Sacred Texts Provide Pathway for Ethical Behavior in Business

Weatherhead School of Management faculty member and her former student examine religions’ traditional wisdom

News Release: Thursday, September 8, 2011


CLEVELAND – Religiously based ethics provide guideposts leading to managerial integrity and ethics, a research paper has determined.

The Torah and Talmud of Judaism, the New Testament of Christianity, and the Qur’an of Islam give lessons concerning workplace ethics of employers and employees; mutual responsibility and dignity of work; environmental ethics and stewardship; ethics of buying, selling and usury; social justice and social responsibility.

Susan S. Case, Weatherhead School of Management associate professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University, teamed with her former student, J. Goosby Smith, now an associate professor of management at Pepperdine University’s Seaver College. Together, they pored over religious texts with a business-minded focus seeking ethical gems applicable to organizational circumstances.

Even if unaware of a scriptural influence, students of management derive much from the world’s major faiths, which significantly teach about business behavior and financial transactions while providing a necessary moral standard, according to the paper, Contemporary Application of Traditional Wisdom: Using the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an in Ethics Education.

The two professors’ research was presented during August in San Antonio, Texas, at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management and will appear in an upcoming book on business ethics, Handbook of Research on Teaching Ethics in Business and Management Education.

“All the basic religious texts stress mutual responsibility of employers and organizations and employees to each other, their communities, and the environment,” Case said. “All three texts focus on business acting in socially responsible ways within their communities and toward the environment, respecting the dignity of their workers. They can do well by doing good for all stakeholder groups.”

Such commonality can guide development of integrity within diverse groups of management students to confront and ethically resolve many moral challenges in the workplace, the researchers write.

Business people become involved in a marketplace they find to be fiercely competitive, with pressure to cut cost and to de-emphasize the consideration of ethics during decision-making. Judeo-Christian and Islamic teaching offers relevant advice for such questions, according to the paper’s writers.

“With all the contentious debate about reducing debt vs. creating jobs, and much of it couched in strong religious overtones, what is apparent is the misinterpretation of basic traditional wisdom from all three monotheistic faith traditions, especially concerning responsibilities of businesses to societies' most vulnerable, creating jobs so that people can live with dignity, and security, as well as being stewards for the environment so that it will be viable for generations to come,” Case said.

“This paper took on a life of its own,” she said. “There is a real quest for spirituality, and we feel that if people focus on commonalities, they can discover a way to build bridges. It’s energizing me to think about what this means for so many societal and workplace issues.”

In their paper, Case and Goosby Smith discuss how the accumulated wisdom from sacred texts describe ethical behavior in business. They contend that religiously derived ethics are relevant to management education, because they form a source of ethical education, even for individuals unaffiliated with organized religion.

Such commonality can guide development of integrity within diverse groups of management students to confront and ethically resolve many moral challenges in the workplace, the researchers write.

Management educators can consider contemporary applications of this traditional wisdom. All three faiths, for example, advocate some version of the Golden Rule, and that serves as a foundation for business ethics. Case and Goosby Smith write that this basic religious concept is consistent with any broad definition of corporate social responsibility.

They note: “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is the basic guideline for relationships. The New Testament’s, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is echoed in Islam, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” The Judaic rule is: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.”

With globalization increasingly apparent in business, managers encounter a religiously diverse environment. Case and Goosby Smith argue in their paper that there is a need amid financial scandals and economic crises for leaders capable “of applying a religiously informed ethical lens to their beliefs and behaviors in an increasingly contentious world.”

A copy of Contemporary Application of Traditional Wisdom: Using the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an in Ethics Education is available by request. For further comment, Susan Case < ssc2@case.edu > can be reached by e-mail or at her office phone, (216) 368-5018.

Posted by: Marvin Kropko, September 8, 2011 05:54 PM | News Topics: Official Release