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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 o
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  Marketing God: A Critical Inquiry into Spirituality in the Workplace Fred Milacci and Sharon L. HowellThe Pennsylvania State University, USA Abstract : This paper examines the way spirituality is co-opted and commodifiedto serve the interests of the marketplace from a faith-based perspective. Introduction We have noticed the increased frequency of the language of spirituality in bothmanagement and adult education literature. Particularly disconcerting is the way spirituality isused, or from our perspective, mis used. Following the work of Cox (1999) and Frank (2000), thisstudy explores the way spirituality is co-opted and commodified to serve the interests of themarketplace. We examine the concept of spirituality as it is applied in the workplace, locatingthe discourse of spirituality within the context of management theory, human resourcedevelopment, and organizational learning. Additionally, the research looks at spirituality fromthe perspective of religious activists and is grounded in the work of critical theological andreligious studies. The paper concludes with a discussion of why spirituality cannot be divorcedfrom its srcins within the various religious traditions and why any discussion of spirituality andwork must be connected to the work of critical theological and religious scholars. Failure to doso leads to a conception of spirituality that becomes part of a process that attempts to shapehuman 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 amultiplicity of religious traditions. Theoretically, this paper is grounded in critical religious andtheological perspectives (Lerner, 2000; Wallis, 2000; Wilber, 1998), suggesting that conceptssuch 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 andtheological scholars argue that advocates of spirituality in the workplace attempt to secularizeand 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. Inaddition, we reviewed books from business and Human Resource Development (HRD) literatureon spirituality (e.g., Bolman & Deal, 2001; Conger, 1994; Covey, 1989). We also identifiedauthors within the field of adult education who deliberately connect their adult education practicewith 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 isspirituality defined and discussed in the literature? 2) What socio-political and ideologicalmessages 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 skills- based 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 HRDliterature 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 individualsin organizations with an implicit  spiritual theme; 2) a focus on individuals in organizations withan explicit  spiritual theme; and 3) a focus on corporations as individuals with souls.  Focus on individuals in organizations with an implicit spiritual theme. The businessliterature is replete with examples of well known management gurus whose popular booksdisguise spiritual themes by focusing on individual responsibility in support of organizationaleffectiveness, learning and service (e.g., Covey, 1989; Peters, 1992; Senge, 1990). For example,Covey (1989) markets a model of “human effectiveness” (p. 23) that encourages a shift from a personality-centered paradigm focused on changing attitudes and behaviors to a principle-centered paradigm supporting the unchanging laws of nature and providing the “correct” mapsfor effective problem solving. The  spiritual  is one of four dimensions of renewal along with the physical, mental and social/emotional that creates a healthy balanced life. The  spiritual  providesthe core commitment to one’s value system. Covey espouses a value system centered on theindividual, an inward examination of self with responsibility for his [sic] own success or failure.In  Liberation Management  Tom Peters (1992) plays on a liberation theology, associatedwith radical social movements in support of the poor and disenfranchised, to encourage the useof workers’ spirituality for the benefit of organizational effectiveness and profit. He states that,[S]oul, my preferred term for rules, value, vision, philosophy, whatever. . . . Work asdialogue, shared minds, and the floating crap games of project teams (of insiders andoutsiders) ‘tied’ together by soul of some sort – that’s the mostly elusive “stuff” that addsup to “beyond hierarchy” (p. 472).In the secularized business world, vertical  soul  relates to traditional expertise while horizontal  soul  connects strategic business plans across function boundaries. Boeing finds its true  soul  withthe power of systems integration and MCI’s  soul  is discovered in systems and network integration (p. 333). Soul within this context refers to difference, changing how work isorganized. Soul is used to transform the unpleasant to the acceptable. An executive temp service,a self-identified “body shop,” is sold as “the way, the truth and the light,” providing jobassignments to over skilled executives, leaving them with more time to deal with the political.Soul then is about what is special and integral to the organization (p. 314). When the“subcontracting soul . . . [identifies] . . . the essence of business success . . . [as] . . . repeat business, then Skonie Corp does soul  for medical equipment manufacturers” (p. 328). Thesubcontractor of parking for Marriott Hotels does    soul work  providing good customer service.Ironically, the champion of outsourcing as the only way to keep workers focused oncontinuously creating efficiencies in both private and public sectors recognizes that the Navy provided him tough assignments and opportunities for learning to think and act outside the box.Senge (1990), another leadership guru, makes use of the spiritual by incorporating thelanguage of religion, for the most part implicitly, to place increased responsibility on theindividual. He defines personal mastery, one of the five disciplines of the learning organization,as “the ability to produce the results we want in life” (p. 142). Phrases like higher virtues,calling, fulfillment, and values are interspersed throughout the book. This gives the corporation aspiritual legitimacy that allows it to become one with its workers. Economic success is closely  aligned with the spiritual. Greater worker commitment translates to deeper worker responsibilityat work. Workers only seeking fulfillment outside of work limit their self-development since wespend the majority of our waking hours at work. Time spent at work is an unquestioned norm.Therefore the spiritual, an important factor from the perspective of the whole person, becomes acrucial element at work. This view shifts work from the instrumental to the  sacred  in asociological sense, not a religious sense. Purportedly, this means that workers and things arevalued in and of themselves at work. The relationship between the organization and the worker moves from a contractual relationship to a relationship based on a covenant. This allows thewhole worker, including the spiritual dimension, into the workplace. Most revealing is Senge’suse of a statement made by Henry Ford: “What we need . . . is reinforcement of the soul by theinvisible power waiting to be used . . . I know there are reservoirs of spiritual strength fromwhich we human beings thoughtlessly cut ourselves off . . . “ (Senge, 1990, p. 141).  Focus on individuals in organizations with explicit spiritual theme . Business literatureand more specifically HRD literature with explicit spiritual themes include Bolman and Deal(2000) and Conger (1994). Conger (1994) uses the trinity to connect inward and outwarddimensions of workers with spirituality defined as the inward force while the workplace andleadership are outward forces. The workplace replaces the so-called failed extended family,community and church/temple ties because there is no other place for workers to turn. Sinceother segments of their lifeworlds have failed, workers must turn to their workplace to findmeaning and support. By default the workplace becomes the location for the care of the soul  .Even more explicitly  Leading with Soul  (Bolman & Deal, 2001) attempts to move beyondthe main emphasis of management, a focus on body and mind, to draw attention to the neglectedand deeper spiritual needs of workers. As workers take on greater responsibilities at work withthe resulting requirement to take more responsibility for their self-development, the authorssuggest that corporate leaders develop an awareness of workers from a holistic perspective,including the needs of their souls. “Each of us has a special contribution to make if we canshoulder the personal and spiritual work needed to discover and take responsibility for our owngifts . . . Leading with soul returns us to ancient spiritual basics – reclaiming the enduring humancapacity that gives our lives passion and purpose” (p. 11-12).  Focus on corporations as individuals with souls . Texts of this genre include Cox andLiesse (1996) and Kahnweiler and Otte, (1997). These authors apply attributes of individuals tocorporations, giving legitimacy to the concept of soul within the context of the marketplace. Thelegal formulation of the corporation with the same rights as the individual has taken place over the past 150 years. The corporation is described in terms normally reserved for individuals. Thesearch for identity and authenticity within the context of the global market is linked to providingservice to the market. Leaders and corporations are one. “[T]hese leaders are marked by a hereand now contact with their own authenticity – their corporate soul” (Cox & Liesse, 1996, p. 29).Like Conger (1994), Cox and Liesse (1996) see the corporation as the replacement for organizedreligion and the government.Purposeful corporations have a critical role – and opportunity – in society today. As theauthority of organized religion and government is diminished, the corporation – theinterpersonal network committed to some mission in the service of customers,employees, shareholders and publics – becomes a more prominent building block of society (p.5).The third section of the book, Spreading the Gospel of Team Go als, talks about creating inner quality management  with workers caring for self like they care for the organization’s customers.  Soul helps you discover your purpose; purpose becomes an expression of soul; soul iscontact with authenticity. Resonance mean it’s all sort of self-fulfilling. It feeds on itself,gets bigger and stronger and richer and fuller, and; ultimately becomes a way of life – for you, your family, your organization and society (p. 53).  In Search of the Soul of HRD by Kahnweiler and Otte (1997) is a dialogue between twoHRD professionals about the need for personal and professional values to bring greater clarification of the beliefs of the field. The authors equate  soul  with myth as a form of storytelling that gives a sense of awe, presents an image of the universe, supports a social order, and“initiate[s] individuals into the order of realities of their own psyches” (p. 171). Soul is “the lifeforce of the individual” (p. 173). Moving back and forth between HRD as a field and their role ashelpers to individual workers, the authors “want to discover the myths capable of energizing anddirecting the field of HRD for the good of humanity and the earth” (p. 174). Recognizing theharmful affects of HRD in service to the unethical and materialists, they focus on the spiritualexperience of connectedness and the chance to help workers find fulfillment at work.  Religious, Theological, and Etymological Grounding of Spirituality The preceding analysis has shown that because of it’s disconnection from religiousmoorings, spirituality in management and HRD literatures lacks the moral and ethicalfoundations that we think are so desperately needed, not just in the workplace but in society as awhole. As Harvey Cox (1999) notes, “The lexicon of  The Wall Street Journal  and the businesssections of  Time and  Newsweek  turned out to bear a striking resemblance to Genesis, the Epistleto the Romans, and Saint Augustine’s City of God” (p. 18). The theology of business portraysthe meaning of human history as creation of wealth, sins as statism and regulations and salvationthrough free markets. The God of this new theology is The Market. Like the process theology of Alfred North Whitehead, “econologians’” of The Market attribute dislocations and pain to thetransition to a free market. While markets are not a recent invention, over the past two centuriesmarket has a new status, “. . . becoming more like the Yahweh of the Old Testament – not justone superior deity contending with others but the Supreme Deity, the only true God, whose reignmust now be universally accepted and who allows for no rivals” (p. 20). Reality is defined byThe Market in it’s divine capacity, with “. . .[the] human body . . . [becoming a] . . . sacred vesselto be converted into a commodity” (p. 20), a reverse transubstantiation.Failure to link the concept of spirituality to the broader socio-economic context leaves usopen to exploitation, to the use and manipulation of spirituality by a system and it’s aristocracyfor their own purposes. Finding little truths within management literature bogs us down in theminutia of our daily existence, less able to step back and understand the meaning of work as it is played out in the global marketplace. As we complain about our search for meaning within asupposedly meaningless work environment, we put on blinders so we do not have to deal withthe vast majority of the world’s population surviving on little or no work. Within this context  god talk  is a tool used for economic and marketing purposes. By failing to understand therhetoric and power at play, the ideology of this  god talk  is used as deflection, turning our focusinward toward our own self-development, wants and needs, while pushing us to lend our expertise to continually increase bottom-line profitability for the benefit of the few at the top.Words are taken to mean one thing within the context of our spiritual lives while at the sametime turning them into a commodity for use in the marketplace.One of the more astounding aspects of our research on spirituality is the absence in theliterature of any attempt to uncover the historical or etymological definitions and understandings
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