clearer definition of the product family of a given religion, allow for empirical measurement of claims, and define the criteria to be used by a consumer in evaluating the competing alternatives.
2. RISA6 (Religion In South Asia) should be managed as an industry association that invites the views of competitors, independent scholars, regulators, and consumer groups in the field. It should, therefore, not be biased to any particular set of standards that privilege one set of suppliers, especially those who dominate the market through hermeneutics, pedigrees, or funding.
3. Should rules and regulations of the US Federal Trade Commission and other consumer laws be applied to monitor sales campaigns by religions, and could litigation be carried out in instances of abuse? Do suppliers’ claims live up to standards of truth in advertising and disclosure?
4. Should anti-trust laws be applied to investigate potential monopolistic practices by certain groups of related parties in their control of critical bottlenecks – such as academic journals, academic conferences, and appointments to centers of power? Is there asymmetry in financial power that gives certain players an unfair competitive advantage over others?
5. Is a given religion’s sociological product derived from its theological product, or is it produced by political or historical forces? Are theological and sociological products bundled as a package deal or available unbundled? For instance, given the massive land grants and funding enjoyed by the Church since colonial times, it offers some of the best education in many poor countries. Should this be required to be unbundled from religion so as to avoid giving them an unfair competitive advantage, especially considering the unfair circumstances under which these grants were received in the first place?
6. Is proselytizing sometimes an export of culture, e.g. the Arabization of Muslims everywhere?
7. Are historical prophet-based products able to benefit from on-going R & D, or are they frozen, except for appropriations from other religions? How do canonized products introduce new releases, without requiring the two-century long violent process that made Christian Reformation possible?
8. Is the modern Hindutva movement unintentionally harming the interests of Hinduism, because in many instances:
It essentializes Hinduism, reducing it to canon, and leading to a potential frozen state, rather than encouraging its continued evolution, as in previous periods when it flourished?
It over emphasizes history as the basis for the legitimacy of Hinduism, making it vulnerable to historical claims?
It conflates Hinduism with a geographical region at a time when religions are globalizing, and this hurts Hindus of various ethnic origins living outside India?
It ignores the importance of Hinduism’s image in comparative religion and other disciplines in the Western secular education system, because it fails to differentiate between arms-length education and preaching?
It does not commit enough quality or quantity of resources to do competitor analysis or to participate in industry forums, thereby leaving most Hindus introverted and unprepared to debate in a comparative context?
It uses religion to achieve political motives, mixing political expediency and ethics with religiosity?
Greater intellectual diversity and debate are needed within the Hindu movement, because blindly following the leaders is uncharacteristic of the Hindu ethos. Also, this self criticism would counterbalance the severe criticism now coming from outsiders, often with hostile intentions.
9. Will Indic dharmas be able to revive their long R & D traditions of advanced yogis and rishis being laboratories to discover, document, debate, and verify, inner phenomenology? Where are such yogis today, or is the west ahead in the appropriation and R & D of Indic dharmas?
10. What are the channels of distribution for receiving grace from God? Hinduism offers grace though living saints, whereas Christianity mostly offers grace only though the institution of the church but not through living saints. (In fact, a person can become a saint in Christianity only after death.) This strengthens church institutions giving them a life of their own, whereas in the case of Hinduism, loyalty has often been to individual living saints and hence there is lack of continuity after a saint leaves. How do these factors influence the relative competitiveness of various religions?
11. Given that ‘identity’ is the way we see ourselves, while ‘brand’ is the way others see us:
Does the dominant culture define the brand of a colonized religion in such a way that over time it becomes the adopted identity of the colonized people?
For example, ‘pagan’ was the derogatory brand given by Christianity to pre-Christian religions (the term means ‘country bumpkin’), but today the ‘pagans’ often define themselves by that name.
The same has also been true of Hindus adopting ‘caste’ identities as defined by the British in many instances.
Using this model, is Hindutva a movement to redefine the brand and hence the self-identity of Hindus in the modern era?
12. What is the brand loyalty of religious products, and under what conditions do consumers switch brands?
13. What are the patterns of customer care after the acquisition of a soul?
14. Could Gandhi’s Satyagraha be seen as a consumer strategy to dis-empower the producers by boycotting and substituting products, and using other means of non-violent disobedience? Just as Gandhi exploited the British self-image of being ‘civilized’. by compelling them to act civilized in the face of his Satyagraha, could the consumers of biased academic scholarship exploit the scholars’ need to be seen as being ‘objective’? In other words, could Gandhian methods of redefining power be applied to influence the relationship between the faith communities and the scholars who mis-portray them?
15. The Government of India (GOI) has continued the colonial practice of asymmetric policies that favor the minority religions:
For instance, the bulk of the annual grants by GOI (similar in nature to the much touted faith-based initiative of the US) have gone to Christian institutions.
Also, while the administration and financial management of Hindu temples are controlled by secular (and often non Hindu) civil servants appointed by GOI, the other religions are totally autonomously controlled.
Would a business approach consider these to be unfair regulations? Has this asymmetry encouraged several Hindu organizations to remove the “Hindu brand” so as to escape GOI controls?
16. Christianity has achieved less than three percent market share in India, even after 400 years, and despite colonial patronage and the continuing flood of proselytizing funds. On the other hand, proselytizing has created many tensions. Would it be better for Christianity to stop ALL proselytizing, and enter into a joint venture with Hinduism in order to stop the market expansion of fundamentalist Islam? Fundamentalist Islam’s spread, via tens of thousands of Saudi funded madrassas, would threaten Christianity’s expansion, whereas Hinduism is not expansionist. Would Christianity’s long term interests be better served by strengthening Hinduism’s ability to withstand Islamic pressure? This should be examined in a business-like manner.
17. Leaders of the non-Abrahamic religions should become more adept in these business areas, such as: competitive analysis, R&D, education of priests for public speaking and promotional marketing, product definition for various market segments, distribution channel strategies, etc.
18. This new framework would open the scholarship door to many otherwise disenfranchised Indians in the arena of their heritage, who have strengths in management consultancy and business theory.
Finally, I wish to clarify that this proposal is not intended to exclude other hermeneutics, such as text analysis, anthropological studies, and psychoanalysis. It is intended to expand the field by introducing more ways of thinking about religion. Part 2 of this essay will follow.
1. See the documented complaints by Dalit Christians against the Church for caste based oppression of Dalits, even though Dalits are numerically the bulk of India’s Christians:http://www.dalitchristians.com/Html/videoselection.htm
2. “Beyond Belief”, V, S. Naipaul. Vintage Books. 1999. p. xi
3. IPR = Intellectual Property Rights. WTO = World Trade Organization. Western nations have pressured the poor into accepting western laws on intellectual property rights, and into having to pay billions of dollars of royalties to western multinationals. But the same Western civilizations have been built largely on appropriated IPR from tropical and ancient civilizations, in numerous scientific and cultural fields freely and with impunity.
4. The Sherman Antirtust Act of 1890, The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, the congressional provisions for creating the Federal Trade Commission in 1914, and various enforcements by Federal and State courts, together comprise the anti-monopoly laws of the US. Basically, these laws attack (i) concentrations of power that reduce competition, (ii) exclusionary tactics that try to eliminate competition, and (iii) size and structure of organizations that could restrain trade. These laws apply not only to formal cartels, but also to informal arrangements and de facto practices – the ‘wink and nod’ method of controlling a market. Besides the government being able to sue for various consequences, private parties may also sue under these laws to claim triple damages.
5. “Jesus, CEO” by Laurie Beth Jones. Focuses on Leadership qualities of Jesus in modern business language: vision, boldness, visibility, turnaround specialist, positive outlook, leadership, etc.
6. RISA is a group within the American Academy of religion, the 10,000 strong association of academic scholars of religion. AAR is the official association of the religionwallahs.