Religion and Spirituality in the Workplace: Religion, Spirituality, and Public Administration, Part 1

It’s not secret that one of my interests is spirituality. After having been exposed to a variety of spiritual traditions when I was young, I was naturally curious about some of the other ways that these experiences percolate in the population. This is, in part, the reason that I initially chose to do my PhD in clinical psychology at a school like Sofia University. It allowed for that exploration and more importantly, it teaches its students about the importance of recognizing/allowing this exploration in patients/clients.

During one of my last couple of classes at George Mason University, I had the opportunity to take a class in Administration in Public and Nonprofit Organizations. After having completed all of the business classes for the MBA program, I found it quite interesting to think about these principles in the context of public and nonprofit organizations.

One of the papers I wrote for that class looked at something that piqued my interest during the law/ethics requirement for the MBA — spirituality and religion in public administration. I remember considering the difficulties that managers might face depending on their level of cultural intelligence in a given situation. So, today, I thought I’d start another series where I share the pieces of that paper. Let’s look at the introduction and a couple of the first sections.


The central theme of the five articles summarized is that there is an undeniable hole in the literature of religion and public administration. Most of the articles make it clear that there is a difference between religion and spirituality, but maintain that these two concepts are very closely related. Only in Farmer (2005) was the issue of spirituality not discussed, but there were 10 suggestions for thinking about public administration in the context of religion. King (2007) attempted to adapt a model of religion-spirituality integration from the business world to public administration and offered four caveats. Houston and Cartwright (2007) found evidence in the 1998 General Social Survey (GSS) that public administrators were more spiritual than their private sector counterparts. Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) also used data from the 1998 GSS and found that public servants tended to be more religious than their private sector counterparts. They also found that public servants tended to have less secular attitudes than did private sector employees. Freeman and Houston (2010) made the strongest case for studying religion and public administration through five arguments. They also used data from the 2004 GSS and found that public servants were more active in and committed to their religious communities than the general public. The results from Freeman and Houston (2010) are consistent with Houston and Cartwright (2007) in that public servants seem to have more spiritual attitudes. In addition, Freeman and Houston (2010) are also consistent with Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) in that public servants are more religious and less secular. In this paper, the articles are summarized in chronological order and contrasted with each other throughout. Following the summaries is a brief discussion of some of the similarities and differences.

Farmer – Talking About Religion (2005)

The central idea from Farmer (2005) was that the literature in public administration theory has failed to adequately address religion. Farmer argued that public administration has been studied in the context of critical theory and postmodernism, but not within the context of religion. He believes that religion is part of the context of public administration and as a result, should be studied.

He submitted that talking about religion in the context of public administration is difficult and offered 10 suggestions for thinking about public administration in the context of religion: “1) It is hard to know what religion is; 2) It is hard to know whether the separation of church and state is a done deal; 3) It is hard to know how to talk about religion objectively across a religious divide; 4) It is easy to suppose that religion is implicated in the constitutive magma of our society, and also a window toward understanding the constitutive framework; 5) It is easy to suppose that religion can participate in shaping the moral landscape; 6) It is easy to suppose that religion has both an up side and a down side, and that this down side is also part of our societal dynamic; 7) It is sensible to think that PA [public administration] should emulate religious ‘best business practice’ to the extent, at least, that religion is in competition with government; 8) It is sensible to think that PA should not be indifferent to the kinds of religious activities which exist in society; 9) It is sensible to be self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, whether or not it is embarrassing; [and] 10) It is lunatic to think in rigid boxes (boxism) [sic] about PA in its religious context,” (p. 182-3).

King – Religion, Spirituality, and the Workplace (2007)

Like Farmer (2005), King (2007) emphasized the lack of study of religion and public administration. Specifically, King was interested in the influence that religion had on public administration. King began with a brief literature review showcasing the differences between religion and spirituality in the context of the workplace. The key difference being that, “spirituality is distinct from but related to religion,” (p. 104). This led into the section where King discussed various court cases in which religious and/or spiritual expression was/were implicated: workplace cases, employers’ rights, employees’ rights, and political measures. King concludes this section by stating that one of today’s challenges for public administration is determining how these two concepts (religious and spiritual expression) fit together.

This led into a discussion of a model of religion-spirituality integration that came from the business world. King attempted to reconcile the differences with public administration and raised four problems: 1) public administrators are stereotyped by the values they seek; 2) how to account for the different aspects of a public administrator’s life (e.g. family, outside world, global context, etc.); 3) professional turf wars; and 4) language. The last problem is what King saw as the most important to public administration because whenever religion/spirituality are raised, people are quick to point to the Constitution and ‘the separation of church and state.’ King argued that this happens in discussions of administrative ethics, which usually pit utilitarianism (greatest good for greatest number of people) against deontology (universal principles of right and wrong). King’s main point here was that the language used in the debate of administrative ethics has a basis in sacred religious texts.


Note: Check back tomorrow for the next section of the paper. I’ll include the list of references in the last post in the series.

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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  1. Religion talks about God. Spirituality helps to make us godly. Spirit is the life force energy of unconditional love that connects all of creation. Religion means a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances and a moral code. In contrast, spirituality can be defined as the quality of being spiritual.

    Ask The Lama


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