Boothies talk about being religious at business school

Krithika Narayan1-2.jpg

By Krithika Narayan, Class of 2020

Last week, with about 50 other Boothies, attended the World Religion Forum – a panel of students discussing their religion in an attempt to widen our perspectives and help people talk about a usually uncomfortable subject. I don’t consider myself a religious or spiritual person. My family generally practices Hinduism, and while I go along with the rituals, I don’t think too deeply about the meanings or implications behind these, and it doesn’t form much of my identity. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the panel, but there were a few people on it that I knew well. I wanted to be supportive, learn something about my classmates and maybe about a religion other than mine. The panelists were (in order):

  • Simon Tiu – Mormonism

  • Haroun Dada – Islam

  • Harluxsh Gill – Sikhism

  • Nakul Gupta – Hinduism

  • Jess Green – Judaism

  • Lily Glueck – Catholicism

  • Dustin Shang – Protestantism

The panelists discuss their experiences as Prof. Harry Davis poses questions from the audience

The panelists discuss their experiences as Prof. Harry Davis poses questions from the audience

We opened with a question about whether the panelists felt comfortable bringing religion into the workplace. The answers were surprisingly varied. While Lily noted that it was less difficult for her to talk about her faith as a white woman and Harluxsh said he was able to forget what he looked like in the workplace, Haroun contended that he often felt the need to hide parts of his identity. Given the historic lack of acceptance of several religions on the panel in traditional corporate structures, it was interesting to see how different the experiences could be. The location of the workplace also factored into this – Jess noted that her boss in Jacksonville had never met anyone Jewish before, which led to some tricky situations.

I found it fascinating how religion played a large role in the identities of the panelists, possibly because I’ve never considered it to be a large part of mine. This was especially interesting when parts of identities clashed – for instance, Simon noted that while his faith dictates not drinking tea (or alcohol or coffee), his Chinese heritage has tea as an integral part of cultural traditions. How does he reconcile these, especially when his chosen profession (Simon will be in investment banking this summer) necessitates networking over coffee/drinks? (Ans: He drinks hot chocolate.) Lily also commented on how the panel focused on being religious in the workplace, rather than diving deep into the theology of the different religions, discussing the comfort and solace she found in her faith in difficult times.

How can we be better allies? Haroun noted that visibly marginalized people were more often alienated, and it was worth making sure they felt comfortable. Jess and Dustin brought up the importance of understanding and education in dealing with religion. Jess also noted that it was important to be aware of the default. For instance, it would be great to not be forced to explain her faith while asking for leave during Jewish holidays. Being a more informed and empathetic manager would greatly help someone who was already sacrificing their time off to practice their religion. Further, Harluxsh reminded us that when treated with tolerance and understanding, even seemingly stupid questions become learning opportunities, rather than being uncomfortable or offensive.

Given continued horrific incidents against religious peoples, from the shooting in Poway’s synagogue to Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka as well as the continued persecution and alienation of religious minorities across the world, anything teaching tolerance is well worth experiencing. One of my goals for business school has been to practice empathy better, both personally and professionally, and I’m thankful for events like this that give me the opportunity to learn how to put this into practice.