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India Religious Groups Put Faith In Business: Study


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
LONDON: Indian religious organizations across all major faiths are diversifying their "business model" to maintain the loyalty of their followers and attract new devotees. This is the finding of a Cambridge University study, carried out over two years surveying 568 Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jain religions in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat.

Cambridge, one of the world's leading seats of learning, constituted a group drawn from its faculty of economics and Judge Business School, which discovered that cow-lending, computer-based learning, sewing and aerobics classes are some of the innovative non-religious services being offered by religious bodies to stay ahead of the game.

The survey is believed to be one of the first in India with researchers finding that although India is becoming more powerful and wealthy, rising social inequality — especially in the poorer states — means religious groups often fill the breach left by the lack of social welfare, especially in education and healthcare. In total, 272 Hindu religious groups were interviewed, along with 248 Muslim, 25 Christian and 23 Sikh and Jain religious organizations.

Dr Sriya Iyer, one of the lead researchers in the project, said, "We have found that the resilience of religion draws from the ability of groups to undertake innovation, similar to the behaviour observed in business firms."

She added, "In the same way a business tries to stay ahead of its competitors, religious groups show the same rational economic responses to changes in the political, ecological and economic environments in which they operate."

Other examples of religious and non-religious packages served up included weddings and other religious ceremonies telecast over the internet in real time for overseas friends and family to witness, blood donation, eye camps, drug rehabilitation, old age homes, widow welfare programmes and organised mass marriages for the poor.

The research unearthed that religious institutions are acting in the same way as businesses in competing to offer unique selling points when it comes to matters of ideology. Interestingly, the feedback contradicts the progressive view that religion is the poison of the people. Iyer underlined, "Counter to some analyses of religion in India that have mainly studied the negative consequences religion might engender, we are emphasising the positive role of some religious organisations in India and the work they do among the wider community."

In the cow lending scheme in Gujarat, for instance, people can borrow an animal for as long as they like, at no cost. It was also revealed that non-religious services occupy space created by inadequacies of the state.

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