Studying Religion & Spirituality in Public Administration: Religion, Spirituality, and Public Administration, Part 2

In the first post of this series, we looked at the introduction and the first two articles from the paper. In this next post in the series, we’ll look at the three other articles that were examined in the paper.


Houston & Cartwright – Spirituality and Public Service (2007)

Houston and Cartwright (2007) argued that spirituality has received attention in the literature of other disciplines (e.g. business, social work, etc.), but not public administration. They found this odd given the roots of service at the core of public administration. Given the idea of ‘public service as a calling,’ they hypothesized that individuals in public service occupations are more spiritual than individuals in non-public service occupations. They highlighted four components of spirituality from the literature: 1) belief in transcendence; 2) interconnectedness; 3) empathy; and 4) a sense of life purpose or meaning.

To test their hypothesis, they used data from the 1998 GSS, which had questions pertaining to spirituality. There were over 1000 respondents included in this study. They found statistically significant evidence that those workers in the public sector are more spiritual than workers in the private sector. They also found that public sector workers were more likely to believe in transcendence, experience interconnectedness, have higher incidences of empathy, and have a greater sense of life meaning than their private sector counterparts.

Houston, Freeman, & Feldman – How Naked is the Public Square? (2008)

The central questions in Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008): 1) how religious are public servants; and 2) how secular are the attitudes held by public servants. Before answering these questions, the authors discussed how religion had been a topic of study for other academic fields, but not public administration. Instead of the argument put forth by King (2007) that the Constitution is a major factor in the lack of study of religion in public administration, Houston, Freeman, & Feldman (2008) argued different reasons: “1) acceptance of secularization theories by academics; 2) the epistemology adopted early on by scholars of public administration; 3) the characteristics of the Progressive Era of America, when the field of public administration developed; and 4) uneasiness with the recent surge in political activity by religious conservatives,” (p. 429).

Like Houston and Freeman (2007), Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) use data from the 1998 GSS to test their central questions. There were over 1000 respondents included in this study. The results showed that public servants tended to be more religious than their private sector counterparts. Public servants also tended to have less secular attitudes than did their private sector counterparts.

Lastly, Houston, Freeman, and Feldman conclude with five reasons why public administration should be studying religion: 1) public administration is missing from the debate of religious rhetoric in the political arena; 2) religion could play a key role in restoring civil society; 3) advocacy of faith-based initiatives in the delivery of social services; 4) religion is often left out of debates of multiculturalism; and 5) religion impacts a public manager’s behavior.

Freeman and Houston – Belonging, Believing, Behaving (2010)

Like the four other articles summarized above, Freeman and Houston (2010) made the case that it is important to study religion in the context of public administration. They did so through five arguments: 1) the prominence of religion in the delivery of public services; 2) the effectiveness of public services may be related to religion; 3) a representative bureaucracy should include religion; 4) “[the growing] religious heterogeneity of the American population has implications for the internal operations of public organizations;” (p. 698) and 5) religion affects one’s attitudes and behaviors in the workplace.

The central research question for Freeman and Houston (2010) was comparing the religious background, beliefs, and behaviors of public servants to the general public. Unlike Houston and Cartwright (2007) and Houston, Freeman, & Feldman (2008), Freeman and Houston (2010) use data from the 2004 GSS. There were over 2000 respondents included in this study. On religious affiliation, the results indicated little difference between public servants and the general public. The results also indicated that public servants were more active in and committed to their religious communities than the general public. The results from this study are consistent with Houston and Cartwright (2007) in that public servants seem to have more spiritual attitudes. The results from this study are also consistent with Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) in that public servants are more religious and less secular.

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. Today, I went to the beach front with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter
    and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.”
    She put the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.

    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!


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