Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Calling, the Caller, and Being Called: A Qualitative Study of Transcendent Calling

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Calling, the Caller, and Being Called: A Qualitative Study of Transcendent Calling

Article excerpt

Though much work has been done in theological and historical disciplines regarding different aspects and definitions of calling and vocation, calling is receiving increased attention in the psychological and leadership research (Bunderson & Thompson, 2009; Dik & Duffy, 2009; Dobrow & Tosti-Kharas, 2011; Elangovan, Pinder, & McLean, 2010; Markow & Klenke, 2005). Calling, purpose, and vocation are now taking their place as potentially important concepts in our understanding of work motivation, leadership effectiveness, personal meaning, and overall career satisfaction. Others have furthered our understanding of calling by identifying the ways in which people perceive a calling, and the characteristics shaping their perceptions (Hunter, Dik, & Banning, 2010). While research has investigated presence or absence of calling and its relationship to desired personal and/or organizational outcomes, future research and theory may be enhanced through more studies grounded in theologically-based conceptualizations of calling from a historically Christian perspective (Chamberlain, 2004; Markow & Klenke, 2005; Weber, 1958).

An understanding of how people perceive the emergence, source, and overall nature of calling will help to better prepare leaders, followers, and researchers for discussing and understanding calling. Thus, this study sought to highlight the current working definitions of calling in psychology and other disciplines, to frame the basic characteristics of a situation involving a caller, a person being called, and the calling itself, and to systematically develop a taxonomy of the different ways that individuals who believe in a transcendent caller perceive a calling in their lives. This taxonomy of themes was developed on a foundation of assumptions stemming from Christian theology and psychology.

Calling, Purpose, and Vocation

Since the beginning of the Christian church, individual perceptions of calling have moved with the changing cultural context of the time (Hardy, 1990; Placher, 2005). Some have argued that the conversion of Constantine to Christianity at 600 AD was one of the most significant shifts in individual perceptions of what it means to be called (Placher, 2005). Although Christians in the early centuries following the life of Jesus Christ faced significant persecution and even death, the mainstreaming of Christianity through the conversion of the Roman Empire's leader shifted majority thinking. Individual perceptions of being called by God have clearly been impacted by the driving assumptions of the political and social context of the times. At some periods, only religious leaders, kings, or those with a job they liked were considered called (Guinness, 1998; Placher, 2005). Because of the reality of these shifts in perception, in this study we attempted to remove context as the most powerful factor by deconstructing the basic idea of what it means to receive a request or invitation to be or do something.

Within psychology and the cultural context in the 21st century, calling has been defined in multiple ways (Dik, Eldridge, Steger, & Duffy, 2012; Dobrow & Tosti-Kharas, 2011; Duffy & Sedlacek, 2007). Many definitions assume a relationship to work roles and discuss calling in relationship to vocation (Dreher, Holloway, & Schoenfelder, 2007; Hall & Chandler, 2005). In general, there are three primary definitions of vocation that have been delineated by research, specifically: (a) a process by which people find joy and meaning in their life's work (Dreher et al., 2007), (b) a process of searching for work passion and fulfillment (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1986), or (c) "the quest for authentic existence" (Homan, 1986, p. 15).

Despite these similarities, some definitions of calling move beyond attributes of vocation and purpose to include other factors. Dik and Duffy (2009) define calling in the following way:

Calling is a transcendent summons, experienced as originating beyond the self, to approach a particular life role in a manner oriented toward demonstrating or deriving a sense of purpose or meaningfulness and that holds other-oriented values and goals as primary sources of motivation. …

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