New breed of spiritual consultants create new rituals for home and office

The New York Times (August 28, 2020) reports that “a new corporate clergy has arisen to formalize the remote work. They go by different names: ritual consultants, sacred designers, soul-centered advertisers. They have degrees from divinity schools. Their business is borrowing from religious tradition to bring spiritual richness to corporate America.” A new kind of “spiritual consultant” is being turned out by today’s seminaries, and those who have chosen this new path have launched for-profit and non-profit agencies, such as the: Sacred Design Lab and the Ritual Design Lab, and Ritualist. These organizations “blend the obscure language of the sacred with the also obscure language of management consulting to provide clients with a range of spiritually inflected services, from architecture to employee training to ritual design. Their larger goal is to soften cruel capitalism, making space for the soul, and to encourage employees to ask if what they are doing is good in a higher sense.”

At the vanguard of the sacred consultant trend are Casper ter Kuile, Angie Thurston and Sue Phillips, who met at Harvard Divinity School and founded the Sacred Design Lab in 2019. They share the view that traditional religious institutions are not working and try to translate old and new rituals and practices for what they consider “soulless” corporate culture.  The nonprofit has been consulting on sacred designs for companies such as Pinterest, IDEO and the Obama Foundation. The article adds that Phillips doesn’t see corporations replacing organized religion but it may bring people some of the sense of meaning that they used to derive from congregations. During the pandemic, rituals have been created for virtual meetings (such as beginning each meeting with silence) and other home-based activities. Writer Tara Burton, a critic of some aspects of spiritual consultancy, says, “We risk seeing spirituality as something we can consume, something for us, something for our brand.” Yet, at least some mainstream leaders are open to the new workplace spirituality. The Times article notes that the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, helped organize a three day retreat last year with spiritual consultants. The purpose of the retreat was to allow spiritual entrepreneurs to brainstorm with traditional religious leaders.