CSOM lecture ties religion to business

Patricia Drey

The U.S. business world is least equipped to understand the impact of religion on international business, Prabhu Guptara said Monday at the Carlson School of Management.

Guptara, a business writer, lecturer and former visiting professor at the Carlson School, said many U.S. business people have three main misconceptions.

He said they believe religion is irrelevant to business, an impediment to business and best kept private.

“Religion has been marginalized and has a sort of an underground existence in business schools and, indeed, in business,” Guptara said.

Others in the Carlson School said they share Guptara’s view that understanding religion and beliefs are essential to operating in a global marketplace.

Guptara explained some principles of five major belief systems: Hinduism, Semitic religions, Confucianism, Buddhism and atheism.

He cited recent examples, such as slave labor, breast implants and tobacco, to show the impact morality has on the corporate United States.

University professor Arthur Hill said he agreed that teaching religion and philosophy in some business classes would be beneficial.

“You need to understand where people are coming from,” Hill said. “So many of your assumptions come out of your religious philosophy.”

For example, understanding the difference between a task-oriented culture, where ability and accomplishments are key, and a relational culture, where relationships guide business, is necessary in making deals between the two types of societies, he said.

Whether a business is located in a country with a profit focus or a relationship focus can make a big impact on a decision such as whether to move a factory, said Jim Jarman, a first-year Master of Business student.

“I think the problem with business schools is the tendency to think it will be too easy to recognize right and wrong or good and bad decisions,” he said.

Jarman is in the University chapter of Net Impact, a group of students interested in how business can improve the world.

The connection between trade and religion is not new, sociology professor Elizabeth Boyle said. She said Islam spread throughout Africa along trade routes.

MacLaurin Students and the Truth in Business club, both Christian student groups, sponsored Guptara’s speech.