Transcendence as Tangible Capital

Transcendence as Tangible Capital

Spirituality and Transcendence are big business these days! We weren’t able to find exact figures, but some sources report that the wellness industry is worth over a billion dollars and the yoga industry alone is worth 80bn USD globally. Exact figures aren’t necessary to make the point – spirituality and transcendence sells! Some might be offended by this massive monetization of the transcendent (they have a point, we will address this in a separate post), but there is a positive element to all this also; for one, the growing business side of spirituality shows that more and more people are “turning inward”, ready to sacrifice some material means to do so.

Sacrificing material resources (tangible capital) to obtain something that is considered of spiritual value is a spiritual principle in itself. Many religious traditions recognize this concept in one way or another, take past practices of produce and animal sacrifice to thank a Deity for blessings received. The concept has also been “institutionalized” in the form of the tithe (10th of annual earnings or produce that is given to a church). In other words, the idea of giving material things up in return for or as an expression of spirituality is ancient. But how about the other way around, i.e. the pursuit of material objectives, can that be spiritual too? Sacrificing and “buying” spirituality (in other words consuming it) are both ways in which spirituality, transcendence and the material and mundane connect.

Max Weber the famous 19th century sociologist and political philosopher wrote a seminal book called  the “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. Here he described the relation between the mass conversion in Europe to Protestantism and the emergence of ideas, behaviors and institutions that underpin capitalism. Weber saw a direct link between the protestant worldview and values such as hard work, modesty, self-reliance etc., the subsequent industrious pursuits by the protestant community and the ultimate justification of economic gain. In essence, what Weber said was that becoming protestant increased the likelihood of certain character traits and behavior, which in turn associated with positives economic activities and outcomes. This way, a protestant identity acquired an economic value; a person or community’s spiritual or religious convictions correlate with economic outcomes and material value creation. Here spirituality produces and consumes material wealth at the same time. Similar connections have been made between other religious traditions and economic value.

More recent, narrower studies, which try to capture the economic production value of spirituality have been conducted also. Positive correlations have been established between spirituality, religion and social stability, emotional resilience, health indicators. altruistic behavior and civic engagement. Each of these correlations has a “price tag” (economic cost- benefit) attached to it, and what these studies are essentially saying is that spirituality impacts this price tag significantly, reducing economic cost in some instances while boosting economic value in others.

Looking at spirituality through a material and economic lenses may appear inappropriate at first, but doing so should not be confused with reducing spirituality or religion to materialism. The material aspects of spirituality are simply a facet of a much more complex phenomenon, much like our physical appetites and realities are only an aspect of what it means to be human. The idea of Spiritual Capital explores, tries to understand and quantify the material value of spirituality and transcendence, but it doesn’t stop there. The fact that if often starts there attests to the predominantly materialistic worldviews Spiritual Capital aims to rethink.

Any basic understanding of material value creation, known as economics, needs to deal with some fundamental concepts. These include the notion of “raw materials” – the basic material from which a product is made, “production” or “formation”, which is the action or process of making something from raw materials, which necessarily implies a “transformation” of the original raw materials into something else of higher value. Next there is the idea of “investment”, which is the action or process of investing a resource to generate profit and finally “return on investment”, which is the added value gained through the original investment. These elements define value, or capital creation. Turns out the same concepts can also be used to explain Spiritual Capital creation and consumption.