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Business, Wealth, and Religion: Corporate Social Responsibility

As Jeremy David (1998) states in Religion, Business and Wealth in Modern Britain it was only during the eighteenth century that the domains of business and religion intersected (p.1). The reason behind this may be traced to the emergence and development of a capitalist society founded upon religious values. Weber, for example, in his discussion of the relationship between capitalism and religion describes how the structure and function of a capitalist society is greatly based upon a large number of the population’s adherence to an ascetic Protestant value-system during the early part of the twentieth century (2003, p.89). He argued that the values given to thrift, hard work, importance of duty etc. within the Protestant religion bolstered the development of a capitalist society. This is best illustrated by John Shaw of Wolverhampton’s claim as he equates the good with being industrious. He states, “I have such an opinion of Industry that I think no person of either sex can be good is bot industrious … I hope to see you; an active tradesman and a noble virtuous character”. Within this context, religion thereby enables the growth of a capitalist society by setting the norms that prove to be beneficial within a capitalist society.

This role has been used by religious organizations these days in order to sway the philanthropic activities of business corporations. An example of this can be seen in the existence of the Ethical Investment Advisory Board whose function is to conduct a dialogue with various companies regarding the issues that are deemed to be important by religious institutions. Corporations, however, have also recognized the importance of religious institutions in the development and growth of their companies and hence the increase of their companies’ wealth. Saiia et. al. (2003) argue that companies these days chose to base their philanthropic acts to those which will prove to be beneficial for the company. This is based upon the result of a survey they conducted which shows that “corporate giving managers of U.S. firms that have had an established giving program of at least 5 years, with annual giving totaling at least $200,000 each year…practice strategic philanthropy…(in order) to fit a more competitive marketplace” (p.169).

Marinetto (1999) states that such a practice can be traced to the early post-war years (p.1).  Strategic philanthropy here refers to the process wherein “corporations share managerial and technological expertise and invest in the organizational capacity of actors… empowering them by reducing time wasted on fund-raising activities and allowing them to concentrate on results and to produce more effective services” (Wenger, 2003, p.142). The appeal of the method of strategic philanthropy is apparent if one considers that it enables a corporation to allocate its resources to the issues which are directly related to the services offered by the corporation. In addition to this, it also ensures progress in the attainment of the envisioned end which is targeted by these philanthropic acts. As Porter & Kramer (2002) strategic philanthropy enables the generation of goodwill as well as positive publicity (p.6).


Marinetto, M. (1999) The Historical Development of Business Philanthropy: Social Responsibility in the New Corporate Economy. Business History, No. 41 (4), pp. 1-20.

Porter, M. & Kramer, M. (2002) The Competitive Advantage of Corporate Philanthropy. Harvard Business Review, December 2002, pp 5-16.

Saiia, D, Carroll, A. & Buchholtz, A. (2003) Philanthropy as Strategy: When Corporate Charity ‘Begins at Home’. Business and Society, No. 42 (2), pp. 169-201.

Weber, M. (2003). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London: Dover.

Wenger, A. (2003). Conflict Prevention: The Untapped Potential of the Business Sector.

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