Contemporary Application of Traditional Wisdom: Using the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an in Ethics Education

Contemporary Application of Traditional Wisdom: Using the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an in Ethics Education

Susan S. Case (Case Western Reserve University, USA) and J. Goosby Smith (Pepperdine University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-510-6.ch003
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This chapter explores how accumulated wisdom from the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Torah, Talmud, Bible, and Qur’an, provide many common codes for ethical behavior in business. Religiously derived ethics are relevant to management education because they form a source of our earliest ethical education, even for individuals unaffiliated with organized religion. When religious tension is increasing, such commonality can guide development of integrity within diverse groups of management students to confront and ethically resolve many moral challenges in the workplace. After examining similarities in these religions’ conceptualization of marketplace integrity, the chapter compares religiously derived ethical behavior along the following dimensions: workplace ethics of employers and employees; mutual responsibility and dignity of work; environmental ethics and stewardship; ethics of buying selling, and usury; and social justice and social responsibility. The chapter concludes with implications, presenting ways management educators can provide contemporary applications of this traditional wisdom.
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While scholars apply the teachings of Aristotle, Kant and others to organizational ethical dilemmas (James & Smith, 2007), they rarely examine how the world’s religious teachers resolved analogous dilemmas. “They have failed to tap into the deep well of ancient, yet eternal values that most people absorb with their mother’s milk, but are not taught to apply to the world of business” (Zinbarg, 2001, p. 168). Religion matters to business ethics because religion’s moral precepts and narratives inform and shape the morality of a substantial portion of the population making business ethical decisions (Calkins, 2000). Since people have absorbed religious teachings—whether consciously or unconsciously—understanding Jewish, Christian, and Islamic wisdom enhances our knowledge of marketplace behavior (Kim, Fisher, & Mc Calman, 2009). Secular individuals also can learn from this accumulated wisdom, representing thousands of years of sustained efforts to build moral communities (Gill, 2001; Zinbarg, 2001). The sacred texts display considerable agreement on behavioral standards in the marketplace.

Living in the most religiously, racially, and ethnically varied citizenry in United States history, with an increasingly religiously diverse business environment, challenges ethical business leadership. We need venues to discuss religion, morality, and integrity, and their influence upon business leadership. However management research and education rarely address these organizational and societal “elephants under the rug.” After decades of prosperity, financial scandals and economic crises abound. Management curricula must create leaders with integrity, capable of applying a religiously informed ethical lens to their beliefs and behaviors in an increasingly contentious world. We need leaders to demonstrate increased integrity and engage in ethically sound behavior.

Although more research is needed, the positive link between religious beliefs and ethical attitudes in the work place has been increasingly documented (Kim, et al, 2009; Graafland, Kaptein, & van der Duijn Schouten, 2007; Brammer, Williams, & Zinkin, 2007; Conroy & Emerson, 2004; Longenecker, McKinney & Moore, 2004). Empirical research linking religion and ethical values as well as managerial attitudes, decision making, and socially responsible business conduct finds that more religiously inclined individuals tend to exhibit better decision-making in ethical contexts, are less accepting of questionable ethical behavior, and have a greater orientation to corporate social responsibility.

Graafland, et al. (2007) conducted an exploratory inductive study of twenty Dutch senior executives from different religious backgrounds providing evidence of religious beliefs increasing socially responsible business conduct. Brammer, et al. (2007) analyzed the relationship between individual religious affiliation, denomination, and attitudes toward corporate social responsibility using a cross-sectional database of over 17,000 individuals in 20 countries drawn from both Western and Eastern religions. Little difference occurred across denominations, but religious individuals, in general, had broader conceptions of business social responsibility than non-religious individuals especially in areas of poverty relief, human rights, community support, equal opportunity, environment stewardship, and going beyond the law’s requirement.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Torah: The basic source of Jewish Law revealed to God at Mount Sinai, used to describe the entire Jewish Scripture. Consists of both written and oral law. Comprised of the Five Books of Moses (Old Testament), providing direction on how to live ones life.

Hadiths: Traditions based on what the Prophet Muhammad said or did on his own initiative supplementing the Qur’an.

Qur’an: The holy scripture of Islam, claimed to be a direct transmission of the word of God revealed to Muhammad. Consists of 114 suras, poetic utterances of varying lengths. As a spiritual guide and a legal compendium its provisions govern daily transactions of Muslim life and local Muslim law.

Usury: A process of immoral or illegal financial exploitation of lending money at excessively high interest rates.

Mishnah: Compilation of oral law written at beginning of third century C. E. It is a written of code developed over centuries. Earliest widely accepted writing of legal material of the oral law with relevance to modern times.

Commentaries: Rashi is the most widely known commentary from the 11th century. Consists of explanations of the Talmud.

Social Responsibility: Corporate responsibility to go beyond a bottom line mentality that primarily benefits shareholders. Instead they do well by doing good, creating sustainable environments, communities, and economics reflecting the quadruple bottom line: people, planet, profit, and purpose.

Responsa: Talmudic literature is found in the responsa. Include Jewish legal questions presented throughout centuries to various rabbinic authors. Provide responses to practical problems confronting Jewish inhabitants of various countries during different periods, reflecting the lives of Jews at specific times and places. They are a pertinent part of the Jewish legal system and source of Jewish law.

Ethics: A reasoning system discerning right from wrong.

Talmud: An organization of the oral commentaries on the Torah. Still used today to answer questions based on discussions and arguments of the Talmudic rabbis. Filled with practical advice, moral guidance, and ethical values. Composed of the Mishnah (written in Hebrew) and the Gemara (written in Aramaic). The latter is referred to as the Babylonian Talmud completed in 500 C. E. This is the most widely used and accepted version of the Talmud. Different writers wrote the Talmud over a period of seven centuries. Covers wide range of human activities from medicine to child rearing, but focuses intently on business dealings.

Social Justice: The creation of systems in which economic power is diffused and democratized creating more equal opportunity for all people.

Islam: A religion based upon the teachings of Muhammad.

Christianity: A monotheistic religion founded on the teachings of Jesus.

Management Education: Education that takes place in schools of business and schools of management that prepares students to lead others.

Stewardship: Peoples’ responsibility for the care, use, and management of the earth’s resources.

Halacha: The Five Books of Moses contain 613 direct commandments concerning proper conduct including what one must do and must not do in all situations. More than one hundred concern business and economics (Kahaner, 2003, p. xvii). The root “halach” means “go” implying the path, the way, the direction. There is a wrong way and the correct way. Halacha serves as a guide to business activities.

Ethics Education: Education that encourages others to analyze their reasoning system for resolving ethical dilemmas.

Tanakh: The written Torah, as well other books of the Hebrew Bible including Prophets and writings such as Psalms, Proverbs, and Chronicles.

Judaism: The oldest monotheistic religion based upon Abraham, as the founding father, which serves as the basis for Christianity and Islam.

Christian Bible: Composed of the Old Testament (37 books, including The Five Books of Moses) plus 29 books, (including the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

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