Carolyn Chen | When Work Becomes Religion (and how it preys on us)

Carolyn ChenYou may not think of your work as your religion, but for many, it’s trying to become exactly that! Without us even realizing it. Question is – is that a good thing? A bad thing? Or just a thing? 

Today’s guest, sociologist, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, and Co-Director of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, Carolyn Chen, has a lot to say about this silent, yet deeply impactful, phenomenon. She spent years studying workplace culture, with a focus on the near-religious cultures of Silicon Valley. As home to startups, major tech companies, and some of the world’s most innovative and, arguably, faithful entrepreneurs and professionals, she noticed the lines between doing meaningful work and religion have not only been blurred, but work has, in many ways, squeezed out and even become employees’ religion. Problem is – the goal is not personal and societal betterment, but rather in service of one central purpose: working harder and smarter, and generating innovation and profit.

Carolyn is the author of Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience and co-editor of Sustaining Faith Traditions: Religion, Race and Ethnicity among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation. Her latest book, Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley, is an account and exploration of her time spent interviewing the best and the brightest in the tech world to unfold how tech giants are reshaping spirituality to serve their religion of peak productivity. 

In our conversation, we explore big questions like why are so many people leaving traditional religion? How do religion and spirituality meet our needs in the first place, and what are the ways big tech or corporations are filling those gaps? What does it look like for us to choose what we want to worship and find meaning and belonging in healthy, nontraditional spaces? And, is this conversion of work into faith, actually a societally destructive phenomenon, even while organizations benefit from it? And, by the way, these topics and questions are on display in tech but don’t think, for a moment, that a wide range of companies aren’t exploring them, and along the way, bringing us “into the fold,” sometimes wittingly, other times, maybe not.

You can find Carolyn at: Website | Instagram

If you LOVED this episode:

  • You’ll also love the conversations we had with Lisa Miller, Ph.D. about the science of spirituality.

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photo credit: Ella Bessette

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