Similarities & Differences of Religion & Spirituality in Public Administration Literature: Religion, Spirituality, and Public Administration, Part 3

In the first post of this series, we looked at the introduction and the first two articles from the paper. In the second post of the series, we looked at the three other articles that were examined in the paper. In this last section, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between these articles and wrap up the paper.


Similarities and Differences

Spirituality and religion. Only Farmer (2005) failed to distinguish between spirituality and religion. In fact, Farmer failed to even mention spirituality. This might be because Farmer was interested in placing public administration theory in conversation with religion, rather than addressing the similarities between spirituality and religion. The other four articles had similar definitions and distinctions of religion and spirituality. It was made clear that these two concepts were very similar, but not the same. Whereas religion had more of a community focus, was more formal, and organized, spirituality was more individualistic, informal, and less systematic.

Religion, spirituality, and public administration theory. The biggest similarity of these five articles is that they are all making the case that religion should be studied in the context of public administration. Farmer (2005) argued that public administration had been studied in the context of postmodernism and critical theory, and so it should also be studied in the context of religion. King (2007), on the other hand, was more interested in how religion was influencing public administration today. Houston and Cartwright (2007) argued that spirituality had received attention in other disciplines like business and social work, so public administration should also study spirituality. Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) echoed Houston and Cartwright’s (2007) argument that other academic disciplines had studied religion and so should public administration. Freeman and Houston (2010) made the best case for studying religion and public administration through five arguments. In particular, the argument that the growing religious heterogeneity of the American population requires a more representative bureaucracy was particularly strong.

Model for religion-spirituality integration. Only King (2007) proposed (or adapted) a model for integrating religion and spirituality. King found many problems with adapting the model, most notably, the language. King felt that when religion is discussed in the context of public administration, people are quick to raise the point about the Constitution and the separation of church and state. On the point about the Constitution: Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) believed that these concerns have played a minor role. They argued that, among other things, secularization had more to do with religion not being discussed in the context of public administration.

1998 GSS. Two articles used data from the 1998 GSS to test hypotheses. Houston and Cartwright (2007) found that public sector workers were more spiritual than private sector workers and Houston, Freeman, and Feldman (2008) found that public sector workers were more religious than private sector workers. Given the overlap in spirituality and religion, these results are unsurprising, but are noteworthy for the sake of consistency.

2004 GSS. Freeman and Houston (2004) used data from the 2004 GSS to test their hypotheses. They also confirmed the findings from the two articles that used the 1998 GSS. The two findings: public servant seem to have more spiritual attitudes than the public (Houston & Cartwright, 2007) and public servants are more religious and less secular than the public (Houston, Freeman, & Feldman, 2008). Their own hypotheses had to do with religious affiliation and the results indicated little difference between public servants and the general public.

Farmer’s 10 suggestions. There are a few of Farmer’s (2005) that are worth reviewing. “3) It is hard to know how to talk about religion objectively across a religious divide.” This suggestion gets to the same point raised in other articles about the Constitution and the ‘separation of church and state.’ Farmer made the argument that when not in the appropriate company, it can be difficult to broach the subject of religion. “5) It is easy to suppose that religion can participate in shaping the moral landscape.” This suggestion is pointing to the fact that maybe there are other (abortion and marriage being two of the main ones) central questions in the moral debate. Farmer suggested that ‘treatment of others’ might be one, but that it is hard to know without studying religion and public administration. “9) It is sensible to be self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, whether or not it is embarrassing.” It is easy to see where some people may whole-heartedly disagree with Farmer in being self-revealing when discussing PA in religion, but Farmer’s point is well taken. The argument parallels that which you would expect from a journalist to disclose their biases or ties to the subject of their article. Just as was gleaned from Freeman and Houston (2010), religion affects one’s attitudes and behaviors, so it seems natural that one would disclose this affiliation in the context of a scholarly discussion that included religion. The problem being that some might argue that it infringes on their right to privacy.


Prior to starting this project, it never occurred to me the various ways that religion could and does affect public administration. Like some of the articles have mentioned, I would have thought the ‘separation of church and state’ axiom would have kept people far away from doing research on religion and public administration. After reading through this small sample of public administration articles relating to religion, there certainly seems to be a strong argument in favor of studying public administration in the context of religion in a number of different ways.


Farmer, D. J. (2005). Talking about religion. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 27(1), 182-195.

Freeman, P. K., & Houston, D. J. (2010). Belonging, believing, behaving: The religious character of public servants. Administration & Society, 42(6), 694-719.

Houston, D. J., & Cartwright, K. E. (2007). Spirituality and public service. Public Administration Review, 67(1), 88-102.

Houston, D. J., Freeman, P. K., & Feldman, D. L. (2008). How naked is the public square? Religion, public service, and implications for public administration. Public Administration Review, 68(3), 428-444.

King, S. M. (2007). Religion, spirituality, and the workplace: Challenges for public administration. Public Administration Review, 67(1), 103-114.


If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

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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