Between hell’s flames and heaven’s lights

A cross-national examination of religious beliefs and corporate market versus social orientation

There is no question of the influence religion has had on shaping societal structures and economies around the world. Its influence extends far beyond cultural norms and beliefs; it is embedded in all aspects of our economies, from how institutions are organised and operated to how firms do business. Highlighting this influence has important implications for understanding economic development more broadly, particularly in emerging economies. This research aims to shed light on the complex relationship religion has with other economic, cultural and institutional aspects in influencing firms’ market versus social orientation.


The challenge

Religious beliefs have a complex relationship with economic development. The nature and significance of this relationship varies across geographical and cultural boundaries as well as within the diverse set of denominations within any single religion. Ignoring religion’s influence on economic outcomes would ultimately lead to an imperfect view of the forces that shape economic development, particularly in the developing world.

While understanding religion’s effect on economic development has been the focus of much important research, a detailed examination of the role it plays in shaping firms’ market versus social orientation is still necessary.

The intervention

The research focusses on understanding the relationship between religion and other economic and institutional conditions in shaping firms’ market versus social orientation. It will consider the specific differences in religious beliefs, such as belief in heaven and hell, across denominations, geographies and cultures jointly with economic and institutional realities to understand how these differences play a role in shaping how firms do business. This will be accomplished using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods, including both large-scale data collection and analysis as well as observational and experimental studies.

The potential impact

Religion plays a fundamental role in shaping societal structures, norms and beliefs and how economies and institutions develop. This is particularly true for emerging economies where religious adherence is strongest. Therefore, uncovering the role religion plays in tandem with other economic and institutional factors is critical in understanding how firms do business and how economies and societies more broadly develop.

This paper will build on past research in this topic area but dive further to offer new insights into how specific differences in religious beliefs across geographies, cultures and denominations affect development. These insights will not only have theoretical significance by contributing to the literature on this topic but also offer practical relevance as they may be used to inform how policymakers and other social sector practitioners consider religion’s role in economic development.