Most people are familiar with and accept the constructive role that chaplains play in modern society, particularly in situations of illness, incarceration, death, and war. In hospitals and on battlefields, during times of illness and death, patients and families often seek spiritual comfort. Those who have visited the incarcerated or themselves been in jail are familiar with the important role that prison chaplains play. And anyone who has ever served in the armed forces or simply watched M*A*S*H is aware of a long-standing tradition of having military chaplains. In all three of these venues, chaplains serve a transient population that represents many religious traditions, and often is in a place of exceptional pain and suffering.
Is it possible that for some, the workplace is a place of pain and suffering? If so, is there a role in a pluralistic society for companies to provide chaplains to their workforce? Maybe the workplace is not the source of the pain, but people’s private dilemmas and burdens often negatively impact their work experience and performance. If the concept of chaplaincy can be managed appropriately and with benefit to people in other settings, why not have workplace chaplains?
Of course, there are many reasons why a company might not want to have a workplace chaplain. Concerns over privacy, proselytization, and manipulation are but a few concerns. On the other hand, if these concerns can be addressed (as they successfully are in hospitals, prisons, and the armed services), is it not at least worth the intellectual exercise to explore the possible benefits to workers and their employers?
This research seeks to explore these and other questions regarding “workplace chaplaincy,” considering its possibilities and pitfalls. This project is led by scholars David W. Miller and Faith Ngunjiri.