Varieties of organizational soul: The ethics of belief in organizations

Bell, Emma; Taylor, Scott and Driscoll, Cathy (2012). Varieties of organizational soul: The ethics of belief in organizations. Organization, 19(4) pp. 425–439.



This article argues that the expression of religious beliefs within organizations, often made manifest through the notion of soul, provides insight into the ethics of organization in postsecular society. Using examples to illustrate the discursive representation of organizational soul in three US-based multinational companies, we argue that religious organizational beliefs must be located within cultural and material contexts of practice in order to fully appreciate their ethical implications. We show how the use of soul is a contemporary reiteration of the 19th century religious attitude that William James termed ‘healthy-mindedness’. We suggest that this variety of religious experience is limiting through its neglect of the social and political contexts of ethical thought and action and the definition of evil or harm as external to the believer and the organization. Drawing on a pragmatist perspective, we critique this approach to belief-led business and propose that the Jamesian notion of a ‘sick soul’ constitutes a more robust ethical framework for belief-led businesses by encouraging ethical skepticism concerning the nature of organizational activities. We conclude by exploring what our analysis means for the development of postsecular critical organization theory.

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