WHY BELIEVE? THE PROMISE OF RESEARCH
ON THE ROLE OF RELGION IN ENTREPRENEURIAL ACTION
Miami University (OH)
Farmer School of Business
800 E. High Street, FSB 2074
Oxford, OH 45056
Miami University (OH)
Farmer School of Business
800 E. High Street, FSB 2074
Oxford, OH 45056
Kelley School of Business
1275 E. 10th Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
Tel: (812) 855-2718
Hankamer School of Business
One Bear Place
Waco, TX 76798
Tel: (254) 710-4092
Funding: This study was funded by the Leading the Integration of Faith and Entrepreneurship
(LIFE) Research Lab at Miami University, Oxford, OH
Why Believe? The Promise of Research on the Role of Religion in Entrepreneurial Action
Religion is one of the most pervasive and central topics in society. However, its relative neglect
by entrepreneurship research leads to an insufficient understanding of entrepreneurial action. To
address this gap, we build on boundary theory and the psychology of religion to develop a sketch
of the role of religion in entrepreneurial action, including its antecedents and outcomes. Finally,
we suggest a number of theoretical perspectives (identity, sensemaking, and boundary) and
research questions that may further advance research on religion and entrepreneurship.
There is growing scholarly interest in the role of motives other than financial incentives in the
conceptualization, initiation, and continuance of entrepreneurship (e.g. Baker and Welter, 2017;
Miller et al., 2012; Rindova et al., 2009). As the study of alternative forms of entrepreneurship
has proliferated, so has scholarly acknowledgement of motivational complexity for
entrepreneurial action. For example, the literature on social entrepreneurship highlights the role
entrepreneurship plays in the expression of one’s values (Conger, 2012; Hemmingway, 2005)
and the fulfillment of a desire for authenticity, purpose, and meaning (Mair and Marti, 2006;
O’Neil and Ucbasaran, 2016). Similarly, numerous literatures devoted to conventional
entrepreneurship have begun to highlight the importance of alternative motives including
emancipation (Rindova et al., 2009), passion (Cardon, Foo, Shepherd, and Wiklund, 2012), and
identity (Gruber and MacMillan, 2017). These growing literatures tap into the notion that
motivational deviations from purely financial incentives affect what entrepreneurship means to
the entrepreneur, which in turn affects, whether and how entrepreneurial action unfolds.
For many, entrepreneurship - whether conventional or alternative - can and does become the
central pursuit in a quest to find their place in the world, to develop understanding and
acceptance of themselves, and to make sense of their self-constitutive beliefs and actions. Often
these entrepreneurs attribute what they do and how they do it to motivational deviations from
purely financial incentives, such as existential motives, “calling”, or moral imperatives (Smith et
al., 2016). In turn, these deviations appear to affect not just motivation, but actual and perceived
awareness and capabilities. Therefore, it should could come as no surprise that entrepreneurs
may seek to integrate their concept of self with that of their venture and that attempts to do so
may involve significant meaning making systems in their lives (Conger et al., 2018; Fauchart and
Gruber, 2011; Powell and Baker, 2014; 2017; Wry and York, 2017).
Despite receiving growing interest from entrepreneurship scholars, concepts such as calling,
existential motives, or moral imperatives are anything but new; they have a rich history in
religious studies and were invoked by early entrepreneurship theorists. Nearly a century ago,
Weber explicitly linked entrepreneurial efforts with deep, religious, metaphysical hopes and
fears (Weber, 1930). Contemporary research suggests that the desire to integrate one’s religious
and work life continues to be a defining characteristic for many (Miller et al, in press; Nash and
McLennan, 2001), and examples of ventures with explicitly religious objectives are increasingly
common. Redemptive entrepreneurship, marketplace ministries, and business-as-mission are a
few of the recent examples of a growing movement to integrate religion and entrepreneurship
(Greer and Proudfit, 2013; Miller et al., forthcoming; Praxis Academy, 2017). However, despite
this legacy and movement, religion is often segmented from entrepreneurial research (Busenitz
and Lichtenstein, 2018; Tracey, 2012). A nascent stream of research has begun to address this
void (for a review, see Balog, Baker and Walker, 2014), but the conversation is occurring largely
outside of mainstream management and entrepreneurship journals (for some notable exceptions
see Table 1), owing partly to a limited theoretical foundation and reliance on a
phenomenological approach. In aggregate, research focused on how religion shapes and is
shaped by entrepreneurship has been extremely limited, suggesting that we may have overlooked
an important driver of both individual and collective entrepreneurial action in modern life.
To address this gap, this article offers a conceptual framework to help explain how religion may
influence entrepreneurship. Building on research in boundary theory and the psychology of
religion, we create an initial sketch of how individuals integrate religion into the process of
entrepreneurial action (Figure 1). First, we build on prior research on opportunity identification
beyond business environments and personal financial incentives to include religious knowledge
and motivation (development, identity salience, and personal calling) in identifying
opportunities. Second, we explain how religion influences the outcomes entrepreneurs pursue
through entrepreneurial action. We suggest that integrating religion leads to outcomes of
pursuing financial gain for others, prosocial service of others, sharing religion with others, and
We illustrate the overall sketch with examples of religious integration in
Third, we identify theories (identity, sensemaking, and boundary) and research
questions to strengthen the theoretical foundation for advancing research on religion and
2. The role of religion in entrepreneurial action
In the psychology literature, religion is defined as “a search for significance in ways related to
the sacred,” suggesting that individuals are goal-directed towards the important things of God
(Pargament, 1997: 32). It includes the “feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors that arise
from the search for the sacred” (Hill et al., 2000: 66). Research indicates that religion typically
manifests itself in the context of work through ethics (espoused moral standards and willingness
to enact them), experience (sense of purpose and motivation), enrichment (enablement and
coping resources), and expression (words, deeds, and symbols) (Miller, Ewest, and Neubert, in
press). Religion also is manifest in entrepreneurial activity, sometimes encouraging it (Balog et
For the purposes of our theoretical arguments, we use the theonym “God” inclusively, recognizing the belief in one
or more supreme beings central to all major world religions with the exception of Buddhism.
For purposes of illustration, we intentionally opted for continuity throughout our sketch. All of our examples are
from the context of Christianity because it is the largest religion in the world and examples are abundant. Although
we recognize there are important differences between various religious traditions, we expect our arguments to
generally hold true within other major world religions (i.e. Hinduisim, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism).
al., 2014; Dana, 2009; Weber, 1930) and sometimes discouraging it (Carswell and Rolland,
2007; Wiseman and Young, 2014).
Nascent research at the intersection of religion and
entrepreneurship find “religious beliefs are intertwined into entrepreneurs’ business activities”
(Balog et al., 2014: 171).
As developed by McMullen and Shepherd (2006), entrepreneurial action occurs as a function of
knowledge and motivation to identify entrepreneurial opportunities. Entrepreneurial action
requires a confluence of awareness, motivation, and capability for agents to notice problems,
generate ideas for innovative solutions, and transform ideas from intentions to artifacts by
incorporating stakeholder feedback and overcoming environmental setbacks. We introduce
religion into the theory of entrepreneurial action because of its unique contribution to knowledge,
motivation, and behavior (Pargament et al., 2005). Here, religion encourages people toward
specific opportunity signals and action because of the potential to integrate faith and
entrepreneurship. As integration occurs, our sketch proposes that the likelihood of identifying
opportunities increases when individuals possess prior knowledge in the form of religious
knowledge and motivation based on religious development, religious identity salience, and
personal calling. Our sketch suggests potential outcomes include the pursuit of financial gain for
others, prosocial service of others, sharing religion with others, and honoring God.
Insert Figure 1 about here
We acknowledge the underlying assumptions and boundary conditions of our model. First, we
recognize the variance within and between different religions, using a single religion as
illustrative. Second, we acknowledge the variance between religion and spirituality and the
Manifestations of religion in entrepreneurship can have a range of detrimental as well as beneficial outcomes that
extend beyond the focus of this paper (cf. Chan Searfin et al., 2013; Wiseman and Young, 2014).
associated definitional challenges. We focus on and define religion in our model. Third, we
understand religion can have positive and negative influences on entrepreneurial action. The
proposed outcomes may not be viewed positively by others, including members of the same
religious tradition. We focus primarily on the unique role religion plays beyond past explanations
of entrepreneurial knowledge, such as knowledge of markets or how to serve those markets
(Shane, 2000), or motivation, such as need for achievement or risk-taking propensity (Shane,
Locke and Collins, 2003), rather than a value assessment of its role. Fourth, we recognize
knowledge and motivation may have direct and indirect effects. We focus on an explanation of
the effects rather than specification of relationships of the effects. Fifth, we acknowledge religion
does not occur in a vacuum and is influenced by many macro-level factors (Dana, 2009, 2010).
We focus on the individual-level variables in this article.
2.1 Potential to integrate religion and entrepreneurship
One reason individuals desire to integrate religion with other areas of their lives is the unique
primacy it plays in many people’s self-concept and social reality (Emmons, 1999; Wimberly,
1989). Boundary theory explains how and why people and organizations create, maintain,
change, and transition across different domains including contexts such as work-home interface
and family business (Ashforth, et al., 2000; Knapp et al., 2013; Nippert-Eng, 1996). It identifies
integration as a strategy used by individuals to manage and negotiate their multiple roles /
domains and refers to a high degree of overlap between domains, such as work-family or
religion-entrepreneurship (Ashforth et al., 2000; Greibel et al., 2014; Rothbard et al., 2005).
Integration reduces the boundaries between roles, eases the transitions between roles, and allows
individuals to enact important roles (Ashforth et al., 2000; Burke, 1980; Knapp et al., 2013;
Stryker, 1980). There is evidence from research on religion in the workplace that people are
searching for models to more fully integrate their work and faith (e.g., Miller, 2007; Miller et al.,
in press; Mitroff and Denton, 1999; Walker, 2013). We believe the desire to combine, rather than
segment domains, is likely to encourage individuals to identify and pursue opportunities that
allow for integration. We discuss the ways in which religious antecedents are manifest below.
2.2 Antecedents of integrating religion and entrepreneurship
Building on the entrepreneurial action framework, we identify religious antecedents that
are likely to affect knowledge and motivation as individuals identify and pursue entrepreneurial
opportunities. We highlight antecedents of knowledge in the form of religious knowledge and
motivation based on religious development, identity salience, and personal calling.
2.2.1 Religious knowledge
Beyond entrepreneurial knowledge to identify third-person and first-person opportunities
(McMullen and Shepherd, 2006), individuals must also possess prior knowledge about their
religion to identify opportunities for its use in entrepreneurship. Religious knowledge is “some
minimum of information about the basic tenets of their faith and its rites, scriptures, and
traditions” and includes “some set of beliefs which adherents are expected to ratify” which
provides the basis for a theological outlook and “acknowledges the truth of the tenets of the
religion” (Stark and Glock, 1968: 14). Specifically, “beliefs about the self, the universe, and
deities constitute central forms of religious knowledge” (Barsalou et al., 2005). Individuals can
use this knowledge to identify potential areas for entrepreneurial action. For example, Phil
Vischer and Mike Nawrocki used their religious knowledge to create a computer-animated set of
children’s videos and movies called VeggieTales to teach biblical lessons and morals. It is
unlikely that individuals without some amount of religious knowledge would identify such a
possibility for entrepreneurial action. We now turn to how the role of religion may influence
motivation for entrepreneurial action.
2.2.2 Religious development
We recognize push and pull motivational factors may affect entrepreneurial action but focus primarily on pull
drivers of religious motivation, as these have been associated with entrepreneurial action and success (Amit, 1994).
Individuals can be motivated to identify and act on opportunities for religious development,
defined as the growth in one’s relationship with a faith tradition or supernatural power, such as
God (Reich, Oser and Scarlett, 1999). Religious development may grow through affiliation with
an organized faith tradition, participation in its rituals, contemplation of its beliefs, and
application of those beliefs in various life domains (King and Boyatzis, 2004). As individuals
become more mature and participative in their religion, they are more likely to seek to integrate
faith into their work contexts (Lynn et al., 2011), with some choosing entrepreneurial action as
an outgrowth of their religious development. In this way, religious development “motivates the
search for connectedness, meaning, purpose, and contribution” (Benson et al., 2003: 2007). For
example, Trappist monks in Belgium, the Netherlands, and more recently the UK, Austria, Italy,
and the United States acted upon the entrepreneurial opportunity of brewing beer as a means to
integrate and develop their faith. For the monks, beer is of secondary importance to living out the
‘rules of the [religious] order’ of manual work, hospitality, and income generation to carry out
their monasteries’ missions (De Waal, 1984).
2.2.3 Religious identity salience
Individuals can also be motivated to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities based on the salience
of their religious role identity. Role expectations develop through repeated social interactions
with other people and constitute a component of a person’s identity (Burke, 1980), including an
identity consistent with a religion (Weaver and Agle, 2003). Religious roles involve a belief
dimension concerning expectations that one will hold particular religious beliefs (e.g., belief in a
deity as creator of the world); a devotional dimension, concerning religious practices and
attitudes; and an intellectual dimension, concerning expectations for knowing about one’s
religion (Stark and Glock, 1968; Weaver and Agle, 2003). As the strength of role expectations
increases, the salience of a person’s religious role identity (i.e. the likelihood he/she will enact
that identity across multiple social situations) also increases (Stryker and Serpe, 1982), thereby
improving the likelihood that religion will influence entrepreneurial action. An entrepreneur who
is deeply involved in Christianity, participates regularly in church groups, and reads extensively
about Christianity may generate entrepreneurial opportunity beliefs that integrate their religion
that are not desirable to others. For example, after a period of Bible study and ministry, Ron Blue
founded Kingdom Advisors to provide biblical wisdom to financial advisors (Blue, 1997).
2.2.4 Personal calling
Although contemporary definitions of personal calling contain a more secular and personal view,
traditional definitions locate calling within the religious domain and outside of the individual, as
in the religious works of St. Augustine and as an antecedent to Weber’s Protestant work ethic
(Tredget, 2002). Scholars explain calling as a “transcendent summons, experienced as
originating beyond the self, to approach a particular life role in a manner oriented toward a sense
of purpose or meaningfulness and that holds other-centered values and goals as primary sources
of motivation” (Dik and Duffy, 2009: 427). In this way, calling provides a purpose and passion
for entrepreneurial action (Cardon, et al., 2012). Recent research points to the source of the
external summons as originating from a higher power and serves as a primary source of
motivation (Neubert and Halbesleben, 2015). Individuals, driven by the passion and purpose of a
calling, can be motivated to identify and pursue opportunities that allow for activation of their
God-given calling. For example, Ryan Berg founded Aruna based on personal calling from God
to free women from the sex trade in India (www.arunaproject.com)
2.3 Outcomes of integrating religion and entrepreneurship
The integration of religion and entrepreneurship also leads to explaining distinctive outcomes of
interest to researchers. Through the knowledge and motivational mechanisms described above,
integration of religion can shape the outcomes pursued through entrepreneurial action. The
outcomes the founder sets for the venture may become closely aligned to the religion itself (e.g.
providing relief to the poor, or attracting new converts), may lead to the implementation of
religious beliefs and practices (e.g. prayer meetings), and may shape the culture and identity of
the organization (Ravasi and Schultz, 2006). We discuss four ways in which these religious
outcomes are manifest below.
2.3.1 Financial gain for others
One outcome from entrepreneurial action integrating of religion remains economic gains
(Venkataraman, 1997). This focus is important because business profitability generates financial
resources for the entrepreneurs, families, employees, and investors but it also serves as a means
to an end. Entrepreneurs may use their financial resources to support religious work based on the
concept of tithing, which encourages entrepreneurs to give from the “first fruits of the harvest”
and suggests entrepreneurs are stewards of God’s gifts rather than owners of their business
(Burkett, 1998; Keller and Alsdorf, 2012). This may extend to strategic actions of the venture.
For example, The Garage Group, an innovation consulting start-up, donated 10% of their profits
to OCEAN (www.oceanprograms.com), an early-stage high tech accelerator focused on
integrating faith and entrepreneurship.
2.3.2 Prosocial service of others
Research indicates that economic gain is not the primary motivator for many entrepreneurs
(Amit et al., 2001). There are likely many forms of non-economic gains from the integration of
religion and entrepreneurship, especially in the prosocial service of others. Most religions stress
concern for others and have some form of the Golden Rule about treating others as you would
like to be treated (Chan-Searfin et al., 2013). Individuals acting because of their religion, or
religious organizations themselves, launch a substantial percentage of social ventures (Spear,
2007). Such ventures tackle problems including education, health, and poverty for some of the
poorest and marginalized people in the world with a focus on value creation for others rather
than value capture for themselves (Santos, 2012). For example, Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest,
launched Homeboy Industries to intervene and rehabilitate former gang members in Los
Angeles, CA (Boyle, 2017).
2.3.3 Sharing religion with others
Another outcome of the integration of religion and entrepreneurship is the use of the venture as a
mechanism to share religion with others. The degree of transparency from implicit to overt
evangelism depends on the entrepreneur and organization. One form of implicit evangelism is
simply providing an example of one’s religion lived out in a work setting for others to see. As
described above, the example could be in the creation of a business with prosocial or non-
economic goals in addition to economic goals. In addition, entrepreneurs may testify to their
faith through the way a business operates. As described by Praxis Labs (a Christian accelerator
for growing for-profit and non-profit enterprises), a “venture does not necessarily have an
explicit faith positioning…but it is certainly one where the Christian understanding of the world
is baked into the culture, decisions, and scorekeeping. This kind of venture will invariably be a
‘demonstrated apologetic’ of the truth of the gospel” (Praxis Academy, 2017). Here, the venture
seeks to provide evidence of Christianity through the way it operates, moving beyond ethical
decision-making. Some entrepreneurs demonstrate more visible and explicit business practices of
religious principles such as Chick-Fil-A closing their stores on Sundays, an intentionally
conspicuous practice intended to influence non-believers. Finally, other entrepreneurs choose to
go even further to overt and explicit evangelism. This may include a prayer meeting or Bible
study within a venture; explicit “witnessing to your employees, creditors, and customers”
(Burkett, 1998: 253); and may extend to “integrating ministry at every level” of the organization,
as in the case of biznistries (Greer and Proudfit, 2013: 77).
2.3.4 Honoring God
Finally, an outcome related to the integration of religion and entrepreneurship is to honor God.
According to Webster’s dictionary, the word honor means to regard with great respect or to
fulfill an obligation. The intention to honor God in one’s work is evident across several religious
traditions (Neubert et al., 2014). Prior research has identified the potential value of viewing God
as a ‘managerial stakeholder’ and identified the benefits of more meaningful work, greater social
responsibility, improved ethical behavior, and healthier bottom line (Schwartz, 2006).
Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Tyson Foods, and ServiceMaster were founded with a
primary goal of honoring and serving God. Recent examples of entrepreneurial organizations
that integrate religion and entrepreneurship suggest ventures “are formed intentionally for the
purpose of glorifying and serving God” (Greer and Proudfit, 2013: 61). Entrepreneurs are
beginning to ask, “What is good for the world, according to its Creator” (Praxis Academy,
2017)? Entrepreneurs and their employees are driven “to be honest, compassionate, and generous
not because these things are rewarding…but, because to do so honors the will of God” (Keller
and Alsdorf, 2012: 208). Even venture capitalists, such as Sovereign’s Capital and Telos
Ventures, who specifically invest in Christian businesses suggest, “We work for the glory of a
great God and the commitment to honor him fuels us with an energy, focus and commitment that
gives us a unique advantage” (personal communication).
At the individual level, we demonstrate how the role of religion influences entrepreneurship. We
extend prior research focused beyond business and personal economic motivations (e.g.,
Shepherd and Patzelt, 2017) by identifying religious antecedents (knowledge, development,
identity salience, and calling) of opportunity beliefs and a range of intended outcomes (financial
gain for others, prosocial service of others, sharing religion, and honoring God) that highlight
why current entrepreneurial scholarship is insufficient to explain these outcomes. We recognize
these are some of many antecedents and outcomes at this intersection. We realize individuals
vary not only on whether but also on how to integrate religion in entrepreneurship – ranging
from values of a founder to an integrated business-as-mission view (Miller et al., forthcoming).
We see growing variation in the range of individuals within the entrepreneurial ecosystem [i.e.,
entrepreneurs, investors, accelerators and clergy] seeking to integrate religion and
entrepreneurship, leading to an initial foundation for what we call ‘religious organizing.’
Building on prior definitions of organizing (e.g., Battilana and Lee, 2014), we define religious
organizing as the set of routines, structures, processes, and meanings by which individuals and
organizations make sense of integrating their religion and their venture. Finally, we also expect
that future research will enrich this initial offering by uncovering nuances and moderating factors
stemming from important differences within and between religious traditions, as well as the
potential ‘dark side’ of integrating religion and entrepreneurship. We hope this paper stimulates
more research at this important intersection.
To that end, we briefly expand on three theoretical perspectives (identity, sensemaking, and
boundary) that may contribute to a stronger theoretical foundation for advancing research on
religion and entrepreneurship. We then integrate those theories into the theory of entrepreneurial
action and offer some initial research questions to generate potential topics of interest. Finally,
we discuss several ways in which the integration of religion and entrepreneurial action map onto
larger discussions in contemporary entrepreneurship literature.
3.1 Theoretical perspectives for integrating religion and entrepreneurship
3.1.1 Identity theories
Religion is “a fundamental of identity with unique dynamics that require special consideration
and theorizing” (Tracey, Phillips and Lounsbury, 2014: 9). In our model, we looked at how a
religious role identity may influence its salience in entrepreneurial action. We see many other
opportunities for identity serving as a theoretical foundation for research on religion and
entrepreneurship. Social identity (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) may clarify how belief systems and
group membership may influence entrepreneurial action (Dana, 2009; Ysseldyk et al., 2010). The
role of religion’s influence on the synthesis of role and social identities in founder identity theory
may provide unique insights (Powell and Baker, 2014). An identity approach on religion and
entrepreneurship may also be useful at multiple levels of analysis including relational,
organizational, and collective dynamics (Ashforth et al., 2011; Smith et al., 2014).
Sensemaking is defined as “the process through which people work to understand issues or
events that are novel, ambiguous, confusing, or in some other way violate expectations” (Maitlis
and Christianson, 2014). As developed, the integration of religion into entrepreneurial action
may create novel, ambiguous, and / or confusing antecedents (e.g., religious development or
personal calling) and outcomes (evangelism or honor God). This is because religion provides a
“unique meaning-making phenomenon” to understand individual and organizational behavior
(Pargament et al., 2005) and because the entrepreneurial actors may come from a wide range of
religious starting points. Sensemaking has been associated with entrepreneurial processes (Gioia
and Chittipeddi, 1991), used to provide mental models and metaphors to reduce uncertainty in
entrepreneurship (Hill and Levenhagen, 1995), and offers a productive theoretical lens for future
research on religion and entrepreneurship including shaping the process, gaining inter-subjective
agreement, and connecting sensemaking to emotions (Maitlis and Christianson, 2014).
3.1.3 Boundary Theory
As previously developed, individuals develop and maintain boundaries to simplify and order
their environment by erecting physical, temporal, emotional or cognitive ‘fences’ around
domains such as home, work, and church. The degree of overlap between domains exists on a
continuum ranging from high integration to high segmentation (Ashforth, et al., 2000; Knapp et
al., 2013; Nippert-Eng, 1996). In our model, we illustrate how one approach (integration) may
lead to entrepreneurial action. Yet, a second strategy of segmentation also exists and these
strategies exist along a continuum (Rothbard, 2001). These strategies involve the boundary’s
flexibility (when boundaries may be crossed), permeability (how and why that crossing may
occur), tactics used to negotiate boundaries, and potential outcomes of enrichment or depletion
(Knapp et al., 2013; Rothbard, 2001; Sundaramurthy and Kreiner, 2008). Boundary theory opens
the door for questions about how and why boundary strategies related to religion and
entrepreneurship are implemented and about their impact on individual and organizational
outcomes. Initial research (Essers and Benschop, 2009) supports our belief that boundary theory
offers excellent potential for research at the interface.
3.2 Extending theoretical foundation for religion and the process of entrepreneurial action
Having introduced the theories, we now seek to develop a stronger theoretical foundation for
future research on the role of religion in the process of entrepreneurial action (McMullen, 2015;
McMullen and Dimov, 2013; McMullen and Kier, 2016; McMullen and Shepherd, 2006).
Drawing on mechanisms identified by the theoretical perspectives above, we discuss and provide
illustrative examples of how religion is likely to affect (1) whether and which problems are
noticed and solutions are included in the opportunity set, (2) whether and which courses of action
are deemed feasible and desirable in the initiation of entrepreneurial action, and (3) whether and
which feedback is noticed and attended to in the continuance of entrepreneurial action.
3.2.1 Religion and determining problems noticed and solutions included
Religion is likely to influence the number and types of problems that individuals notice and
attend to as well as the number and types of solutions included in the opportunity set. There are
problems of which an individual is simply ignorant, there are problems that individuals are aware
of but do not attend to, and there are problems that they are aware of that capture their attention
(Shepherd, McMullen and Jennings, 2007). Yet, awareness of, and attention to, problems is
insufficient for entrepreneurial action. Ideas for innovative solutions are also necessary (Kier
and McMullen, 2018; McMullen and Shepherd, 2006). Religion is likely to influence awareness
and attention to problems and solutions included in the opportunity set through sensemaking,
identity, and boundary mechanisms.
First, the notion of a problem requires sensemaking by understanding how the environment
works (Hill and Levenhagen, 1995). Religion is likely to affect this sensemaking process by
providing the goal, end, or desire that is not being fulfilled owing to the situation, issue, or event.
For example, if a religion conceives of everyone as a child of God worthy of dignity and respect,
then abject poverty can be interpreted as a problem because it is likely to impair or prevent such
an outcome. Thus, religion can influence which situations are considered problems meriting
consideration of entrepreneurial action.
Whether individuals categorize a situation as a problem that they subsequently attend to because
of religious sensemaking is likely to depend on the degree to which they identify with that
religion. The more one identifies with a particular religion, the greater the degree to which he or
she will internalize the goals, ends, or desires it endorses (Hogg, Adelman and Blagg, 2010). At
the same time, religion can shape other identities in the entrepreneur’s self-concept in important
and opportunity-relevant ways. For example, Christianity encourages believers to imitate
Christ’s sacrificial love by serving others, especially the least among us. Likewise, the
entrepreneur comes to base his/her identity in being a recipient of that sacrificial love. In this
instance, compassion for the less fortunate is commanded (invoking identity as a Christian) and
affinity with others in need becomes salient (invoking identity as a human being in need of
God’s grace and love) such that individuals who identify as Christian become more likely to
attend to the situations that their religions categorize as problems, once they are aware of them.
Moving from problems to potential solutions, individuals may attempt to integrate across
domains of religion and entrepreneurship to find entrepreneurial solutions to situations that are
deemed problematic because of religious beliefs or, vice versa, to find religious solutions to
secular business problems encountered in entrepreneurship. Recalling an integration strategy
from boundary theory (Rothbard, 2001), a desire for integration of one’s religious life and his or
her secular life leads to an ironic combination of inspiration through restriction. That is, the
individual seeks to generate new opportunities to solve a problem made salient to him or her
because of religion (e.g., homelessness) by simultaneously limiting him or herself to business
solutions that might address the problem in some financially sustainable way. This desire for
integration, however, can also rule out opportunities that may be viable because of their
inconsistency with one’s religious values. For instance, perhaps one could generate profits by
opening a strip club or brothel, and then channel the funds to orphans. Religion would likely
preclude such business models, even if effective at solving the orphan problem, because it would
do so by fostering sins of lust or infidelity. Here, deontological arguments of right and wrong as
determined by religious beliefs may trump utilitarian claims that the ends justify the means.
Therefore, it seems that religion could play a significant role through sensemaking, identity, and
boundary mechanisms to influence the situations entrepreneurs notice as problems and include as
solutions in the opportunity set, thus stimulating their desire to identify and pursue opportunities
for entrepreneurial action. This leads to our first set of research questions:
Why does religious sensemaking and identity affect the noticing more (or fewer) problems
for entrepreneurial action?
How do flexible and permeable boundaries lead entrepreneurs to attend to more (less)
How does religious motivation influence opportunity recognition differently than other forms
Why do some entrepreneurs pursue integration (segmentation) solutions while others do not?
To what extent does religious motivation explain the quantity and quality of innovative
solutions generated and considered?
3.2.2 Religion and determining feasible and desirable initiation of entrepreneurial action
Entrepreneurial action requires uncertainty bearing, whether structural and/or perceptual (Knight,
1921; McMullen and Shepherd, 2006). In turn, this uncertainty bearing involves expectations of
an unknown future (Chiles et al. 2010; McMullen, 2010), such that individuals “step out in faith”
based on a belief that events will transpire as imagined (Shackle, 1979; Kier and McMullen,
2018). These imagined scenarios, which may be shaped by religious sensemaking, identity or
boundary mechanisms, then affect action by influencing perceptions of what is feasible and
desirable (McMullen and Kier, 2016). If events come to mind that make an uncertain prospect
seem feasible, then an individual may imagine entrepreneurial action to be easier than it actually
is, thus encouraging its initiation. Conversely, if events come to mind that make an uncertain
prospect seem unfeasible, then an individual may imagine entrepreneurial action to be more
difficult than it actually is, thereby discouraging its initiation.
Either way, these imaginings can be influenced by religious beliefs. For example, one may know
that he or she lacks all the resources needed to act, but believe through sensemaking or identity
mechanisms, that God will provide the difference if only he or she musters the faith required to
act. In these instances, religion serves to rationalize or make sense of the opportunity post hoc
(Cornelissen and Clarke, 2010). This belief would encourage perceived feasibility and, on
balance, entrepreneurial action. Conversely, one may know that she has the resources needed to
act, but worry via sensemaking that entrepreneurial action might transform beneficiaries into
customers, and choose not to commercialize a solution to a problem that she believes, based on
religious conviction, should be solved by compassion and charity. Thus, religious beliefs are
likely to influence entrepreneurial action via their effect on imagination and perception.
Religious beliefs can also influence actual, as opposed to perceived, feasibility and desirability.
Belonging to a religious community that shares a collective identity based on common values
and beliefs can provide an individual a claim on others’ material resources in the name of those
beliefs. This can transpire voluntarily, like when members of a religious community are inspired
to provide knowledge, skills, abilities, or other resources for free or at a discounted rate because
of a shared belief in the venture’s purpose. This can also be achieved through a religiously
influenced act of sensegiving by the religious community. Other times, a shared religious
community may simply make action more efficient because of lower transaction costs brought
about by religious demands for honesty, justice, and accountability that are socially or self-
enforced. Finally, religious identity can also make entrepreneurial action more likely because of
coercive tactics. For example, some charismatic Christian leaders have been criticized for
“stepping out on faith” without conducting adequate due diligence while instead claiming that
God will provide, only to be accused of repeatedly leveraging the social identity of wealthier
members of the congregation via social pressure and guilt.
In addition to perceived or actual feasibility, religion can also influence perceived or actual
desirability through sensemaking, identity, and boundary mechanisms. First, a lower return on
investment may be acceptable because some of the return on investment may be considered
spiritual in nature. This “eyes wide open” scenario, in which the entrepreneur still pursues
entrepreneurial action despite a lower financial return on investment, may occur because of the
spiritual return on investment mental model (Hill and Levenhagen, 1995). Second, there is the
possibility that one is willing to lose money if necessary on an entrepreneurial action because he
or she feels called to act. This is akin to prosocial incentives in social entrepreneurship (Miller et
al., 2012) or development entrepreneurship (McMullen, 2011) in which the root business model
is a charity funded entirely by the entrepreneur and or donors but which seeks to operate at a
non- or limited loss (Eldred, 2005; Yunus, 2010). Regardless of success or failure in terms of
earned income, however, the entrepreneur feels convicted for religious reasons of identity or
integration, and thus committed to act and any revenue is considered a relative gain. Thus, we
believe sensemaking, identity, and boundary mechanisms could serve as theoretical foundations
for research on religion and entrepreneurship regarding questions:
Why does an integration strategy encourage or prohibit the desirability and feasibility of
initiating entrepreneurial action?
How does an entrepreneur engage in religious sensegiving to other stakeholders to make
entrepreneurial action more desirable and feasible?
Under what conditions does a religious component of a founder’s or organization’s identity
attract or repel necessary resources?
In what ways does a collective identity integrating religion and entrepreneurship make
entrepreneurial action more (less) desirable and feasible?
How do push factors, such as misalignment of values or ethical concerns with an
organization, motivate individuals to pursue entrepreneurial action?
3.2.3 Religion and determining feedback for the continuance of entrepreneurial action
Initiation of entrepreneurial action is only the beginning of what is usually a long and arduous
entrepreneurial journey (McMullen and Dimov, 2013). As time passes, the information about
the continuing feasibility and desirability of projects changes as a function of learning about both
the entrepreneurial tasks and environment (McMullen and Kier, 2016). Religion can significantly
influence whether and how information is processed that would affect whether entrepreneurial
opportunities continue to be deemed feasible and desirable. In a sense, the components of
perceived feasibility (as belief or expectancy) and perceived desirability (as desire or value) of
entrepreneurial action parallel the choice to get married or to become a convert. Just as the
marriage ceremony or baptism is merely the beginning of a long-term relationship, so too is the
initiation of entrepreneurial action. Unless the opportunity is identified and exploited
immediately, time will pass between initiation and culmination of entrepreneurial action such
that circumstances can and will change. Thus, entrepreneurial action is informed by a concept of
dynamic intent that consists of more than choice (McMullen and Dimov, 2013). This dynamic
intent consists of choice plus commitment over time, and religion may play a significant role in
allocating attention toward or away from the choice to commit is still valid given changing
circumstances (McMullen and Kier, 2016).
Religion is likely to contribute to the continuance entrepreneurial action for a host of reasons.
First, the problem being addressed may be one of religious conviction, such that interpretation of
a situation as a problem depends significantly on religious sensemaking and would not otherwise
be salient without religion. Second, one may feel called to engage in entrepreneurial action, and,
as described above, this call may be understood to mean “at any cost” due to the salient nature of
the religious identity, thereby reducing the entrepreneur’s sensitivity to changing conditions.
This faith-infused perseverance is evident in research demonstrating that those who believe
themselves to be called to their work remain committed to the organization despite low levels of
job satisfaction (Neubert and Halbesleben, 2015). Third, religion may inform how “integrated”
entrepreneurs are in fulfilling their promises or vows and maintaining their long-term
commitments. For instance, conscious choice and commitment to religious development are
tenets of Evangelical Christianity. If these tenets are practiced in the religious sphere of one’s
life, their influence might be expected to spillover into one’s dealings in business. To the degree
that emphasis is on maintaining commitments, limited attention is more likely to be allocated
toward information about how to continue entrepreneurial action, and thus away from
information that might suggest that abandonment or replacement of the goal is merited. If so,
highly religious individuals may be more susceptible to escalation of commitment from an
ideological bias to follow through on their vows or promises even when they should be re-
evaluating the continuing appropriateness of commitments made under different circumstances.
This leads to our final set of research questions:
How and why does religious identification of entrepreneurs and investors explain escalation
of commitment to underperforming ventures?
How does an integrated strategy contribute to beneficial and harmful continuance of
How do religious sensegiving by entrepreneurs and accelerators contribute to continuance of
Under what conditions does sensemaking of religion in the entrepreneurial venture lead to
increased passion and or commitment?
3.3 Joining Broader Conversations in Entrepreneurship Research
We believe the theoretical perspectives and research questions above also shed light on
the ways that considering religion can contribute to broader conversations happening in the
entrepreneurship literature. First, as developed, there is clear relevance to theory on
entrepreneurial as action and process (Aldrich and Ruef, 2018; McMullen and Shepherd, 2006).
Entrepreneurial beliefs, processes, and actions are importantly shaped by religious knowledge
and motivation. Recent work exploring passion and compassion (Cardon et al., 2009; Miller et
al., 2012; Murnieks et al., 2014) and prosocial motivation (Conger, 2012; Fauchart and Gruber,
2011; Hockerts, 2017; Miller et al., 2012; Wry and York, 2017) are all linked to the broader
discussion of entrepreneurial action, process, and opportunity. Religion has a clear personal
importance to the individual, and both the content and outcome of religious practices are central
to motivation and behavior. Furthermore, most religious belief systems’ explicit recognition of a
connection with or duty to others links to compassion and prosocial motivation (Tracey, 2012).
The focal theoretical perspectives we link to religion in entrepreneurship – identity,
sensemaking, and boundary theories – also map directly to the growing focus on identity and
social embeddedness as core concepts in entrepreneurial theory (Gruber and MacMillan, 2017).
Consistent with the tenants of pragmatism (Dewey, 1938; James, 1907) and symbolic
interactionism (Mead, 1938; Blumer, 1962; Stryker, 1968; 1980), this perspective focuses on
entrepreneurship as a process of self-expressive interaction between the entrepreneur and their
social context (Conger et al., 2018; Sarasvathy, 2001; Shepherd, 2015, Venkataraman et al.,
2012). Entrepreneurship may be largely about meaning-making (Garud and Giuliani, 2013)
through intersubjective design of entrepreneurial “artifacts” – e.g. new opportunities, products,
and organizations (Sarasvathy, 2003; Venkatarman et al., 2012). A connection to religious
organizing is clear since the practice religion is predominantly enacted in the context of a
religious community and venturing in the context of a business community. Moreover, since
questions of integration/segmentation are central to religion and entrepreneurship, enactment and
sensemaking of religion through in interaction with others is particularly important. Finally, for
most, religion is a life-long journey toward its deeper expression, manifest as growth in
faithfulness of practice and meanings. Much can be learned by looking at how these religious
processes and ‘artifacts’ relate to the design of entrepreneurial artifacts.
Religion is one of the most central topics to people all over the world (Tracey, 2012). Its
ubiquity and potential contribution as an alternative explanation lead us to suggest that the
integration of religion and entrepreneurship has promise to shine light on fundamental questions
in the field of entrepreneurship. Leading scholars contend entrepreneurship has achieved
legitimacy but substantial progress and cutting-edge research will require entrepreneurship
scholars “to get out of our comfort zones and be entrepreneurial as researchers” (Lumpkin, 2011:
6), engaging in less incremental and more transformational research to generate new questions
and insights (Baker and Welter, 2017; Shepherd, 2015). We believe the integration of religion
and entrepreneurship provides one such avenue and without it we will continue to have an
incomplete understanding of the science of entrepreneurship (Chan-Searfin et al., 2013) and limit
the trailblazing potential of the field of entrepreneurship (Shepherd and Patzelt, 2017).
Review of Articles on Faith and Entrepreneurship in Mainstream Business Journals
Dodd and Seaman
Theory & Practice
Tests relationship between level of entrepreneurship and
religious belief among British entrepreneurs. Finds no
significant differences in religious propensity between
entrepreneurs and other professionals.
Journal of Business
Draws on Catholic social tradition to reconceptualize
entrepreneurial success through a framework of virtue
rather than solely financial outcomes.
Explores how female entrepreneurs negotiate their
Muslim, gender, and ethnic identities to gain agency.
Pearce, Fritz, and
Theory & Practice
Tests and finds positive relationship between
entrepreneurial orientation and performance in nonprofit
Identifies entrepreneurship as a promising area for
research on religion and organization. Suggests focus on
religious motivation in social entrepreneurship, the
entrepreneurial creation of new religious
organizations/movements, and corporate entrepreneurship
in existing religious organizations.
Journal of Business
Introduces entrepreneurship from an Islamic perspective
based on three interconnected pillars: the entrepreneurial,
socio-economic/ethical, and religio-spiritual.
and Block (2015)
Journal of Business
Tests country-level effects of the influence of Christian
religion on driving entrepreneurship by looking at
religion’s shaping of national culture (cognitive,
normative, and regulative aspects) and its knowledge
Theory & Practice
Tests and finds positive relationship between spiritual
capital – resources stemming from religion – and
business innovation and performance among microcredit
Argues for incorporation of entrepreneurship researchers’
personal faith beliefs and experiences to inform their
theorizing and interpretation of the entrepreneurial
phenomena they study.
Our review included all journals listed in the Financial Times 50 and Academy of Management Journals. See Balog et al., 2014
for a review of the broader social science literature.
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