New England’s Puritan settlers brought with them two ideas that have driven American society ever since: Calvinism and capitalism. From Calvinism’s birth in 16th-century Switzerland, its descendants, including the Puritans, developed ever more rigorous arguments for individual liberty, freedom of conscience, the rule of law, and the freedom to associate and to enter into contracts. Combined with a strong work ethic and high moral standards, these social arguments came to propel the modern commercial economy. By the early 20th century, the sociologist Max Weber could give a systematic analysis to the whole potent formula, in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”
A century later, as Lake Lambert III explains in “Spirituality, Inc.,” religious faith is on display in American business as perhaps never before, from Tyson Foods’ “workplace chaplains [who] roam the corporate halls and processing floors” to the never-open-on-Sunday Chick-fil-A’s policy of dedicating each new restaurant to God’s glory. The rise of companies with an explicitly religious underpinning has been accompanied by an increase of general spiritual awareness in the workplace, Mr. Lambert says. “Corporations like Ford and Xerox sponsor spiritual retreats to spark creativity.” Even companies with no overt religious or spiritual interests may be the site of spiritual expression, whether that means a Bible study in a conference room or a weekly meeting hosted by the Spiritual Unfoldment Society at the World Bank.