Feb 8, 2008


Mohanadoss, T.

1. Religion and Economic Behavior
2. Jainism and Economic Development

Role of Religious Factor
A Key to Understanding Max Weber
Weber's Thesis
Economic Status of Jains
Religious Doctrine
Economic Ethic
Struggle as a Group for Economic Primacy
Structural Advantages
Renouncement and Pompousness -- A Dazzling Paradox?

Max Weber was the first Western thinker to explain effectively the influence of religious sentiments on economic behavior. He proposed his bold thesis that protestant ethic played dramatically a central role in the generation of capitalism's revolutionary psychology. The objective of this study is an analysis of economic implications of the religious precepts of Jainism in the light of Weber's thesis.

This paper tries to achieve its objective in two sections. The first section deals on Weber's thesis within a general framework of religion and economic development. The second section concentrates on Jainism and entrepreneurship, wherein an attempt is made to discover the elements in Jainism that have possibly contributed to the economic development of Jains.

1. Religion and Economic Behavior
Religion, one of the fundamental social institutions of human society, is an integral part of the whole complex of people's beliefs, valuations and their mode of living. Religion, which is a human response to Transcendent, plays a number of useful functions on the social and personal planes. The primary function of religion is to give meaning to human existence and to the matrix in which this existence takes shape and develops. Peter L. Berger understands religion as an "audacious attempt to conceive of the entire universe as being humanly significant" (1967: 28).

Any effort to understand economic development should also take into consideration non-economic factors. There is a greater consensus now that both economic and non-economic factors freely interact in the course of economic development. Gunnar Myrdal's words in this context leap to the eye, "There are no exclusively economic problems, there are simply problems, so that distinctions between economic and non-economic factors are, at best, artificial. . . . The only worthwhile demarcation -- and the only one that is fully tenable logically- between relevant and less relevant factors" (Kaur 1990: 4). However the opinions on nature of the relationship between economic determinants of development and of the other factors are not unanimous.

The view that economic and non-economic factors are independent of each other is empirically untenable. Economic development of many developed countries with their diverse socioeconomic conditions clearly shows that non-economic factors have always played a vital role in the economic progress. The second possibility is that economic and non-economic factors are mutually causative, while one of factors plays a dominant role. The approach emphasizing dominance of the former, Talcott Parsons, calls material factor approach (economic determinism) and the latter as ideal factor approach (cultural determinism) (Weber 1958a: xiv). The material factor approach regards economic factors as the main determinant of the culture of a society. It is also referred to as the materialistic view of history and associated with Karl Marx. According to Marx, W. J. Barber writes that "all human activities -- not simply those performed in the course of acquiring a livelihood but religious, artistic and philosophical expressions as well -- were fundamentally conditioned by class positions in the economic system" (1967: 120). Marxian approach offers considerable insights into the development process but however it is not free from limitations. In contrast to the material factor approach, the ideal factor approach underlines the role of cultural factors in determining the level of economic activity and the process of economic development. E. E. Hagen, Pareto and Veblen are some of exponents of this approach (Kaur 1990: 13).

The approach which holds that socio-cultural and socio-economic factors interact in an ongoing process in which it is unlikely that any one factor dominates, is also known as the 'qualitative approach. Kindelberger holds that "socio-cultural determinism is no more likely an explanation of the course of economic development than is economic determinism of social history" (1977: 37). The main feature of this approach is that the economic and cultural factors freely interact and influence each other in the developmental process which is all embracing in nature.

The preceding brief analysis reveals that economic development is a continuing, cumulative and complex process which includes both economic and non-economic factors and their mutual causation. Meier and Baldwin assert that the psychological and sociological factors are equally important as the economic ones for development (1964: 360-64).

Role of Religious Factor
Religious consciousness is perhaps one of the most important non-economic factors shaping human attitudes and values. Religious ideas influence the development of economic spirit and the ethos of an economic system. Religious activity can have a negative as well as a positive effect on economic development. J. J. Spengler laid down an acid test whether religion may be regarded as a positive factor in economic: development. According to him the dominant values off religion should "favour activities which are both economically productive and conducive to capital accumulation and technical progress" (1955: 369). W. Arthur Lewis is descriptive on this score. If a religion gives importance to, in his words, "material values, upon work, upon thrift and productive investment, upon honesty in commercial relations, upon experimentation and risk bearing and upon equality of opportunity, it will be helpful to growth, whereas insofar as it is hostile to these things, it tends to inhabit growth" (1977: 105).

In the nineteenth century, Hegelians and Marxians reflected on the problem of the interrelations between religious and economic life and came out with opposite conclusions. All stylization of social life proceeds, for Hegel, out of religion. "Religion stands in the closest connection with the political principle. Freedom can exist only where individuality is recognized as having its positive and real existence in the Divine Being" (1994: 50). But for Marx, morality and religion are a mere superstructure resting on material life process (1939:5; 1904: 11-12).

A Key to Understanding Max Weber
Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (PESC) was widely interpreted that he had entered the conflict between the idealistic and materialistic social philosophers. But the interpretation that PESC is an answer to Marx summarily distorts its significance. Weber did hold the view that the notion of historical materialism is naive. Because he rejected the treatment of religious attitudes and beliefs as superstructure of economic relations, he was also unwilling to subscribe the notion that the economic structures have no influence on religious attitudes and beliefs (Nevaskar 1971: xviii). "It is not,, my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and history" (Weber 1958a: 183). Don Martindale's comment on the above quoted statement cannot but be mentioned here. "It is a mistake to view Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic as an attempt to refute Marx. So far as he was refuting anything it was the monocausal hypotheses, whether it be spiritualistic or materialistic. So far as he was advocating anything it was a pluralistic analysis of socio-cultural causation" (Nevaskar 1971: xviii).

Weber's Thesis
The important contribution of Weber, according to Parsons, is that he helped, "to shift the basic problem from the question whether and how much religious and cultural values influence behavior and society, to that of how they influence them and in turn are influenced by other variables in the situation" (Weber 1958a: xviii).

Weber recognized the importance of the economic factor but he came to the conclusion that the economic factor in itself was not sufficient for the development of modern rational organization. He regarded religious ideas as having decisive impact on the material culture of a society. He proposed the bold thesis that in the rise of capitalism, protestant ethic played a dramatically central role in the generation of capitalism's revolutionary psychology.

Weber theorized that the ascetic characteristics illustrated most fully by the Calvinistic churches played an important part in the industrial and capitalistic development of Europe. The beliefs of the Calvinists, according to Weber, resulted in a powerful motivation to economic activity. He found a synthesis of all the calvinistic ideas which strongly motivated to economic activity in the protestant concept of "Calling". He understood the doctrine of calling as the main spring of material progress in the West. It denoted a way ordained by God. The fulfillment of duty in worldly affairs under all circumstances is regarded as the only way to live acceptably to God.

As every Christian is understood to be a monk all his life, all vocations are considered as of equal value (1958a: 7981). The labor as a calling was continued as the best, often in the final analysis, the only means of attaining certainty of grace. An unwillingness to be an industrious worker was symptomatic of lack of grace. Further, he who changed his occupation and rank by upward mobility through his own diligence was a credit to the creator. Consequently, not to accomplish as much as humanly possible would be sinful. Thus the protestant ethic not only provided the religious sanction for sustained activities but it channelled human energies into an inner drive toward work.

Wealth must not be squandered. No money must be spent on anything which does not glorify God. If individuals could not squander their wealth, the inevitable result was the accumulation of capital, which was then made available for productive investment. Asceticism looked upon the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself as highly reprehensible, however, the attainment of wealth was perceived as a fruit of labor and a sign of God's blessings. On the significance of ascetic protestantism for the development of Capitalism, Weber says, ~ When the limitation of consumption is combined with the release of acquisitive activity the inevitable practical result is obvious: accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion to save. The restraints which were imposed upon the consumption of wealth naturally served to increase it by making it possible the productive investment it by making possible" (Weber 1958a: 172).

2. Jainism and Economic Development
Jains are known as the oldest religious minority in India but at the same time a very significant one. They accounted for 3.21 million -according to 1981 Census- which was 0.48% of the total population of the country. Unlike Sikhs they are not highly concentrated in any one of the States but live all over India. Over three fourths of Jains live in four states of India: Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The smaller proportions live in Uttar Pradesh, Tamilnadu, West Bengal and Bihar. Due to their prominence in business they are concentrated in Urban areas.

Economic Status of Jains
There are no reliable data on the income levels among the Jains but it is generally accepted that they occupy a high economic position relative to most communities. Weber has called attention to their economic status in The Religion of India, "The honesty of the Jain trader was famous. Their wealth was also famous: formerly it has been maintained that more than half of the trade of India passed through their hands" (1958a: 120). Vilas Adinath Sangave, a Jainologist says," The Jains follow practically all sorts of vocations but they are mainly money lenders, bankers, jewellers, cloth-merchants, grocers and recently industrialists. As they hold the key positions in all these occupations, it is no wonder that a large proportion of mercantile wealth of India passes through their hands"(1980: 259). Schrermerhorn observes that they occupy a high position in business and industrial sectors (1978: 102). M.N. Srinivas opines that most of the Jains came from the rich mercantile class (1966: 23). Yogendra Singh, a sociologist quotes an English writer who noted in 1829: "more than half of the mercantile wealth of India passes through the hands of Jaina laity"(1988: 150). Michael Carrithers remarks, "In early modern and modern India, Jains have played a role in commercial and political life out of all proportion to their numbers. . . . They managed to retain a reasonably high position in the political economy as a whole"(1991: 1, 294). A.L. Basham comments, "Though the history of Jainism is less interesting than that of Buddhism, and though it was never so important, it survived in the land of its birth, where it still has some two million adherents, mostly well to do merchants"(1954: 284). All these observations have been authenticated in 1981 Census Atlas wherein the predominance of Jains in business is placed on record.

Religious Doctrine
Jainism along with Buddhism is called "the great heresies" of Hinduism. As a religious movement, it believed in the futility of sacrifices, rejected the primacy and the revealed nature of Vedas and was against the caste hierarchy and the authority of Brahminical priesthood (Schrermerhorn 1978: 105). However Jainism has not wiped away the social structure of caste division within its boundaries while its religious significance is disowned. There are eighty-seven and thirty-eight castes and subcastes in Digambaras and Svetambaras respectively. Brahmins are the Temple priests in Svetambaras. Digambaras and Svetambaras are the major sub-sects in Jainism. Mahavira to whom the origin of Jainism is popularly ascribed, glorified the ascetic life and denied the existence of a supreme deity. He gave laymen a subordinate place and valued the acceptance of the monk's discipline as a necessary prerequisite for liberation. The doctrines propounded by Mahavira cluster around three foci: the nature of the world, the nature of karma and the place and destiny of man. Though these are stated separately, they must be understood together. The exposition on the religious doctrine of Jains here is tailored by the objective of this paper.

Mahavira preached three excellences (triratna) for all, namely, the right faith (samyagdarsana), right knowledge (samyagjnana) and the right conduct (samyalcaritra) and advocated for monks and nuns the practice of following five great vows (mahavratas): 1 Not to kill (Ahimsa) 2. Not to lie (asatya tyaga) 3. Not to steal (asetyovrata) 4 Abstaining from sexual pleasures (brahmacarya vrata) 5. Non-attachment to worldly things (aparigrahavrata). Since he was well aware that these strict vows cannot be practiced by lay followers, he encouraged the general community to develop the following twenty one qualities: serious demeanor, cleanliness, good temper, striving after popularity, fear of sinning, mercy, straight forwardness, wisdom, modesty, kindliness, moderation, gentleness, care of speech, sociability, caution, studiousness, reverence for old age and old customs, humility and gratitude, benevolence and attention to business. (Nevaskar 1971: 157-59, Caillat 1987: 509) Mahavira recognized a two-fold training -- one for monks and another for laity for the achievement of moksa. The laity also take five vows which are known as anvratas (lesser vows).These are milder in nature in comparison to the five great vows of monks. The Jain monks were directed to renounce everything, while the laity was to renounce the world in principle only. The laity are encouraged to the practice of continence in opposition to the absolute renunciation required of monks.

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