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SHSS-Conference: The religious side of money

Creative learning, money and religion as well as the reorientation of management training: These and other subject matters were the object of discussion over the course of two days by social sciences and humanities students at the University of St. Gallen (HSG). At the University of St. Gallen, the inclusion of seemingly unrelated areas such as psychology, philosophy and history are part and parcel of the set programme for all students.

14 October 2019. "Our Faculty of Cultural Studies, Humanities and increasingly also Social Sciences is a special case here at the University of St. Gallen," said Yvette Sanchez, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS-HSG), when opening the two-day SHSS Conference on Friday entitled "What was, what is, what will be?". The SHSS, however, is no outsider at the University of St. Gallen, said Sanchez. "Rather, it is a factor that makes HSG as a whole more diverse and, as a result, a stronger force."

At HSG, the SHSS teaches and researches in specialist areas such as philosophy, psychology, sociology, business ethics, cultural studies and media sciences. The School had invited attendees to the conference to present and discuss current projects and developments. On the second day of the public conference, SHSS researchers also presented new teaching formats, creative forms of teaching and its contextual studies at the University of St. Gallen (HSG).

This is the responsibility of the SHSS, and all HSG students have to choose at least a quarter of their course content from these course programmes. "The variety of the contextual studies reflects the multifaceted nature of the SHSS," said Sanchez, who switched between English and German in her speech due to the international nature of the audience in the co-working space "The Co" at HSG.

The theology of money

Yvette Sanchez proclaimed Christina von Braun's stand for interdisciplinary work in humanities as a researcher, author and film maker. The emeritus professor for cultural theory at the Humboldt University in Berlin gave a lecture entitled "The human body as the modern gold standard". She surprised the audience with the theory that since ancient times, money has been authenticated by human sacrifice. "Circulating money is an abstract concept and today it is worth more than existing material assets. That’s why society has to constantly renew its faith in money," according to von Braun.

It seems this theological justification of money started as a kind of bartering between people and their gods: "People presented offerings in the temples in the hope that in return they would be fruitful, both economically and socially. The offerings were representative animals, some of which wore medals adorned with human images. They later developed into coins depicting illustrations of sacrificed animals.

Money is also democratising

"In today’s economic system, the weakest often become the money system’s sacrifice," said von Braun. As an example, she cited speculation with food, affecting poor people in the global south. Von Braun was at the same time at pains to point out that she did not want to demonise money: "It also has a great democratic effect. Everyone can essentially acquire it and circulate it."

The role of money has now become so central that it can even conceive children, continued von Braun. She made reference to modern reproduction medicine and gene technology, where, if you pay large sums of money, people can be conceived and genetically modified. "The highest court in the USA has decided that a surrogate mother is no longer the lawful owner of her child; rather the paying customer is." So, money can reproduce children and, once again, is authenticated through its existence. Following the fascinating lecture, there was heated debate about von Braun’s theories in the audience.

Knowledge for the managers of the future

Finally, the HSG cultural scientist Jörg Metelmann presented one of his and Ulrike Landfester’s recently published studies examining the role of humanities and social sciences in multiple business schools. To do this, the researchers interviewed 84 representatives of eight European and Asian business schools that incorporate humanities and social sciences into their management training. "The findings show that humanities and social sciences include what future managers need to help overcome the challenges of the 21st century," said Metelmann. The HSG has been applying this integrated thinking for years now and that is one of its unique selling points.

Text: Urs-Peter Zwingli

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