Sustainability and the Spiritual Work Ethic

Bell, Emma; Cullen, John and Taylor, Scott (2012). Sustainability and the Spiritual Work Ethic. In: Case, Peter; Höpfl, Heather and Letiche, Hugo eds. Belief and Organization. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 185–203.



Across cultures and eras, economic activity has always been closely tied to ideas relating to belief, as Weber (1930) famously argued in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber highlights the power of religious belief in shaping attitudes towards the pursuit and accumulation of wealth, suggesting that capitalism demanded a new ethic or ‘spirit’ in order to regulate life conduct and control relationships between people and the material world. Weber analyses the role of Protestantism in Europe following the Reformation as the source of a particular attitude towards the pursuit of wealth, in which financial accumulation was valued as an end in itself; a means of generating further economic growth rather than a source of pleasure or goodness. This religious attitude, based on the idea of duty in pursuing a calling or vocation, entailed the pursuit of asceticism or self-denial and the rejection of material pleasure as a means of securing salvation in the afterlife.

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