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BURGESS, MaryCatherine. Review: LoRusso, Spirituality, Corporate Culture and American Business.
Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religion (JBASR), [S.l.], v.20, p.199-201,
Aug. 2018. ISSN 0967-8948.
Available at: <http://www.jbasr.com/ojs/index.php/jbasr/article/view/23>.
20 (2018), 199-201 ISSN: 2516-6379
Book review editor: David G. Robertson
Spirituality, Corporate Culture, and American Business: The Neoliberal Ethic and the
Spirit of Global Capital.
James Dennis LoRusso. London
and New York: Bloomsbury,
2017. P.p. 216. ISBN 9781350006270.
Reviewed by: MaryCatherine Burgess, University of Edinburgh. email@example.com
I easily engaged with this author in exploring stories and writings he selected to highlight and/or
reveal subtle and not-so-subtle attitudes, beliefs, and paradigms driving the ‘spirituality and work’
phenomenon in the United States. A central theme in this book is discovering “that the
increasing business interest in spirituality is a reflection of its global dominance”—boldly
articulated in Judi Neal’s welcoming comments at an International Faith and Spirit at Work
Conference in 2011. “‘Business,’ she concluded ‘is the way we can transform consciousness
precisely because it is so powerful today.’” Her comment reveals an underlying belief that
business, not government or religion, is the institution best positioned to create a positive future
for the world.
Another central theme is how business appeals “to the cultural authority of religion in order to
effectively reinforce the established power relations of the organization.” Business uses religion
and spirituality to serve its own ends. Aptly referencing and critiquing scholars of “workplace
spirituality” over decades, James LoRusso documents ways in which ‘spirituality’ has been
entangled with corporate culture and American business, and in the process, has become “deeply
implicated in the neoliberalization of the global political and economic systems”. He contends
that while this entanglement may be seen as part of a movement for moral reform in business or
a liberal political orientation, it also can be considered “another example of capitalist
exploitation” that serves the political strategies of neoliberalism and global capitalism. Indeed,
key players in business utilize religious and spiritual resources as “available forms of cultural
capital” to uphold and/or change the status quo—depending on what serves their business aims.
In Part One, LoRusso very capably describes and analyzes broad shifts in how management and
the public discussed work during the second half of the
JBASR 20 (2018), 199-201 basr.ac.uk/JBASR
twentieth century by looking at post-war (WWII) anxieties about collectivism and alienation, the
social and political turmoil of the 1960s and early ‘70s, and the ultimate emergence of
management research focused on “workplace spirituality”. He tracks the development of
perspectives that saw business providing the ethical norm needed to serve investors and
stakeholders and saw management philosophies elevating business perspectives to the status
of cultural authorities deemed most capable of shaping society and setting the terms for public
discourse, including attitudes toward work.
These developments paralleled business claims that government was responsible for youth
hostility of the 1960s and for providing welfare functions that served to undermine the
Protestant work ethic, in which work was perceived as a fundamental expression of human
nature. He notes that blaming government for the social unrest also served to deflect criticism
that may have been directed appropriately toward capitalism and businesses themselves.
LoRusso also explores the development of new leadership models. One of them, Servant
Leadership, considered management a moral philosophy that recognized individuals as spiritual
beings, some of whom had broader visions, and that “unlike the typical worker, the manager
could recognize the spiritual nature of work, the higher purpose it served.” Management not
only was “a sacred practice” given only to special people with insight and “a sense of the
unknowable”, but also, it was the key to linking the individual’s need to work to organizational
goals. What most of these leadership models shared was a belief that effective leadership was
very personal, emerged from within, and helped employees cope with, not challenge or change,
workplace injustices and systemic problems. From this perspective, injustice stemmed not from
the system, but from its misuse. Good managers, not system changes, were needed. Though
management discourse echoed anti-establishment concerns of the New Left, it clearly insisted
that individuals could transform society only through business institutions, not in spite of them.
In Part Two, the author examines how this spirituality and business entanglement supported the
private and professional lives of several successful businesspeople in the late 20th century. In
doing so, he also addresses how the post-industrial business needs of the high-tech arena led
to a more decentralized, team-oriented work environment, in which individuals had greater
autonomy and responsibility for company goals. That, in turn, led to focusing on personal
change, rather than social change or structural reform, when coping with stress or chaos created
by market forces. Even scholar Judi Neal, who promotes a paradigm shift from a materialist age
to one grounded in “spirit” and calls for “corporate shamans” to bring wisdom to the business
elites, speaks only in individual, not collective terms – revealing a limited understanding of a
shaman’s communal role.
Following the evolution of ‘Conscious Capitalism’, LoRusso says that it developed into “an
organized movement of like-minded business elites who promote the idea that ethically attuned
business owners are best equipped to address the depraved temporal and spiritual state of the
JBASR 20 (2018), 199-201 basr.ac.uk/JBASR
reinforced an existing belief that business, rather than the State, is the domain of society best
equipped to lead humanity into the trans-industrial age.
Part Three looks at two localized contacts of entanglement between work and spirituality.
LoRusso shows that though the “language of spirituality serves a number of purposes”, it
consistently “reasserts the authority of business elites, managers, and capital.” His conclusion
reiterates his focus and identifies further aspects to be explored.
Adequately addressing all the issues in this important book is not possible in a short review.
However, this is a fascinating study well-grounded in theory and supported by clear examples.
Having lived in the US through the decades LoRusso describes, learned many of the
management and leadership theories he presents, worked intensively with these issues in a
corporate setting, and spent a lifetime involved with religion and spirituality, including
shamanism, I found this most revealing. Especially with the current US political climate, this
book sheds light and understanding on the complexity of how we’ve arrived at this moment in
history. Only by understanding root causes and historical context can we adequately address the
issues. This fine book has inspired me to further explore the many connections I’ve made, but
don’t have space to address here.