The Spirituality in Business Movement -- Martin E. Marty

Expect both praise and criticism to grow as "spirituality" increasingly finds its home in management seminars and corporate policy and practice

By Martin E. Marty|May 14, 1999

Expect both praise and criticism to grow as "spirituality" increasingly finds its home in management seminars and corporate policy and practice. At least weekly some publication or other will report on the trend to incorporate the theme and some practices into the office or weekend retreat centers used by companies.

Last week it was U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT (May 3) that featured the topic in a story by Marci McDonald. "Spirituality is the latest corporate buzzword," reads the tagline of the article "Shush. The Guy in the Cubicle Is Meditating." McDonald capably reports on some breakthroughs. When word came from Australia that the titan McKinsey and Co. was advancing the cause, others had to take notice.

McDonald chronicles other corporate involvements with spirituality, referring to or citing the American Management Association, the World Economic Forum, the International Conference on Business and Consciousness, and the Center for Spirit at Work. They all get mentioned as promoters of the "body, mind, and soul" triad in the workplace. Ms. McDonald further mentions titles of books on workplace spirituality, titles that include words such as Jesus and Tao, words that connote explicit religious expression.

Whoever has chided commerce for being utterly secularized has to take notice and do some reappraising. Advocates point to increased morale and productivity. Including spirituality in the mix, reports McDonald, is a good recruitment device for a new generation.

Now the critical agenda forms. Can companies coerce employees to engage in spiritual practices or quietly and implicitly penalize those who won't meditate or engage in breathing exercises?

Fundamentalists some years ago fought the introduction of meditation into public schools, sensing that it was accompanied by or undergirded with religious structures--mainly of Hindu and Buddhist sorts. If these had their place, could schools--and now, by extension, should companies--also use techniques associated with Judaism, Christianity, and other Western faiths? Would this use raise flags?

Will spirituality remain spirituality if it is a tool for recruiting, an instrument for boosting efficiency, one more market item?

If and insofar as the spirituality-in-business movement has an explicitly religious tinge, will it qualify for tax-exemption? Watch for action on the church-state front.

Listen to born-again radio and you will hear many criticisms from people who claim to have been "forced" through the spirituality process by their companies and found it to be at war with their religion. Their complaints will grow as the "buzzword" buzzes ever more loudly.

A question: whatever happened to definitions of America as being simply secular? We might answer that--after meditating about it.