Marketing God: A Critical Inquiry into Spirituality in the Workplace Fred Milacci and Sharon L. Howell The Pennsylvania State University, USA Abstract: This paper examines the way spirituality is co-opted and commodified to serve the interests of the marketplace from a faith-based perspective. Introduction We have noticed the increased frequency of the language of spirituality in both management and adult education literature. Particularly disconcerting is the way spirituality is used, or from our perspective, misused. Following the work of Cox (1999) and Frank (2000), this study explores the way spirituality is co-opted and commodified to serve the interests of the marketplace. We examine the concept of spirituality as it is applied in the workplace, locating the discourse of spirituality within the context of management theory, human resource development, and organizational learning. Additionally, the research looks at spirituality from the perspective of religious activists and is grounded in the work of critical theological and religious studies. The paper concludes with a discussion of why spirituality cannot be divorced from its origins within the various religious traditions and why any discussion of spirituality and work must be connected to the work of critical theological and religious scholars. Failure to do so leads to a conception of spirituality that becomes part of a process that attempts to shape human beings to “fit” into the marketplace rather than one that sees them as true spiritual beings. Theoretical Orientation and Research Design Though we locate ourselves within Christianity, this study incorporates work from a multiplicity of religious traditions. Theoretically, this paper is grounded in critical religious and theological perspectives (Lerner, 2000; Wallis, 2000; Wilber, 1998), suggesting that concepts such as "soul" and "spirituality" in the workplace are used by business to further economic goals by co-opting the language of religion on an as-needed basis. One critic notes (Moskovitz, 1997) that ". . . soul is only the language of business when things are going well." Critical religious and theological scholars argue that advocates of "spirituality in the workplace" attempt to secularize and individualize spirituality in a way that removes the ideas of the sacred and profound, replacing them with a spirituality that is connected to economic productivity and the market. In addition, we reviewed books from business and Human Resource Development (HRD) literature on spirituality (e.g., Bolman & Deal, 2001; Conger, 1994; Covey, 1989). We also identified authors within the field of adult education who deliberately connect their adult education practice with notions of spirituality (e.g., Dirkx, 1997; English & Gillen, 2000; Fenwick & Lange, 1998; Schauffelle & Baptiste, 2000; Tisdell, 2000). We address the following questions: 1) How is spirituality defined and discussed in the literature? 2) What socio-political and ideological messages about spirituality are encoded in the texts? 3) What epistemological elements, messages, patterns, and themes are embedded in the texts? Discussion Fenwick and Lange (1998) initiated the discussion on the movement of HRD from skillsbased training and career development into the manipulative uses of spirituality in the workplace. Our research extends this analysis into the socio-economic implications that enable broader and
subtler means of worker control. We start with an analysis of spirituality in business and HRD literature followed by a discussion of the religious, theological and etymological foundations of spirituality. Then we link our findings with the adult education literature on spirituality. Spirituality in Business and HRD We categorize business and HRD texts on spirituality and work by 1) a focus on individuals in organizations with an implicit spiritual theme; 2) a focus on individuals in organizations with an explicit spiritual theme; and 3) a...
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