A Mini-Guide to Peter Drucker and Religion/Spirituality
February 23rd, 2016
Peter Drucker often referenced religion and spiritual matters in his writing, and both were important parts of his life and the way he looked at the world. He taught religion during the 1940s at Bennington College in Vermont, and set one of his two novels, 1984’s The Temptation to Do Good, in a fictional Catholic University.
In chapter 5 of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way, I write more extensively about the Drucker religion/spirituality connection. There are a number of scholarly articles on the topic (several of which I reference in the book), and the role of religion and the spiritual are covered in depth in two books by Drucker’s longtime collaborator, friend and fellow Drucker School professor, Joseph A. Maciariello. The first, written with Karen E. Linkletter, is 2011’s Drucker Drucker’s Lost Art of Management: Peter Drucker’s Timeless Vision For Building Effective Organizations. And more recently he published A Year With Peter Drucker: 52 Weeks of Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness, which I wrote about last year. Not long after Drucker’s death at 95 in 2005, Peter Steinfels wrote an insightful piece on the subject for The New York Times, “A Man’s Spiritual Journey From Kierkegaard to General Motors.”
You can also learn more by searching on these topics in the Drucker archives, and by consulting books written by Drucker’s friends/collaborators/consulting partners such as Bob Buford, Bill Pollard and Max De Pree.
For a particularly strong statement of faith (described in more depth in Drucker’s Lost Art of Management) see the oft-anthologized 1949 essay “The Unfashionable Kierkegaard,” on the work of the Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). You can read an early version, “Soren Kierkegaard: Or How is Human Existence Possible?”, a lecture he delivered at Bennington on May 20, 1943, on the Drucker Archives site.
In the 1959 book Landmarks of Tomorrow, Drucker writes: “Society needs a return to spiritual values — not to offset the material but to make it fully productive.” That book also references the concept of I and Thou, as articulated by the great philosopher Martin Buber, with whom Drucker studied while a college student in Germany. Drucker also claimed that this return to spiritual values was needed because mankind needed compassion. He wrote that humanity “needs the deep experience that Thou and I are one, which all higher religions share.”
Deep introspection and an ongoing search for improvement across multiple dimensions were long a hallmark of Drucker’s work. In 1993’s Post-Capitalist Society, he wrote of the “existential goals” of redemption, self-renewal, spiritual growth, goodness and virtue. Years earlier, 1969’s The Age of Discontinuity contains this existential challenge: “The society of organizations forces the individual to ask of himself: “Who am I?” “What do I want to be?” “What do I want to put into life and what do I want to get out of it?”
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