Wright, N. (2004) 'New Spirituality', News, Association of Management Education & Development, April, p15.
We’ve had New Labour. Now it’s new spirituality. The spirituality debate, regarded until fairly recently as superstitious or of concern only to those of naive religious disposition, has re-entered the UK organisational arena with early indications that it could, in the not too distant future, find itself occupying centre stage. Indeed, spiritual intelligence may yet surpass emotional intelligence as a key determinant in personal and organisational development.
This resurgence in interest in the spiritual dimensions of human experience appears to be part of a wider cultural phenomenon that may reflect, in particular, growing disillusionment with rationalism, materialism, consumerism and technology as adequate vehicles for human fulfilment at its deepest levels. The nature of this paradigm shift is likely to have profound implications for career and consumer choices and, thereby, organisational practice of the future.
New spirituality could be regarded as a product of post-modern philosophy and new age mysticism. It has at its centre notions of tolerance and harmony founded on a relativistic ideology of social constructivism. According to this ideology, all truth is subjective and, therefore, all ‘truth’ claims are to be treated with scepticism. This partly explains new spirituality’s rejection of tenets of conventional religion. The fear is that differences in belief may undermine harmony and, thereby, the implicit goal of new spirituality itself.
An important organisational implication is that structures and cultures based on self-evident belief systems are unlikely to be accepted on face value. Leaders and managers will need to find ways to justify their authority and decision-making without resort to structural arguments, policy, historical precedents or apparently logical rationale. Logic itself is considered suspect, culturally-conditioned and far too narrow to encompass non-empirical aspects of human experience.
Organisations will need, too, to re-examine and re-communicate their missions, visions, values and strategies purged of all certainties, absolutes and competitive tones. Ethical investment will take precedence over financial profit. Collaboration and the creation of shared meaning in organisational life will be core goals of organisation development. Space and place for spiritual reflection and meditation at work will become common occupational demands. Leaders, mentors and coaches may develop attributes of spiritual gurus.
The pros of these developments are to be welcomed positively. The humanising aspects of new spirituality, emphasising personhood over utility, build well on progress of social and employment reforms of the past 150 years. Christian activists like the 19th century Shaftesbury would have delighted to see working conditions based on concern for human advancement over crude capital.
New spirituality’s aspiration for collective harmony is, too, a noble goal in a geo-political climate characterised increasingly by conflict, polarisation and relationship-breakdown. In a nuclear age, for instance, finding ways to resolve difference without recourse to violence is a survival imperative. In a world dominated by new technologies, organisational commitment to sustainable development is of critical concern.
Ironically, however, new spirituality inadvertently imposes a new form of social dogmatism that undermines the very diversity and respect for humanity that it seeks to promote. As the tongue-in-cheek proverb goes, tolerance is, ‘a virtue of the man (or woman) who lacks convictions.’ Genuine passion arises from belief that goals are really worthwhile. The very real differences between people and perspectives can provide invaluable generative material for creative, dialectical progress.
In light of this, a new spirituality that denies truth and suppresses debate for the sake of relational unity could prove to be a prize devoid of value. As a self-confessed Christian, therefore, I will close this piece with a heartfelt question for further reflection: can human spirituality really be divorced from God and truth? Discuss.