RD: Spirits of Enterprise

Darren Grem

James Lorusso -- a Ph.D. candidate in American religious cultures at Emory -- has a new post at Religion Dispatches on the "spirituality at work" movement and its relationship to free market capitalism.  He writes:

We might think of the workplace as an indisputably secular space, but over the last two decades, interest in what’s become known as “workplace spirituality” has grown from a fragmented smattering of unorthodox entrepreneurs and management gurus into a full-fledged movement.

Bringing spirituality into the culture of business, advocates believe, will not only enhance the quality of individual working lives, but also drastically alter the broader conduct of business across the planet.

Aiming at nothing less than a wholesale change in human consciousness, workplace spirituality has the trappings of a full-fledged religious movement—but whose religion? And what’s behind it?

The first round of scholarship on this movement -- David Miller's God at Work and Lake Lambert III's Spirituality, Inc. -- tended to be overly close to the sources.  Both tried to relate what the movement was about without being too critical of it.  Whether this was intentional or not is debatable.  Miller has a whole initiative at Princeton devoted to studying workplace spirituality and it certainly seems like he's in favor of it as a kind of "better" way to do business.  Lambert III's book likewise deems workplace spirituality as a type of "religious" experience worth serious consideration by scholars, but as Brittany Shoot's review of the book for RD noted, "capitalism [in Lambert III's treatment] is not examined as a potentially harmful system to some group of workers down the line."

Lorusso is a part of the second round of scholarship on this movement, one that -- as Dan Williams points out -- has been led by historical inquiries into evangelical contributions to contemporary corporatism.  In general, those in the second round are more critical, arguing that, at best, spirituality provides a kind of "psychological wage" for those working for self-described spiritual companies.  At worst, it fosters spirituality onto people's workaday life or provides a thinly-veiled cover for abuse.  Lorusso's forthcoming dissertation will undoubtedly add to this scholarship by redirecting our attention toward the spiritual capitalists and capitalism that Lambert III studied, albeit with a more critical lens and, hopefully, with an eye toward understanding religious/spiritual constructions, appropriations, and inconsistencies  inside companies as often dynamic and debated.