[T]he right has been able to take certain elements that many people
hold dear and connect them with other issues in ways that might not
often occur 'naturally' if these issues were less politicized.
(Apple 2001, pp. 220-221)
In the ultimate sense spiritual capital is the missing leg in the
stool of economic development, which includes its better known
relatives, social and human capital. (Malloch 2003, p.2)
The belief that the truth of a theory is the same as its
productiveness is clearly unfounded. (Horkheimer & Adorno 1991, p.
In 2005, the Spiritual Capital Research Program announced a $3.75 million grant "to catalyze the emergence of a productive, vital and interdisciplinary research field of spiritual capital in the social sciences, with particular attention to building connections to economics" (Spiritual Capital Research Program 2005). This particular work, commissioned by the Metanexus Institute and the John Templeton Foundation is, as we argue in the following dialogue, an exemplar of neoliberal rhetoric taking aim at the economic uses of spirituality in a globalized world. Based in a conservative think tank with ties to the American Enterprise Institute and using such neoconservative thinkers as Francis Fukuyama, this project is, we contend, a veiled example of the "conservative restoration" at work (Apple 2000; 2001; Shudak & Helfenbein, 2005).
Traditionally, spirituality has functioned in three ways in everyday life. First, it has answered deep and often pressing questions concerning the meaning of human life, the suffering associated with loss and deprivation, and the fears and hopes connected with boundary situations such as birth and death. Second, it has legitimized existing power relations. Third, it has resisted those same power relations (see, for instance, Chopp 1986; Cobb 2000; Cobb 2002). The question we wish to address arises from the methodical and alarming co-opting of significant human values by the subtle rhetoric of a neoliberal/neoconservative agenda such that the resistance to hegemony historically available through spirituality is instead turned into another form of acquiescence (Cobb 2002; Lakoff 2004; McCutcheon 2005).
We offer a moral critique of the co-option of one major aspect of cultural capital by an agenda that aspires to strengthen certain religious sub-cultures by showing their value in maintaining a "one-dimensional" (Marcuse 1991) economic and cultural system. Our approach relies upon, on the one hand, an idea of the social and political significance of moral thinking (Arendt 1971; Keller 2005) and, on the other hand, an analysis of some rhetorical devices employed by the Right that conflate freedom with the "free market" and represent their agenda as simple "common sense" (Shudak & Helfenbein, 2005). The authors, in explicit opposition to the ideology at work in this project on spiritual capital, present a response as a counter move in the hopes of articulating a broad tactic that is directed against the forces of cultural production employed by the Right.
This paper consists of a conversation between a philosopher specialising in ethics and religion and an educational researcher with an interest in cultural studies and contemporary social theory. Dialogic in form, this paper employs an interdisciplinary response to an interdisciplinary project and offers the following components:
* a dialogic theorizing of the implications for education of a research project on spiritual capital;
* a continuation of the project of analyzing moral thinking in various cultural and societal settings;
* a continuation of the project of analyzing political rhetoric (towards an understanding of the polemics of political rhetoric);
* a reaffirmation of the value of recognizing difference and ambiguity in the global moment. …