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When the divine meets dollars: Decoding economics of faith

What explains the connection between the divine and dollars? It is a cultural and economic juggernaut, a collective consciousness that seems to ignite growth

Published: Feb 29, 2024 02:48:43 PM IST
Updated: Feb 29, 2024 02:58:22 PM IST

When the divine meets dollars: Decoding economics of faithAyodhya's transformation of religious fervour into economic prosperity is not an isolated phenomenon. Image: Ritesh Shukla/Getty Images

In the heart of Ayodhya, something monumental is brewing. Welcome to the aftermath of the Ram Temple inauguration, a spectacle that's doing more than just pulling in the devout by the millions; it's turning Ayodhya into a buzzing hub of economic activity. Think of it as the divine meets dollars, a sacred cash cow that's just started to moo. Uttar Pradesh is expecting ₹4 lakh crore revenue from Ram Mandir Tourism. The Ram Temple is projected to rake in a whopping ₹50,000 crores in revenue, catapulting the city from a mere pilgrimage spot to an economic powerhouse. And the upcoming Ram Land, the Disneyland-inspired theme park, will fuel the economic boom further.

Ayodhya's transformation of religious fervour into economic prosperity is not an isolated phenomenon. Another set of soon-to-be-inaugurated five major places of worship, including the tallest statue of Hanuman at Hampi and Viraat Ramayan Mandir in Champaran, are also part of a larger narrative of economic growth in the country.

Across time and continents, the intertwining of the sacred and the commercial has driven the development of cities and civilisations. Professor William Bubelis, in his article Temple Economy, Greek and Roman, mentions that ancient sites in Greece and Rome were not just spiritual centres but also pivotal in economic functions, redistributing wealth, and fostering community economic activities. Similarly, other scholars highlight that temple-centered economies were crucial in Northeast Thailand's Phimai region and acted as the integrative force holding the political and economic systems of the state together. In India, temples alone are estimated to have gold reserves worth $2 trillion, while Europe's cultural and religious tourism supports 2.6 million jobs, contributing €153 billion to the economy. The global halal market is worth $2.3 trillion, while religion contributes $1.2 trillion to the US economy. The resurgence of Ayodhya, alongside the burgeoning economies of religious sites globally, offers a compelling counter-narrative to the proclamations of Nietzsche and Marx regarding the decline of religion.

Cultural Narratives: Superheroes and Sacred Legends

So, what explains the connection between the divine and dollars? The global success of franchises like Marvel and Disney, exemplified by the recent blockbuster performance of the Barbie movie, underscores the profound impact of cultural narratives and stories on shaping societies and economies. They have the power to mobilise communities, to inspire action, and to drive economic growth. In the US, where ancient legends are as scarce as a bad burger, superheroes swoop in to fill the void. They're the new mythology, minting money through movies, merch, and magic kingdoms while mirroring and moulding what we value as a society. Cultural narratives, whether derived from comic books or sacred texts, serve not only as a source of identity and values. Hence, the cultural narratives drive economic demand and, in turn, economic opportunities, reinforcing and spreading cultural narratives.

Dive deeper into India's mythological maze, and it's clear that it is a cultural and economic juggernaut, a collective consciousness that seems to ignite growth. Gods and legends do more than bless; they brand. They're at festivals, on your TV, and in your shopping cart, showing that when culture and commerce collide, it's not a crash; it's a kaleidoscope of opportunities. Mythology in India isn't just the stories of gods and demons told during bedtimes; they're the threads weaving the nation's fabric; they are a call to the pilgrimage, a reason to buy, and a way to live. The economic ripple effect? It's like Marvel on steroids. This explains how places of worship act as artefacts that exteriorise the collective memory and shared values reflecting the society's cultural narrative.

Also watch: Ayodhya: An ancient city's new beginnings, in photos

Future of the Economics of Faith

However, the economic impact of religion is not without its challenges. The sustainability of economies heavily reliant on religious tourism or donations raises questions. There is a delicate balance between leveraging religious sites for economic gain and preserving their spiritual essence. Furthermore, commercialising religious beliefs and practices can lead to ethical dilemmas, where the line between devotion and exploitation becomes blurred. These challenges necessitate a careful approach, ensuring that economic benefits do not compromise cultural traditions' core values and sanctity. The biggest challenge facing societies is balancing cultural integrity and commercialisation while ensuring these stories continue to enrich the cultural landscape. So, where do you draw the line between homage and hucksterism? It's a slippery slope from celebrating faith to commodifying it. This grey area can turn into a minefield of ethical no-nos, blurring the sacred lines of devotion into a murky mix of exploitation. It is a tricky dance, ensuring the pursuit of profit doesn't pillage the purity of religious practices. Another challenge is when the riches reaped from religious fervour end up in the pockets of a privileged few. It is not just unfair; it's a recipe for resentment, leaving the broader community in the dust.

As India leans into the financial windfall of its religious heritage, the big questions loom: How sustainable is this fusion of the divine and dollars? Is it possible to keep this spiritual-economic hybrid engine running without hitting a moral, cultural, or ecological pothole?

(Ameya Agrawal is a student of the post-graduate program in business leadership at IIM Kozhikode, and Keyoor Purani is a Professor of Marketing at IIM Kozhikode. Views are Personal.)

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