Approaches to the Study of

Spiritual Capitalism

Intro to book on Spirituality and Business

by Biberman and Whitty, University of Scranton Press

March, 2000

David M. Boje


"Spiritual capitalism" is all the rage, but unless rigorous research, theory, and teaching takes place, it will fade. Between 1992 and 1999, Journal of Organizational Change Management (JOCM) alone published 68 articles that mention spirituality, of which 36 made it their focus (beginning with Bullis & Glaser, 1992). Two of the special issues on spirit at work are included in this anthology. We are all grateful to MCB publishers for their support this emerging field. In this preface, I would like to briefly list the paradigms and metaphors being applied in these issues and this anthology to the study of spiritual capitalism as affirmative or skeptical.

Let me begin with a 1997 JOCM article by Jerry Biberman and Michael Whitty in which they asserted that various writers were presenting an emergent postmodern management paradigm that emphasizes spiritual principles and practices and would become more widespread each year. They add "that the human relations movement, organization development, and its attendant concepts developed as a reaction to the prevailing modernist paradigm, and existed within it, rather than trying to create a new paradigm." The modernist paradigm has both a "humanist" and "managerialist" focus. Managerialists espouse a functionalist and enlightenment worldview in which even spirituality has its function in making business more profitable. There are other paradigms from which writers look to indigenous spiritual practices to revitalize ecology to erect "spiritual capitalism" in place of predatory capitalism enterprise (Karliner & Karliner ; Mokhiber & Weissman, 1999). Steingard and Fitzgibbons (1995) for example argue that global capitalism is a spiritually flawed discourse that is not ecologically sustainable. Butts (1997) is outraged at the selfishness, greed, and mean-spirited, winner-take-all scapegoating (class warfare) inflicted on the working class and other disfranchised social groups. And, Walck (1995) is cautious about spirituality, reminding us that our global discourse ignores the "spirituality" of the poor. Christian spirituality played a major role in native genocide. It therefore makes sense to look at alternative paradigms to see both the good and evil of any spirituality movement. What I would like to do is arrange several of the paradigms mentioned by these JOCM authors into a map (see Figure One).


Figure One: Some Paradigms of Spiritual Capitalism

Six of the many paradigms in the study of spiritual capitalism are paired as follows: affirmative and skeptical postmodern, fundamentalist and ecological, and managerialist and humanist (See Figure One). Each offers different metaphors to spirit. To some spirit is the metaphor of love, festival, transcendence, and self-development (Marcic, 1997). But to other paradigms, spirit is the metaphor of "spectacle," the "psychic prison" and the "instrument of domination" or the privileging of rich over poor class in Herbert Spencer's "Social Darwinism." Höpfl (1994), for example contends that organizations imitate religious forms and invoke even the 'Holy Spirit" to exploit through demands for submission, obedience and control. She adds "management evangelists and various other prophets of management have engaged in an unreflective or opportunistic rhetoric of change management." Arnott (1999) sees Southwest airlines, Nordstrom and 3M as cultist organizations enacting insidious emotional attitudes about devotion to job, charismatic leader, and company that creates a dangerous blurring of "who I am" with "what I do" an emotional, now spirit allegiance to the corporation--at the expense of your private life, family, and community.

For the affirmative postmodernists, spirit is simply "love" and "sense making" at work. For the skeptical postmodernists, spirit can be a form of "psychic prison" or an "instrument of domination" where questioning authority is a lack of spirit. For the managerialists spirit is a form of "control," a way to increase "performativity" through greater commitment, and something "charismatic leaders" do with their sense of vision and mission. To the ecologist, spirit is the "Gaia," the living nature of Mother earth and the cosmos. JOCM writers have posited a relation between environment and the spiritual value of the land as well as the spiritual, not just economic needs of citizens (Bullis & Glaser, 1992; Stead & Stead, 1994: Upadhyaya, 1995). Christa Walck (1996) for example writes about organizations being seen through the metaphor of "spiritual places." However to the religious fundamentalist, spirit is the promise of the "after life," or next life and to some it is still a very "Social Darwinian" notion of the blessedness of being born rich and the curse of the poor threatens the survival of the human species. Various metaphors are popular in and between these six paradigms (e.g. spectacle, culture, transcendental). Spirit is way to reinvigorate "culture" with a more enlightened capitalism for the affirmative postmodernists. And "culture" is a way to invoke higher levels of functional performance, control and leadership for the managerialist paradigm. Between affirmative postmodernist and ecologist paradigms is the sustainability movement. And between the humanist and ecologist paradigms is "transcendental" and "festival" metaphors of spirit. And between the skeptical postmodernist and fundamentalist paradigms are the metaphors of spectacle and religious fetish. My point in displaying this array of spirit metaphors and paradigms is to give the reader some idea of the many worldviews that are being applied in the study of spirit in the workplace and in the theater of global capitalism. With this map, I can now say something about the various writings on spirit in JOCM and in this anthology.

This book does something important that the mushrooming lists of books on spiritual capitalism are not doing. That is, Gerald Biberman and Mike Whitty have brought together a rich array of paradigms and metaphors on spiritual capitalism.

Of all the metaphors in Figure 1, the "culture" approach to spirituality gets the most play in 1999. Porth and McCall (1999), for example, are almost affirmatively postmodern in seeing some convergence and divergence between the learning organization culture model and traditional spiritual understandings of employees and organizations. King and Nicol (1999) argue a functionalist paradigm in that management can recognize the potential for mutual benefit in the nexus of the individual’s spiritual odyssey and the overall health of the organization culture. Milliman, Ferguson, Trickett and Condemi (1999) look at the cultural spirit of Southwest Airlines culture. In the age of downsizing, Southwest for example, announced the Love Airline has a no layoffs policy and integrated what the authors see as spiritual values throughout the corporate culture. Fraya Wagner-Marsh and James Conley (1999) see the bold spiritual corporate culture writers surfing the fourth-wave of Peter Vaill's (1989) permanent white water. But Burack (1999), to me, like so many writers of the culture metaphor, seeks to reinscribe Theory Y and Z, Maslow, corporate culture and everything else within spirituality. The danger is spirit becomes a tool for longer hours and compliance.

After culture, the humanist position is prominent. Biberman, Whitty, and Robbins (1999) look at the implications of the Wizard of Oz story for spiritual transformation. Kriger and Hanson (1999) quest with appreciative inquiry for the value paradigm, positing that a truly healthy organizations can overcome the spiritual dis-ease of fanaticism, isolation, separation, and illusion by letting go of delusions and aspiring to enact what is highest and most uplifting to the "human spirit."

While there is much that is affirmative and appreciative in the functionalist, managerialist, ecological, and humanist approaches to spiritual capitalism, there are paradigms that are critical of the nouveau spirituality-based philosophies of business. In particular the articles of JOCM, as well as other journals, new books, and teaching seminars may offer the aura of spiritual transformation of work and society, while masking the material conditions and three important needs and challenges for spiritual capitalism writers: research, context, and teaching.

First, there is a need for more basic research (I recommend ethnographic as well as additional self-reflective) before we integrate spirituality with other popular consulting models. Neal, Lichtenstein, and Banner (1999) assert that spirituality can transform and transcend the individual, organization, and society. They posit that incorporating spirituality into our theorizing can improve our explanations. Freshman (1999) is a good example of beginning to do this type of needed research. She published the results of an exploratory content analysis of various uses and definitions of the word spirituality and used the software program, AtlasTI to assist with coding functions and to help draw graphic networks of relationships between her codes. She suggested that more research is needed on the community of scholars who are using the term "spirituality" in so many varied ways. This research is exceedingly rare. Another example is Kaplan (1995) who did a study of the spiritual journey of several women consultants. Other research takes a more self-reflective approach to method and theory. Konz and Ryan (1999) did a study of the mission statements of the 28 US Jesuit universities and revealed that maintaining an organizational spirituality is no easy task. They argue that both individuals and organizations have spirituality and that "it is easier to maintain the established spirituality of an organization than it is to change an organization’s spirituality. At the same time, it is not easy to maintain an organization’s spirituality." And besides content and empirical studies, there are important self-reflective studies begun in JOCM. Louis (1994), for example, studied Quaker spiritual practices and was self-reflective of her own Quaker practices. Spirit Hawk (1994), the collaborative collective writing voices of Susan M. Schor, Kathleen Kane, and Cindy Lindsay is, as Barrett (1996) comments "a courageous, revealing exploration into personal transformation and social change." Like Louis, Spirit Hawk uses self-reflection to explore and theorize "spiritual deprivation," "feeling from a spiritual center," listening to the "voice of spirit," loosing one's "spiritual connection" and bringing spiritual insight and connection into one's daily work life. Spirit Hawk succeeded in being self-reflective and cautious. Finally, in this anthology, Butts (1999) speaks to the theory-building issues, " Spirituality at work is an idea of revolutionary potential that requires more clarity and theoretical understanding."

Second, we need to understand the "context," why spiritual capitalism is becoming so popular in particular societies. Cavanagh (1999), in my view, takes a refreshingly critical view of the context of the spirituality movement. He approaches with the skepticism of the critical postmodernist. He see spirituality growing in emphasis as a backlash to the downsizing craze (as did Burack, 1999), as a function of the number of 1960s baby-boomers who are now writing, and also our imminent change to a new millenium. Cavanagh is skeptical about mixing the New Age movement in spirituality with the good old time religions. And he questions how "both Evangelical Christianity and the spirituality in business movements" legitimate a "person-centered individualism." And given the diversity of spiritual practices, from humanist, fundamentalist, to New Age ecologist in a complex organization, there can be hegemonic consequences as some spiritual practices gain power in the workplace over others. Tischler (1999), using a humanist paradigm, also is attentive to context. He sees the soaring interest in spirituality in business as a phenomenon explainable by Maslow's hierarchy of needs, where self-actualization is a luxury that U.S. and Euro economies can enjoy while most of the world is caught up in the need to survive. Similarly, Burack (1999), who also embraces Maslow, sees the spirituality movement as a backlash to what he terms the "economic-technological imperative" of downsizing and reengineering. More research in this area would help us understand the political and economic context.

Third, there is a need to raise questions about teaching spirituality in the Business College. Waddock (1999), for example argues that " if we hope to influence teaching, scholarship, and practice, and if community is one of the elements on the subjective side of life that reflects spirit, then we need to make it acceptable in our teaching to build small communities." This is easier said than done.

Delbecq (1999) is among a legion of theorists turned spiritualists. He grounds his view of spirituality in visible action. His definition of spirituality embeds service in a test: "My test of authenticity is the extent to which progress in the spirit of journey manifests itself in loving and compassionate service." Yet if we hold up the history of capitalism to this same test, I am not sure we would pass. When spirit and service learning are connected, other questions arise.

For example, Cavanagh (1999) suggests, the service-learning movement, the pet project of the year 2000 Academy, is happening with a missionary zeal that will surely lead to backlash as people see parallels to religious and service missions. Will students understand why they are being sent on such missions. We need research on how to teach spirituality and service in non-religious institutions. For teaching spirituality is a bit easier in Jesuit and other religious universities with an explicitly spiritual component to their missions than in public universities (I can say this from experience).

In conclusion I am asking for more rigor in the way we theorize, research, and teach spirituality, lest we become a passing fad and do more harm than good. I am excited that JOCM was among the first journal to take spirituality seriously and prouder still to say that collectively this anthology represents a healthy debate among the paradigms and metaphors in Figure One. As Biberman, Whitey, and Robbins (1999) remind us, "without spirituality the normative purpose of business is profit." Yet spirituality could bring balance to an otherwise predatory capitalism. Namasté!

References not in the 1999 JOCM issues

Arnott, Dave

1999 Corporate Cults: The Insidious Lure of the All-Consuming Organization. AMACOM.

Barrett, Frank J.

1995 "Finding voice within the gender order." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 08:6: 8-15;

Biberman, Jerry & Michael Whitty

1997 "A postmodern spiritual future for work." Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 10, # 2: 130-138.

Bullis, Connie & Hollis Glaser

1992 "Bureaucratic Discourse and the Goddess: Towards an Ecofeminist Critique and Rearticulation." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 05:2.

Butts, Dan

1997 "Joblessness, pain, power, pathology and promise." Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 10, #2: 111-129.

Höpfl, Heather

1994 "The Paradoxical Gravity of Planned Organizational Change." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 07:5 1994: 20-31.

Kaplan, Kathy L.

1995 "Women's voices in organizational development: questions, stories, and implications." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 08:1: 52-80

Louis, Meryl Reis

1994 "In the Manner of Friends: Learnings from Quaker Practice for Organizational Renewal." Special Issue, "Spirituality in Organizations." Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 7, #1: 42-60.

Marcic, D.

1997 Managing with the Wisdom of Love: Uncovering Virtue in People and Organizations, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Spirit Hawk

1995 "Three women's stories of feeling, reflection, voice and nurturance: from life to consulting." Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 8 Issue 6: 39-57 - Gender and Voices Special Issue

Stead, W. Edward & Jean Garner Stead

1994 "Can Humankind Change the Economic Myth? Paradigm Shifts Necessary for Ecologically Sustainable Business." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 07:4: 15-31

Steingard, David S. & Dale E. Fitzgibbons

1995 "Challenging the juggernaut of globalization: a manifesto for academic praxis." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 08:4: 30-54

Upadhyaya, Punya

1995 "The sacred, the erotic and the ecological: the politics of transformative global discourses." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 08:5: 33-59

Walck, Christa L.

1995 "Global ideals, local realities: the development project and missionary management in Russia." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 08:4: 69-84

Walck, Christa L.

1996 "Organizations as places: a metaphor for change." Journal of Organizational Change Management; 09:6:26-40.

Weber, Max (Darth)

1958 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons.