Saturday, June 02, 2007

What is Spirituality in the Workplace?

I'm re-reading Religion and the Workplace: Pluralism, Spirituality, Leadership by Douglas A. Hicks. Not only is Hicks a professor of Leadership Studies and Religion at the University of Richmond, Virginia, but he's also a minister in the Presbyterian church and affiliated with the Pluralism Project at Harvard.

One of the really difficult issues I faced when I was actively working on a book on spirituality and the workplace was that I could not find a satisfying definition for spirituality. I also couldn't write one. So I started asking workers when they told their work stories how they defined spirituality. Every definition of spirituality was different. I found this startling and just about unacknowledged in the literature about spirituality at work. But Hicks writes a lot about this.

He finds that most books on spirituality and the workplace create a gulf between spirituality and religion:

Spirituality --- personal, emotional, adaptable to needs, non-denominational, and inclusive

Religion -- institutional, dogmatic, rigid, denomination/sect based, and exclusive (described by Hicks on p. 48 and 54)

Like all dichotomies, I think this may make people comfortable on paper, but it's of little help when you ask people what spirituality is to them and they respond, "Church." Do I correct them? No, that's not spirituality! Haven't you read the literature? You're describing religion!

Along the same line of thought, many books define spirituality as the non-controversial approach to religion. If it's controversial (a hijab, a large cross, visible prayers said five times daily), then it's "religious" and not welcome at work. If it's amenable to all, then it's "spiritual."

And then there's the school of thought that attempts to find the values that Judeo-Christian traditions share and call it "spirituality," as if we all agree: a belief in God, emphasis on prayer and respect for others. commitment to better relations among people, belief that people and the world can and will become better, commitment to a sustainable environment. (p. 51). Well, I know plenty of people in the Judeo-Christian traditions who don't agree with those values.

Hicks recommends acknowledging, understanding, and living with spiritual and religious differences in the workplace. This does not assume common ground, but it does assume that cooperation and understanding can lead to a dialogue about ideas and beliefs. (p. 61).

I'll write more about Religion and the Workplace later.