The Relationship between Undergraduate Student Attitudes about Hypothetical Marketing Moral Dilemmas and Two Variables: Strength of Religious Identity and Strength of Spiritual/Religious Beliefs.

Author:Malinowski, Carl


Years ago a colleague, who knew of my interest in ethics, asked how I linked ethics to religion. In my ignorance I told him that the two topics were unrelated. Today I realize that religion has to be acknowledged as a component of ethics and vice versa.

Managers should be interested in the connection between religion and workplace ethics because religious identification and religiosity are part of employee diversity. Furthermore, these variables can account for differing ethical points of view. Undergraduate marketing professors should teach the association between religion and morality among consumers and how this might affect the marketer's message.

The focus of the present investigation is the relationship between ethical attitudes of U.S. undergraduates and two characteristics, strength of religious identity and strength of religious beliefs. If responses to hypothetical marketing moral dilemmas are linked to these two variables, managers might find it challenging to "sell" a uniform organizational code of ethics to all employees. But if they CAN it could provide a long-term advantage in the competitive global marketplace.


The present study relates strength of religious identity and strength of spiritual/religious beliefs to undergraduates' responses to hypothetical marketing moral dilemmas. The following combination of features differentiates this investigation from prior research in the area of business ethics and religion:

(1) Strength of religious identity and strength of spiritual/religious beliefs are measured differently than in prior research on business ethics and religion.

(2) A variety of moral dilemmas is presented.

(3) The ethical scenarios focus more on marketing issues than on other management issues.

(4) Ethical attitudes are studied in terms of thoughts, feelings and behavioral tendencies rather than only one or two of these dimensions.

(5) Both the urban and suburban campuses of the participating university were surveyed.

(6) Students in all business majors volunteered for the study.

(7) Participants included freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.


According to Giampetro-Meyer and Brown (2003) "Jesuit teachings...encourage students to become self-aware and to test their ability to act on principles of right and wrong" (p. 303).

McCabe (2002) says Pope Leo XIII was concerned with business management related "evils (like)...excessive hours of labor, including labor on Sundays, child labor, low wages, unhealthy and physically dangerous working conditions" (p. 385).

Oddo (1997) notes that due to the dedication of St. Vincent de Paul to "rights and dignity...the Vincentian framework provides another framework within which students can evaluate the ethical implications of business decisions" (p. 295).

Gould (1995) point out that: "In Buddhism the idea of seeing everyone as one's mother or in making one or one's company more socially responsible" (pp. 66-67).

Jewish law is the focus of Pava (1996). He believes the Talmud says business managers have "responsibilities to society beyond profit maximization" and "social responsibilities in addition to meeting the minimum requirements of promote social well-being" (p. 940). Carver (2004) is even stronger in his interpretation of the Talmud: "regardless of the owner's wishes, the individual manager is still required to exceed legal minima" (p. 137).

Beckun and Badawi (2005) ask marketers to obey the spirit of the Islamic perspective on organizational ethics: (1) The product "must have been produced in a wholesome manner...(2) and priced fairly (and)...(3) advertising should not misrepresent the firm's product (including)...deficiencies" (p. 141).


Malinowski and Berger (2004) studied attitudes of undergraduates to nine hypothetical marketing moral dilemmas. Students attending a Catholic university were more likely to respond ethically than those from a secular one. In addition, Catholic students from the two universities combined responded more ethically than the non-Catholic students.

Burns, Fawcett and Lanasa (1994) found that students from a conservative evangelical Protestant university had "more ethical perceptions of business practices than those from a secular (public) university" (p. 673).

Longnecker, McKinney and Moore (2004) determined that Evangelical Christians "showed a higher level of ethical judgement" while evaluating "the ethical acceptability of 16 business decisions" (p. 373).

The research of Cham and Hong (2005) was conducted in Hong Kong and used Likert scaling. The statements responded to were: (1) "you are an ethical person," (2) "you know about ethics" and (3) "you are interested in learning more about ethics." Christians responded more ethically than Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Taoists and those of other traditional Chinese faiths.


Sternberg (2003) says that "business ethics could be related to values that seem to be universal across the world's great religions and ethical systems, such as sincerity, compassion, reciprocity and courage" (p. 5).

Epstein (1995) adds that breach of trust in business violates both our secular and religious values.

Schiffman and Kanuk (2000) believe "Religious institutions provide and perpetuate religious consciousness, spiritual guidance and moral training" (p. 330).

Parhizgar and Parhizgar (2014) asked, "What is religiosity?" They say it refers to "a specific emotional and sensational faith-based situation." The actions can include "worshipping individual and congregational settings...praying, praising" (p. 187).

Being religious can lead to ethics, including marketing ethics, regardless of which specific religion or faith is adhered to.


Kennedy and Lawton (1998) found "a statistically significant negative correlation between the willingness to behave unethically and the following variables measuring religion: conservatism, fundamentalism and intrinsic religiousness" (p. 171).

Siu, Dickinson and Lee (2000) investigated moral...

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