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Faith in Business

Pastoral counseling professor addresses intersection of spirituality and emerging capitalism

Ralph PiedmontAn ex-Communist, Catholic country, Poland is enjoying a growing economic vitality along with new social pressures.

As the formerly communist country emerges in a capitalist society, psychologists and business professionals met in Poland for a conference, "Psychology-Consumption-Quality of Life: Between Prosperity and Welfare," to discuss the influence of money and power on Polish citizens.

One of the two keynote speakers was Ralph Piedmont, Ph.D., professor of pastoral counseling, who presented his research on the intersection of spirituality and business. Through his research, Piedmont demonstrates that religion and spirituality can and should coexist in all realms of the human experience, from free enterprise to personal and professional relationships.

Piedmont's Assessment of Spirituality and Religious Sentiments (ASPIRES) scale measures spirituality across cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The scale has been translated into a number of languages including Czech, Hungarian, Spanish, Tagalog, Persian, and Arabic and applied to people of varied faiths, such as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and atheists.

Here Piedmont answers questions about his presentation and the research he shared at the conference.

What influence did Pope John Paul II’s election as Pope have on the level of faith/religious prominence in Poland?

During communist occupation, the Church came to be very influential because of its opposition to communism. People became involved in the Church because it was a way of demonstrating defiance to the existing regime.

Interestingly, my colleagues in Poland have told me that after the fall of communism, people are not as interested in the Church as before. Attainment of their political goals was their primary reason for being active in the Church. Without communism, there is less of a need for people to be active in the Church.

Why did people attend your session?

People were very much interested in my ASPIRES. They liked the way it captured religion and spirituality as well as its very strong empirical foundation.

Who was the audience at the conference?

Mostly psychologists and some business-oriented professionals. All were interested in marketing, consumerism, and quality of life. They were studying how increasing income levels are affecting how people think about money, relationships with others, relationships with society, and their personal levels of life satisfaction and well-being.

What would you tell someone who has never considered this topic?

Spirituality and human motivation should not be seen as being in opposition to one another. Spirituality is one of our motivations. We need to learn to balance all our drives so they provide us with growth rather than with conflict and distress.

We can pursue money and wealth, and in doing so we can grow and advance as a person and a culture. But there needs to be some higher purpose and awareness that helps us keep these selfish drives from becoming too dominant.

That is where spirituality comes in. Interacting with a transcendent reality helps keep things in a broader perspective. High scores on spiritual transcendence are negatively related to narcissism and materialism.

Can you recall the best or most interesting question someone asked you?

Ralph PiedmontThe questions I received all seemed to reflect a belief that materialism is a bad thing and will ultimately hurt society.

My response was to say that materialism is fine; money drives all things. It was why I was at the conference, why other presenters took the time to present—it enhances our careers and ultimately brings us more income. Money built the university, and pays our salaries. But in return, we grow as people, we train the next generation of professionals in our field, we build the human knowledge base.

So, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. There is a role and place to materialism and consumerism. It drives human behavior and helps us to develop, grow, and thrive. While it can be destructive, it can also play a positive role, as well. Spirituality has a role to play in directing our materialistic impulses in ways that have larger social and personal value. St. Ignatius Loyola captures this perspective well when he said, "Spirituality purifies all other motivations."

November 2012

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