Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Spirituality as Distinctively Religious

While it may be alluring in the business world to conceptualize spiritual leadership as being essentially ethical leadership, this convenient tact would not do justice to the distinctly religious sphere in which spirituality is based. The same error would be entailed in treating evil as though it were merely bad. Therefore, rather than foisting spiritual from its native domain and redefining it to fit within a secular context in order to apply the concept to leadership in business, we can relate the religious and secular concepts to each other with due deference to their respective natures.[1] 

Gilbert Fairholm’s descriptions of spirituality can lapse into reducing the concept to morality, yet other aspects in the descriptions can be useful in approaching spirituality as distinct. As “being true to one’s beliefs, one’s internal values and ethics,” spirituality is effectively secularized as a sort of ethical authenticity.[2] Similarly, Fairholm claims that spirituality “is the side of us that is searching for meaning, values, ethics, and life purposes.”[3] In this regard, spirituality is “a relationship with something intangible, beyond the self.”[4] In other words, “Spirituality is the process of living out a set of deeply held personal values, of honoring forces greater than the self.”[5]  The values are oriented to ethics and life purposes, so the something beyond the self is merely the world—spirituality referring to “an inner awareness that makes integration of the self and world possible.”[6] None of this is transcendent, and thus religious in nature. Put another way, a humanist would be content with this secular depiction of spirituality.

Yet from Fairholm’s characterization a distinctly religious tint can be gleamed. Pivoting from life purpose to life-force, for example, Fairholm points to a transcendent depth of inwardness. Spirituality “primarily has to do with our inner or private being, our ‘life-force.”[7] Ethical conduct and life-values are presumably not primary. The purpose in spirituality goes beyond that of life in the world. Spirituality enlarges our soul and gives it purpose.”[8]  The term soul is distinctively religious. It is not simply being ethical or valuing life. Soul is that of a person which yearns for beyondness. Spirituality thus “partakes of the transcendent. It is acting out in thought and deeds the experience of the transcendent in human life.”[9] The transcendent can have the sense of an inward-depth within a person and/or manifest as a wholly-other “out there” (e.g., God as an intelligent being beyond Creation). The soul is the aspect of a person that yearns for the transcendent in one or both of these senses.



1. By analogy, the notion that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine—a theory coined at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E.—involves taking the human as human and the divine as divine rather than reconfiguring one term to suit the other. Just as one essence, or ousia, has a human element and a divine element, spiritual leadership can be reckoned as having a religious and a secular element. One essence can contain a notion of spirituality that is religious in nature and a theory of leadership that is been derived in a secular context.
2. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1998): 121.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., p. 131.
6. Ibid., p. 120.
7. Ibid., p. 119.
8. Ibid., p. 131.
9. Ibid., p. 121.