Religion has become heavily institutionalized involving giant multinational religious enterprises. This essay examines the effects of institutionalized competition by looking primarily at the way Christianity has utilized the business process very successfully. It then looks briefly at Islam and Buddhism’s marketing methods. It ends with a criticism of Hinduism for its lack of institutional capabilities at a time when it complains about sophisticated competitors.
In the pre-industrial era, there was extensive manufacturing in India and China that produced many high quality products. But it became difficult to survive against industrialized competitors. When it comes to manufacturing, most educated Indians accept the merits of industrialization as compared to the boutique style of manufacturing.
However, a more general success factor today is the institutionalization that has taken place. Distribution, retailing, marketing, R & D, and other areas, have become increasingly systematized and institutionalized.Industrialization is but one instance of institutionalization.
Doctors appreciate the merits of modern institutionalized medicine — with its standards of drug approval, procedures, and education — even though there could be many great individual doctors in non-institutionalized systems of medicine. The consistency, reliability, quality and competitiveness that institutions provide have made it hard to survive otherwise.
The list of examples seem endless: fast-food chains as opposed to the neighborhood kitchen; institutionalized militaries as opposed to individually brave but disorganized warlords; mass produced goods as opposed to handicrafts; and the neighborhood bookstore as compared to Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
Non-institutionalized players often depend upon one personality, and seldom survive after their leader is gone. Institutions have a life of their own that extends beyond any living personality. Therein lies the key to survivability and the competitive superiority of institutions over the long term.
Non-Western, Pre-Modern Institutions:
However, we must not equate institutionalization with Westernization.
Janet Abu Lughod, an eminent historian, compiled extensive information about non-Western institutions that predated European modernity1. For instance, during the medieval period, the Indian Ocean economy that spread from Africa to China, with India in the middle, had: banking systems, currency exchanges, pooling of risk, credit, technological innovation, price competition, and factories for large-scale production. Many subsequent European institutions were made possible by the transfer of non-European experience, as per Professor Abu Lughod and others.
A variety of historical factors led to atrophy in Indian institutions, and failure to keep up with the rapid advancement of Europe. Manufacturing innovation, long the backbone of India’s and China’s export competitiveness, had stopped during the Mughal period, as the enterprise was run like a cash cow to support the extravagant lifestyles of a few.
Therefore, it is true that the British deserve credit to start to re-institutionalize India. Note the emphasis on ‘re’, for it was not for the first time that India had institutions. But now they were modern institutions of an entirely new kind. The British brought a new kind of institutionalized army and civil service, mainly for the purpose of institutionalizing colonial control.
But in the process, the British de-legitimized traditional medicine that had been very successful, including being a major export, via Portugal, to Europe. They de-industrialized India’s textiles and steel production, and moved these to England to help launch the Industrial Revolution.
In recent times, India’s retail, distribution, and many other sectors are undergoing institutionalization, bringing a new ethos and efficiency, while also creating a transitional upheaval of the old cottage based ways.
However, when it comes to the religion sector, Indian religion is professionally corporatized mainly in the case of Christianity, and these, too, are foreign subsidiaries remote-controlled from the West.
To illustrate how religion has been institutionalized globally, I begin by analyzing one of America’s largest autonomous and sophisticated funding institutions for Christian marketing. Christianity has mastered the business model better than any other religion. In fact, Christianity has become the most successful organization run like a business of any kind in the world — in sheer size of staff and revenues. Therefore, I give special attention to examining Christianity’s business practices.
Pew Trust’s Strategy to Christianize the Public:
Based in Philadelphia, PEW Trust is a massive ($6 Billion) foundation, listed by The American Academy of Religion as one of its top sources of funding2. Its strategy paper defines its official goal as spreading Christianity:
“During the first 30 years of religious grant making, certain patterns were established that continue to this day. Perhaps the most pronounced of these is the Trusts’ distinct and continuous interest in the evangelical movement within American Protestantism. This was expressed during the early years primarily in the support that was extended to evangelical institutions of higher education, including colleges and seminaries, and to a variety of evangelical parachurch agencies, from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Christianity Today magazine to the American Bible Society and World Vision.”
“Some things are clear from this early period. One was the commitment of J. Howard Pew and others in the Pew family to support institutions that uphold historic Christian principles rooted in biblical standards. Another was their desire to see the Christian faith applied beyond the walls of the church to the great intellectual and social issues of the day. A third element was the robust ecumenism that under girded these efforts.”
“[O]ne of the fundamental purposes of the J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust: ‘To promote recognition of the interdependence of Christianity and freedom’.”
“The Pew Evangelical Scholars Program has encouraged the most talented evangelical scholars nationwide to produce outstanding work from a Christian perspective on topics important to their disciplines, and the Pew Younger Scholars Program has recruited the most intellectually talented graduates of evangelical colleges and seminaries to enter into academic careers… Pew-funded scholars have produced an impressive array of major-press books, journal articles, edited collaborative volumes, presentations at annual scholarly conventions, and university lectures. Networks of evangelical scholars have been formed, and fruitful cross-disciplinary, cross-generational conversations have been generated…”
Strategy for Christian Infiltration into the Secular Mainstream:
An important strategy of Pew has been to spread its impact outside the walls of organized religion and into the mainstream secular establishment, including the infiltration of secular intellectuals. This reprogramming of academia is being carried out through a well thought out strategic process, which Pew explains as follows:
“Religion staff believes that it is especially important at this time to devise more aggressive strategies for engaging the larger secular academy.”
“To a large extent the strategy focuses not on matters relating to the internal life of the church or other religiously-based institutions, however important these may be, but instead on those that bear on their external or public side…”
“…Pew Evangelical Scholars may be found today in many of America’s preeminent universities and colleges. …By increasing the number of connections between these scholars and the American academic establishment we have a good chance of influencing intellectual trends in higher education. Thus, …we are looking to develop new strategies that reach beyond our more traditional constituency in smaller evangelical colleges even further to orthodox Christian scholars based in the larger secular universities.”
“…Evangelical Scholars Programs are already more “mainstream” than their label would suggest; the need is to get this message out even more effectively. To that end, we want to explore strategies ranging from establishing a Pew Christian Scholars lecture tour (based on the Phi Beta Kappa model) to funding small-scale travel and meeting programs aimed at creating linkages between our Pew scholars and larger scholarly networks.”
“A more ambitious mainstreaming strategy would involve regularizing institutional linkages with universities in order to foster sustained interaction between Christian and secular scholars. Therefore, in addition to continuing our support for individual scholarship across a broad range of institutions, the Religion staff also favors putting more emphasis on the development of formalized associations that will help sustain this encounter between Pew scholars and secular thinkers over the long term.”
A comparable but hypothetical process in the case of India would be for Indian corporate funding to institutionalize the inculcation of the Indic ethos within the government administrative services training, higher education, media, NGOs, etc. and not just at the grass roots of society. Note the contrast between the well-entrenched “secular” mindset of Indian business and public life and this mindset in mainstream USA as illustrated by one of the largest and best reputed non-profit behemoths.
Pew’s Marketing Plans:
Pew has sophisticated marketing plans to implement its strategies, and any Fortune 500 marketing vice president would be proud to have such a clear and detailed plan. A brief sample of Pew’s business plans:
“First, we plan to continue to nurture interaction among scholars across the humanities and social sciences who have an academic interest in religion, …Second, Religion staff will explore ways to increase the impact of existing centers by expanding their interdisciplinary activities and leveraging greater financial support from host institutions and their donors. Third, we will also explore a variety of options for establishing university-based networks for Trusts-sponsored collaborative research programs. Finally, and most ambitiously, Religion staff will explore the possibility of establishing prominent centers of excellence…”
“Our aim then is to build prominent centers under both branches of our Religious Scholarship portfolio that can serve as drivers, sustainers and organizing centers for the intellectual networks created by the Trusts’ initiatives. They would also provide an institutional context in which Christian scholarly networks could interact regularly with other mainstream scholarly networks across a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.”
Vision of Globalization and Abrahamism:
One key area of Pew’s focus has been scholarship to repackage the Christian product as global:
“Our programs in Global Christianity have established an impressive body of scholarship on Christianity’s transformation from a Western religion to a transnational faith. As a result of this work, there is now an effective international network of scholars working in this field of study.”
Furthermore, even before September 11, Pew was working on a strategic alliance amongst the three Abrahamic religions as a matter of special interest:
“Another subject of contemporary relevance is Christianity’s relation to the other two great monotheisms of the Book: Islam and Judaism. Serious scholarly consideration of the relations between the three descendants of Abraham — Jews, Christians and Muslims — could be an important first step in improving inter-religious relations in areas of the world where these traditions must learn to coexist, from the Middle East to the United States.”
Controlling the Critical Bottlenecks:
The major channels by which the public’s impressions of religions are shaped include: the mass media, the school system, and academia. Marketing of religion depends heavily on the use of so-called “independent” channels, and indirect control over these channels is a critical success factor. Of the major world religions, Christianity has achieved the greatest control over these channels, because it has invested billions of dollars and approached this activity very systematically, using professional marketing principles.
Among these channels, the academic channel is of especially high leverage, because:
1. Today’s influence leaders are well educated, and receive many of their ideas about other religions from college courses. This is true of media journalists, policy makers in government, schoolteachers, and business leaders.
2. Religion is taught not only in religion courses, but it is also embedded in history, anthropology, political science, language, arts, and social studies, among others.
3. Indic dharmas are indirectly appropriated by researchers in psychology, health care, management, and self-improvement, but without acknowledging the source traditions. Meanwhile, the same source traditions often denigrated and stereotyped as “caste, cows and curry.”
The production / manufacturing of academic knowledge is done largely via PhD dissertations and subsequent academic research. Distribution of academic knowledge is via journals, academic presses, and conferences. Retailing is done in the classroom. Since these mechanisms are controlled by a relatively small number of scholars, it is the syndicated production of knowledge that gets distributed most of the time. You can produce all you want outside the system, but unless you can distribute it widely, its impact will remain limited. This is why the academic study of religion has become a hot field. Below is an analysis published in the Los Angeles Times in 2000, and the field’s growth has accelerated even further after September 11:
“Once a largely forgotten factor in social research, dismissed by those who believed that society would inevitably secularize and cast spirituality aside, religion is now a hot field of inquiry. …No longer confined to schools of divinity, religion is being increasingly probed in departments of sociology, political science, international relations, even business schools. The new research is expected to “significantly reshape the social sciences,” said Jon Miller, a USC sociology professor. …. The American Academy of Religion, for instance, reports a 34% increase in membership in just the last six years, from 6,700 members to 9,000. Major academic organizations have added religion subsections in recent years; the one established by the American Sociological Assn. has gone “from nowhere to one of the largest” in the last five years, Jon Miller said. More foundations are funding religious research. The Ford Foundation, for instance, launched a religion program in 1997 and has doled out about 50 grants totaling $10.5 million. …Other major funders include the Lilly Endowment and Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew recently launched a multimillion-dollar initiative to create 10 academic “Centers of Excellence” to study the intersection between religion and international relations, urban affairs, American democracy and other contemporary issues.”3
Few Hindu leaders are aware of the extent and the significance of this institutionalization of education aboutreligion in the US. When forced to take notice of this, they usually display a shallow attitude, often manifested as cynicism towards institutions. Meanwhile, India’s institutions in media, business, and education remain rooted in the mentality that religion was seen as scourge to be eradicated.
Besides the influence that Pew and other Judeo-Christian foundations are able to buy, there are also other factors that make it difficult for Religious Studies scholars to achieve the objectivity that is claimed by the profession. Peter Donovan explains:
“While the study of religion may be, ideally speaking, a strictly scholarly pursuit, the people engaged in it are not only scholars. They are members of races, communities and families; they marry, educate their children, bury their dead; they attend or stay away from places of worship, observe or ignore festivals, support or oppose causes, associate with others or keep themselves to themselves. In all such activities of everyday life, professional scholars are inevitably aligning themselves, one way or another, in relation to religious issues and institutions. How is professional neutrality to escape the effects of personal bias? …Perhaps the strongest evidence of the academic study of religion’s having attained to a stance of role-neutrality will be when it manages to embrace, within agreed standards of professionalism, the widest possible range of personal diversities in belief and practice amongst its practitioners… Present-day Religious Studies… is failing to maintain that program. It has blurred its focus by espousing hermeneutic and intuitive approaches, or by conceiving of itself as a “quest” based on some universal and humanitarian vision. As a result, Religious Studies has become increasingly vulnerable to re-theologizing pressures…”4
While many academic scholars are neutral or even sympathetic to Indic dharmas, the ideological motivation of certain scholars is to socially re-engineer the Indian American college students and the public at large. This trend runs across Religious Studies, Indology, Anthropology, South Asian Studies, History, and related fields. It is evident when one reviews the themes of panels and publications found in academia. One notices little attention being given to those topics that would be critical of the sociological impact of Islam, Christianity, or Marxism upon modern India. On the other hand, topics that are critical of Hinduism — such as ‘sati’, ‘Hindu dowry’, and ‘Hindu caste’ — get over-emphasized beyond the ground reality, and without the non-Hindu historical factors being adequately considered.
Ronald Inden explains the problem concerning scholarship on India:
“Historians of religion and Indologists have… viewed [Hinduism] as the… mentality that accompanies caste… She was an inferior substitute for the West’s masculine, world-ordering rationality. …The effect of these wild fabrications of the nineteenth-century European imagination was to give pre-eminence to caste, the type of society epitomizing at once both constraint and excess, as opposed to the freedom and moderation of Western civil society, and to the lone renouncer rather than the individual-in-society… [This] was an imperial project that entailed the wholesale intellectual deconstitution of Indian economic and political institutions, …”5
Today’s built-in biases can be traced back to colonial times, when Alexander Duff, a British writer, explained the mission in India as follows:
“The ample teaching of our improved European literature, philosophy and science, we knew, would shelter the huge fabric of popular Hindooism, and crumble it into fragments. But as it is certainly not good simply to destroy and then leave men idly to gaze over the ruins, nor wise to continue building on the walls of a tottering edifice, it [must be replaced with]….the grand and distinguishing glory of our institution, through the introduction and zealous pursuit of Christian evidence and doctrine, to strive to supply the noblest substitute in place of that which has been demolished, in the form of sound general knowledge and pure evangelical truth.”6
Many academic scholars of Hinduism do double duty, working for proselytizing organizations in parallel with their ‘neutral’ duties. Hence, they utilize the modern academe as an extension of the market research by the Church, to gather information about Hinduism for their Seminaries’ development of competitive marketing strategies. This access to the secular realm also enables them to introduce anti-Hindu material into academic studies, camouflaged as ‘objective’.
These potential conflicts-of-interest go unnoticed and undisclosed. In a business environment, these would be considered as potential ethics violations. Since there have been AAR panels specifically for Hindus and Buddhists to “come out”, should there not be panels on “Coming out as a Christian Proselytizer?”
Unfortunately, colonized people become starved of self-esteem, and often consider it a great compliment when scholars of the dominant culture study their tradition, especially when this is projected as being ‘objective’ and/or sympathetic. Western scholars learn techniques to blend in with the community being studied, so as to bring down barriers — such as singing bhajans, wearing ethnic clothes, etc. — and often start their career with a few authentic translations to earn credibility and trust before making the U-Turn.
Conversion “Food Chain”:
Religion Marketing is often the art of separating the rich from their money and the poor from their traditions, under the pretext of saving the former from their guilt and the later from their poverty.
The food chain is as follows: India’s Catholic Church preys upon vegetarian Hindus, whereas the Protestant Church targets the Catholics for conversion. Different Protestant denominations are at different levels of aggression in this food chain.
In the West, Christianity is losing numbers. To protect philanthropic revenue collections, it must be seen to be replenishing these losses. Therefore, it has turned to conversion of poor people in poor countries. An increasing percentage of new Christian followers and priests are non-white — Latinos and Indian. This is exacerbating the racial divides and power plays within the American Church, making it even more difficult to sustain its claim to be offering a caste-free social structure.
There is also a great Christian fear of the attraction that Hinduism-Buddhism has for many young Westerners. To prevent this, there has been a very nasty negative campaign against Hindu society.
Furthermore, the Pope has refused to throw his weight behind the Tibetan cause because he sees Tibetan Buddhism as his competitor to convert the Chinese from atheism. The Vatican’s strategic plan says that after communism dies, there will be stiff competition between Buddhism and Christianity for China’s billion people. Christianity is not willing to help position the Dalai Lama in any positive way. My prediction is that when the religion war for market share in China starts, Buddhism will then get demonized just as Hinduism is today — the scholars knowing the skeletons to expose it are already trained and in place, and it merely takes a shift in the research topics funded.
Christian Data Collection:
Quantitative statistics and trends, giving precise geographical details on where to find the best prospects for conversion, and how best to target each segment’s needs, are available in books for a couple of hundred dollars. The data is given by country, by state, and often even smaller units of geography. The production and sale of such material serves over five million Christian proselytizers in the world.
One example of such materials, giving marketing segmentation and trends data, is at: http://gem-werc.org/index.htm. It gives precise figures on the number of persons for each religion in different years, including the market forecast for 2025. This table is merely a summary, to entice the reader to buy the two-volume database giving a great deal of detail. I do not know of any commercial marketing firm in a consumer product or service having more precise data on its global market. Some interesting facts in this summary include the following:
- Retailers: There are 23,500 Christian ‘service agencies’, and another 4,100 ‘foreign-mission sending agencies’ who supply proselytizers to poor countries.
- Salesmen: There are over 5.1 million Christian proselytizers worldwide, and another 425,000 foreign proselytizers who are sent to countries other than their own (i.e. as foreign missionaries) for this work.
- Quantity of sales contacts: Evangelists, as a sales force, collectively deliver 172 billion sessions of evangelism annually. Since each session has multiple persons hearing, the report says that the total number of ‘hearer-hours’ is one trillion annually.
- Gross receipts: The Church ’causes’ receive $280 billion annually as gross revenue.
- Income of the Church: The annual income of the Church is shown as $110 billion.
- Public Relations Literature: There are 36,500 Christian periodicals and magazines. There are 26,100 new book titles of Christian literature published annually.
- Church Mass Media: There are over 4,000 Christian TV and radio stations.
An important aspect of corporatized religion is competitor analysis. For example, in the following analysis by a Christian marketing expert, Hindu souls to be harvested are segmented into tribal and high-caste prospects respectively, and each segment has a distinct strategy:
“Looking at the mission of the Indian church as a whole, there are two quite dissimilar approaches to missionary work. Missionary evangelists to the tribal peoples are expected to adjust as much as they possibly can to new cultures, and to keep any new churches which develop as an integral part of tribal society….When it comes to evangelism among Muslims and high-caste Hindus, however, …. evangelists stand outside the society and call for individuals to profess Christ and come out to join the Christians. This means the extraction of new believers from their homes and society, … Present attitudes indicate that expulsion is the expected norm, and so extraction of new believers from their societies is subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) encouraged.”7
Often, this competitor analysis is also marketed as the authentic portrayal. For instance, an organization called “The Institute of Hindu Studies” positions itself to provide “reliable information on India, Hinduism and the Indian Diaspora”. However, it is a Christian missionary organization interested in proselytizing Hindus.8
A sales strategy report by the Church’s researchers recommends that proselytizing “cells” should be set up in order to be seen as insiders within the target communities, and to use a subtle approach for ameliorating any possible backlash from Hindus:
“ …the evangelist to Hindus should live in every possible way as the Hindus among whom he is working. He should share the gospel by means familiar to his Hindu friends, rather than the means he and his home church are familiar with. New disciples of Christ will be expected to remain within their society in every way, even as the evangelist has fully become part of that society. New cell groups, eventually to become churches, will grow up within the culture of the people.”9
Another research report contains specific sales tips based on the field experiences of a senior proselytizer, including detailed “do’s and don’ts” in the pre-sales process, how and when to close the deal, and the post-sales account management:
“Do not criticize or condemn Hinduism. …. Criticizing Hinduism can make us feel we have won an argument; it will not win Hindus to Jesus Christ…Never allow a suggestion that separation from family and/or culture is necessary in becoming a disciple of Christ. …Avoid all that even hints at triumphalism and pride. …Do not speak quickly on hell, or on the fact that Jesus is the only way for salvation. …Never hurry. Any pushing for a decision or conversion will do great harm. …. Even after a profession of Christ is made, do not force quick changes regarding pictures of gods, charms, etc. …Do not force Christian ideas into passages of Hindu scripture. … Empathize with Hindus. …. Learn to think as the Hindu thinks, and feel as he feels…. Those who move seriously into Christian work among Hindus need to become more knowledgeable in Hinduism than Hindus themselves are. Some study of the Sanskrit language will prove invaluable. … Remember the biblical pattern from Acts 17 of introducing truth to the Hindu from his own tradition, and only secondarily from the Bible. For example, the biblical teaching on sin is repulsive to many modern Hindus, but their own scriptures give an abundance of similar testimony. Bridge from Hindu scripture to the Bible and Christ…. A new believer should be warned against making an abrupt announcement to his or her family, since that inflicts great pain and inevitably produces deep misunderstanding….”10
The market expansion ethos and salesmanship that drive all proselytizing is clear in the internal literature, with ‘marching orders’, sales ‘campaigns’, quotas, and the quantified tracking of success. The proselytizing process is mirco-managed in great detail, with statistical data being captured worldwide to identity the best opportunities, just as in the commercial direct marketing business.
Promotions such as bingo (which are exempt from gambling laws specifically for the case of churches) have been the staple attractions of many churches. But lately, the great demand for yoga has caused several Churches to stop fighting yoga and to introduce their own “Christian Yoga”. This shows their marketing savvy.
For instance, the site on Christian Yoga at: http://www.dreamhawk.com/yog-chr.htm is blatantly claiming yoga as being Christian. It interprets yoga in the context of Christian history and symbols.
A more subtle approach is followed at: http://home.earthlink.net/~kriyayogi/ This site mixes many religious symbols, including Aum, blends in with environmental messages, blurs the brand distinctions, and positions it as a cross-traditional approach. This is like appropriating someone’s private property and claiming it to be in the public interest to share it with everyone. Many of these ‘perennialist’ movements start off with good intentions, but are subsequently taken over by leadership whose Judeo-Christiansanskaras cause a U-Turn away from the Indic traditions.
Dalits and Hindu women are especially important to recruit in the negative aspects of the sales campaign. These recruits are paraded at conferences, academic and media events, to portray Evil Brahmins as being the cause of India’s sociological problems. Rewards include: visas, foreign travel, PhDs, jobs, prestige, and/or an identity that gives membership into ‘white’ society.
The fastest growing religion amongst blacks in the US is Islam. Besides the perception of treating everyone equally and its appeal to blacks as a revolt against slavery, there are also reasons for its success that pertain to its professional approach.
For instance, at a recent presentation to American media, I was very impressed by the articulate Muslim representative. His laptop PC projected Power Point statistics and charts, giving city by city breakdown of Muslims in USA: by age, denomination of kind of Islamic institution, years in the religion in the case of new converts, etc. He had, at his fingertips, data on mosque attendance figures and trends, by state and city.
The post September 11 Islamic public relations machinery in the US has been most impressive indeed. They organized thousands of scholars and spokespersons, with centrally managed appointments and speaking engagements to cover politicians, media, schools and colleges, and other levers of influence.
History’s Greatest Merger:
The most successful merger in the history of religion occurred in Islam during the time of Prophet Mohammed, as explained by Charles Sutherland. Prior to Mohammed, Mecca’s tribal commerce depended on tourism to the Kaaba, a major pagan site for pilgrimage.
Mohammed’s monotheism threatened this tourist traffic to the pagan site, and the merchants of Mecca fought against Mohammed. This was resolved in a merger deal: in exchange for becoming Muslims, the merchants of Mecca were promised, by Mohammed, that their Kaaba site would be turned into “the” holy site for all of Islam, that all Muslims would be required to point towards it and pray five times daily, and — here is the clincher — each Muslim would be asked to visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime. The tourism significance of this deal is explained by Sutherland:
“…some of Muhammad’s ideas, those that attacked Kaaba worship as idolatrous, proved threatening to the religious merchants of Mecca. If people began to believe in one God, Allah, the pilgrimage traffic would diminish.”11
“In order to avoid prolonged hostilities, Muhammad negotiated with city leaders, agreeing that if they submitted to Islam he would make pilgrimage to Mecca a requirement of the new religion. This assured a continuation of the present pilgrimage and tourist traffic and even promised a great increase in it. The pagan Kaaba would be transformed into the holiest of Muslim shrines. Muhammad accordingly prescribed that all Muslims should endeavor to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca during their lifetimes, more if possible. The pilgrimage was called the Hajj. The merchant community quickly realized the material possibilities of this divine arrangement, and submitted to the new theology with an understanding of its economic if not its celestial rewards. Thus did Mecca adopt the Islamic faith. Muhammad had made an offer they couldn’t refuse. The pagan house of worship, the Kaaba, was given a Muslim mantel of theology. Suddenly it was Abraham who bad built the shrine, and the sacred Black Stone it housed became a rock taken from paradise and personally delivered to Abraham by Gabriel during the construction.”12
This merger of religion with commerce, securing tourism in Saudi Arabia forever, has been arguably the largest merger of any kind in world history, and certainly one of the most successful, having resulted in a corporate entity with 1.2 billion Muslims as shareholders worldwide. Mohammed should be taught in Harvard Business School as a great strategist and visionary.
Before you conclude that Indic dharmas are inherently opposed to marketing, you must see the record of Buddhism.
Buddhism was probably the world’s first global brand of any kind. Despite being translated and adapted into so many cultures, without force or pressure, the recipients retained their respect for the source, and their texts to this day start by explicitly quoting the original sources from India. Buddhism was brand conscious, and generated brand loyalty. Buddhism was responsible for the export of much Indian culture throughout Asia.13
Buddhism’s spread throughout Asia and parts of the Middle East was entirely non-violent. It was done in the same manner as a modern technology transfer from an advanced country to a developing one. The receiving cultures found it so compelling to learn Buddhism, that it was considered a gift to receive.
The best evidence of this is that the rulers of China, Tibet, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Burma, and many other nations, sent their brightest students to the Buddhist viharas of India. Many of these rulers, such as the powerful Khmer kings of Cambodia, endowed entire colleges to be located within Buddhist universities in India, so as to be able to send their students to bring back this precious knowledge.
This kind of marketing is called pull marketing, because the receiving side demands the product without pressure selling. The spread of Christianity, and later of Islam, were based on push marketing, in which the supplier side operates aggressively to push the product.
However, this essay provokes the question: Given today’s global competition among institutionalized alternatives, does one have to adopt push marketing strategies in order to avoid becoming a prey in a Darwinian game?
Culture is an asset with commercial value. The anti-marketing attitude of classical Hindu gurus is out of place today. Imagine Macy’s Department Stores placing obstacles outside their stores that customers must first overcome before having the right to enter. Religion is no longer a supplier’s market, or one in which it would be a favor to part the knowledge to a person. Such elitism is obsolete, and has been responsible for the lack of marketing savvy in many Hindu movements.
Some of the factors for the inferior market position of Hinduism in today’s world include: the failure of Hindus to see themselves in a competitive field; their failure to see the critical role of the education system in forming public opinion outside the faith community; and their failure to formally convert millions of Americans into Hinduism in the 60s and 70s when interest in Hinduism was very high and when Hindu swamis too quickly gave it away as generic ‘wisdom’.
Imagine the executives of Johnson & Johnson, during the heights of Tylenol’s success, giving it to generic competitors freely and then glorifying this foolishness.
Hindu gurus gave away much know how with practical application in the 60s. This became the unbranded ‘new age’ product. It also caused identity crises among many westerners who wanted to convert formally but were discouraged by the gurus, who said things like: ‘it’s all the same’. Many western neo-Hindus later made the U-Turn so as to reclaim their original identities, either Judeo-Christian or as secular westerners, because it was not easy to live with no identity at all. Many of today’s new age icons are of this background, but it is too late to reclaim them.
Therefore, much of Indic spiritual technology has been transferred to westerners, who are now thriving as global suppliers, given the lack of institutionalized supply from the Hindus themselves. This un-businesslike and naïve attitude is now backfiring on global Hinduism.
Hinduism’s Lack of Statistical Data:
I failed to find any Hindu organization that could give me detailed statistical data for members or communities of Hindu temples, by sampradaya, by age, by city, etc. for USA. Many have some portions of this, but that too, only for their own narrowly conceived temple organization.
In fact, it was the Pluralism Project of Diana Eck at Harvard that gave me the list of around 800 Hindu temples in North America. Hindus have never bothered to get organized in this manner. I have failed to get a reliable database on Hindus even in India: How many members are there per Hindu samprayada, at least for those who are regular members? What are the statistical trends by town, by age group, by economic strata? How do Hindus get segmented quantitatively into beliefs and practices? These are examples of the type of basic statistical data that a marketing mentality would track.
Hinduism’s Lack of Marketing Savvy:
One needs to inquire whether Christianity’s ease with institutional marketing and globalization is related to its history as a predator.
The need for mass communication was appreciated early by Christianity ever since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. Christians were the first to adopt this new information technology in their marketing campaign. Hindus remained with the oral tradition, then used manual printing methods for very long, and still resist institutionalizing their approach.
There is this Hindu ideology that sacred truths and yogic technologies should not be given to those who do not deserve to receive. This ideology has prevented Hindus from sharing their spiritual know how because they have to go through the long road of determining whether a given person is pure enough to receive it. This turns off many who are attracted by Christianity’s compassion for the fallen. Hindus are depicted as elitist and as not emphasizing the uplifting of the fallen in the same way.
As societies move from rural to urban, the production, distribution, and communication get institutionalized. Is it that Hinduism has remained very much a rural culture rather than becoming urbanized, and hence it is pre-institutional in character?
I believe that there is much that Hindu leaders could learn from Pew and other great Christian marketing organizations. But they would have to become less arrogant, and be willing to learn from others.
Hindutva and Marketing:
Could a business-like conduct by Hindu leaders, along the lines of Christian institutionalization, be a better substitute for the often crude street culture of danda-wallahs? Could such an ethos have altered the means for dispute resolution in cases such as the Babri mosque? In other words, might competitive marketing of religion be a more socially responsible framework for India than politicized religion and vote management?
A Marketer’s Definition:
Hinduism needs to urgently assess its market position and strategic direction, if it wants to be considered a serious competitor in the field. Even when a religion does not seek to expand or to proselytize, it must constantly upgrade its standards of professionalism just to survive and maintain its current market share.
Hinduism should view its diverse and eclectic quality as an asset rather than a problem. Think of Hinduism as an open architecture with several modules or components. The various components come unbundled and not bundled as a package deal. You can pick and choose from many options to configure your own customized Hinduism, as has happened throughout its history. This is the essence of the sva-dharmaprinciple (personalized dharma), of the ishta-deva (personal deity), and of the bewildering range of paths.
Gurus and mirco-movements in Hinduism are basically system integrators, who select a configuration, integrate it for a particular market segment that they cater to, and then do the installation, training, and customer support for this customized Hinduism.
This means coming out with a strategy that combines the institutionalization of certain elements with this decentralized quality into a coherent marketing plan.
- Before European Hegemony – The World System A.D. 1250-1350, By Janet L. Abu-Lughod. Oxford University Press, New York.
2. Religion and the Public Square: Religious Grant Making at The Pew Charitable Trusts, by Luis E. Lugo. See: http://www.pewtrusts.com/grants/programs/rel/rel_public_square.cfm
3. The New Gospel of Academia, By Teresa Watanabe. Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 18, 2000.
4. Neutrality in Religious Studies, By Peter Donovan. In The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader. McCutchen, Russell T., Ed. London: Cassell, 1999. pp. 242-244.
5. Imagining India, By Ronald Inden. Published by Indiana University Press, 2000. Pp. 4-5.
6. Alexander Duff, Parliamentary Papers, 1852-53, 32:57.
7. Is extraction evangelism still the way to go? Several other models suggest some possible alternatives in mission to Hindus and Muslims, by H.L. Richard. Posted at:http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/EMIS/1994/extraction.html
8. See: http://www.wciu.edu/ijfm/this_issue.htm Renewing the Call to Reach the Hindu World. International Journal of Frontier Missions 18:1 Spring 2001.
9. See reference 2.
10. Some pointers for personal evangelism among educated Hindus, by H.L. Richard. Vol. 34, No. 2. Posted at: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/EMIS/1994/pointers.html
11. Disciples of Destruction, by Charles W. Sutherland. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1987. Pp. 233-234.
12. Sutherland. P. 237.
13.Indian Influence in Ancient South-East Asia, by Alastair Lamb. A Cultural History of India, Edited by A.L. Basham. Oxford University Press. 1975. Chapter XXXI.