Secularized development field

The last meeting in the seminar series “Religion and development” was held at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen (NHH). Among the speakers, consisting of both academics and commercial actors.

Arvinn Gadgil made it clear that the competence has been too low in the State administration, but also stated that it may be a sensitive issue to put much emphasis on religion in development work.

Ola Grytten and Magne Supphellen, both professors at NHH, presented academic findings on Max Weber’s thesis on the relationship between protestant ethics and economic development. Through field work in Kenya, Supphellen has attempted to analyze the link between religious conviction and success in business. Among the findings was that persons having a religious duty approach to their work also succeeded in their trade. The success rate of persons, who to a greater extent harbor fanatic religious believes, was correspondingly low.

The remaining speakers gave the audience an insight into how religion and economic development are connected in some of the large world religions. Bruce Dalgaard, professor at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, presented a thorough overview of the relationship between religion and economy in Japan. He claimed that the Shintoistic and Buddhist ethics one may find in the country bear many resemblances to the European protestant ethic. He further argued that the business ethics is a direct product of Japanese culture and religion.

From Kenya was David Muturi, leader of the Haugian business Noracta in Nairobi. He presented an interesting view into the challenges his company encounters in their work in the country’s Kibera slum. In accordance with the findings from Supphellens’ research project, Muturi argued that the religious world view of the local population shaped their approach to business. He meant that spirituality in many cases could be a barrier to economic development. Particularly prevalent was what he called the «miracle syndrome», involving people believing miracles will happen if only they work hard enough.

The conference presented several interesting perspectives on the relationship between religion and economic development. An important experience to bring further is how challenging it is to discuss the topic on a general basis. One must carry out serious academic analyses of varying contexts and thereafter consider the differences and similarities between the different contexts and religions.

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