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Forest road August 18, 2015  by Vahid Dejwakh

How I Developed an Entrepreneurial Mindset (Part 1)
My process of going from majoring in Religious Studies to starting a company
Last updated September 1, 2015 at 4:28 PM.   [Comments]


I majored in Religious Studies in college. Not exactly the best degree to help you navigate through the business world of product development and deliverables, sales and marketing, accounting and finance, and organizational structure and management.

To further complicate things, most people equate religious studies with theology. They imagine that the following picture (to the right) is pretty much how I spent my college years: reading the holy word while inside a church or temple, chanting sacred verses to discover how to incur the blessings of the Lord, and discussing such pressingly important topics as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

But theology and religious studies are of course two very different fields. Theology is the study of God: thinking and talking about the nature of God, as best as we can, based on the written scripture. Religious studies, on the other hand, is the study of man: more specifically, the study of why man is religious. While theology starts with the premise that there is a God and that it's in man's interest to have a relationship with God, religious studies, on the other hand, merely says, "Religion plays an important part in man's personal life, and in society. Let's find out how and why, and what both answers mean for society and humanity." Theology looks at religion from an insider's perspective; religious studies does so primarily from an outsider's perspective.

Although both theology and religious studies make use of history, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and even the law, their ends are different: theology's ultimate goal is to discover and frame God's will, and then how best to align society to God's will, while religious studies adopts these disciplines as tools with which to dissect and understand man's relationship with the divine--or, perhaps more correctly, man's relationship with his perception of the divine. One can be a student of both theology and religious studies--and indeed many do exactly that--because they are not mutually exclusive and, to the contrary, sometimes provide insights into each other.

Finally, the two are fundamentally different in their process. While theology is constructive in the sense that it builds up a worldview and structure for meaning, purpose, and human activity, religious studies, as a liberal arts discipline, is exactly the opposite and is highly deconstructive in the sense that it tries to understand religious man, in a way, through reverse engineering theologies and religious societies. Religious studies, then, is a form of systems thinking, because it treats religions as systems, each with many parts.

By now you are probably seeing where this long-winded discussion is going.

To the extent that any organization and business is a system comprised of many distinct elements and dynamics, and to the extent that comparing and contrasting systems can be done meaningfully and usefully, the tools I used to dissect religion and religious man can also be used to dissect not just companies, markets, and organizations, but also problems, challenges, and solutions. Problems--whether they are social, corporate, or market-based--often are complex and multilayered, indeed to the extent that they might be categorized as being systemic. Being able to think in terms of processes, and to break down problems into several relatively isolated dynamics, is very useful even in business.

My first foray into entrepreneurship began when, as a student majoring in religious studies, I also was in the inaugural class of the Pat Tillman Foundation's Leadership Through Action program.

This program was funded by the Pat Tillman Foundation at the fallen Army Ranger (and ex football player) Pat Tillman's alma mater (the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University), and sought to instill a new generation of leaders with the same values that Pat Tillman had: introspection, resolve, courage, healthy skepticism, and commitment to service.

Part 2 will address how this program pushed me to leadership positions in college, and eventually to the world of business.

> Part 2



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