Spiritually Stunted Religiosity

 “Every human has four endowments: self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination.  These give us the power to discern, to choose, to respond, and to change.”

~ Stephen R. Covey

A survey was conducted to determine which country was the most or least religious by the Baha’i initiative to mark the World’s Religion Day.  It was done by taking three years of’ international poll.  The result shows that five countries tie for the most religious by scoring 99 percent.  Ethiopia was listed as one of the five tied countries.

After reading that, I searched for data on these countries’ economic and human development.  The figure baffled me when I saw how countries that score high in their perception of religiosity – pietism, and devoutness would not score high in their human and economic development.  I wrongly thought religiosity should uphold high ethical behaviors, and living high moral standards, and uplifting people higher because I thought religious values would be highly correlated with social responsibilities, compassion, stewardship, charity, morality, and a sense of justice.  It is sad to see that many African countries consider themselves religious, and yet there is a considerable gap between beliefs and behavior.

The decades’ experiences of Ethiopia in poverty and lack of human development as a nation indicates to me that maybe religiosity and development are mutually exclusive.   Out of the top five countries that scored 99 percent in their religiosity, four of them are in Africa and are categorized under low human development.  The human development index focuses on three dimensions of human development: the ability to lead a long and healthy life, the ability to acquire knowledge, and the ability to live a decent standard of living.  Apparently, faith is vital to many countries, but living by faith was not translated to practical behavior.

When I was taking a course on transformational leadership, I came across ‘spirituality’ as one component in organizational leadership.  I was familiar with the other bits of intelligence: cognitive (IQ), emotional (EQ), and cultural (CQ), but spiritual intelligence (SQ) was a top-notch because only humans can develop that.   Animals have IQ and EQ to some extent but not SQ because this is related to having meaning and value in life and using them to shape our lives.  Animals show some level of instinctive thinking and emotion to one another and humans, but higher-order intelligence is missing.

The word “spiritual” derived from the Latin word “spiritus,” which means “that gives life or vitality to a system.” Spiritual intelligence calls for multiple ways of knowing and for the integration of the different components of inside and outside human spheres.  We can cultivate it through questing, inquiry, and practice.  We can also develop SQ through spiritual experiences.   We can express spiritual maturity through wisdom and compassionate action in the world.  Spiritual intelligence is necessary for discernment in making spiritual choices that contribute to psychological well-being and overall healthy human development.  Human life is very complicated whether we live as an individual or collectively as communities, associations, or as countries demanding complex solution.

I would like to adopt Dr. Srivastava’s definition of spiritual intelligence to discuss spirituality at the individual level, “It is the intelligence which helps to fulfill the potentialities of the individuals’ abilities through the non-cognitive virtues to prepare them to solve the everyday problems for living, creatively and constructively in the new situation of the socio-psycho-physical environment for attaining the highest knowledge and wisdom.”  In our daily functioning, being conscious of our inner world and the outside physical and social environment and living intentionally and connectedly is being spiritual.  Choosing to live at peace and purposely is being spiritual.  Having a direction in life and living meaningfully by knowing one’s sense of call for service, which may include facing life’s pain, is being spiritual.


At an individual level, we can cultivate SQ through reflection, inquiry, and practice.  We can also develop SQ through spiritual experiences.  Humans are physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and mental beings with different upbringings, socio-economic situations, life experiences, and life events, which logics may not explain all.  Therefore, understanding the various components and making reasonable decisions is essential.

At an organizational level, leaders and managers take into account the personal, corporate, contextual, emotional, rational, relational, and legal aspects to make a balanced decision.  Organizations need spiritual intelligence expressed through wisdom and compassionate action in the world.  As organizations demand increasingly complex solutions, conscious leadership to maneuver change is mandatory to survive in an intricate world.   Change is one element that organizations face, and therefore should be anticipated and planned to co-create new realities for individuals as well as organizations. Otherwise, change may disrupt people’s lives and can be counterproductive for development.

An expert panel of health care professionals: medical, psychological and spiritual care experts offered this consensus definition for spirituality: “Spirituality is a dynamic and intrinsic aspect of humanity through which persons seek ultimate meaning, purpose, and transcendence, and experience relationship to self, family, others, community, society, nature, and the significant or sacred. Spirituality is expressed through beliefs, values, traditions, and practices.” In organizations, spirituality may be expressed through organizational vision, values, cultures, and practices.  Apart from management’s work of planning, recruitment, staffing, organizing, and implementing projects, creating soft systems that connects and uphold vision, creating inter-connectedness to go towards same directions are more significant tasks for leaders to invest themselves and take the role of beliefs and values to play in the day-to-day actions that shape the organizational life.

Spirituality at a national level will be a dynamic and intrinsic aspect of humanity through which nations seek ultimate meaning, purpose, and transcendence, and experience relatedness to community, society, and nature.  Spiritual intelligence would be beneficial for leaders in particular and individuals in general for the betterment of the global society as a whole.  Faith is essential to lead a nation like Ethiopia, which has a multitude of problems that devastate the country. SQ is related to humans’ capacity to develop a vision, create meaning and values for living.  Humans have the inner potential to develop SQ; however, like EQ and CQ, we need to be mindful of how to develop the skills and competencies.  The conscious pursuit of SQ requires that we have contextual understandings of spirituality that incorporate insights from our history, culture, traditions, and life circumstances to help people transcend with their spiritual intelligence.  Even in this high stress of our country, exercising SQ may be required to deal with our chaos.

Maybe the mainstream religious institutions may need to adopt what is missing in our religiosity, that did not deliver peace, connectedness, and transcending our present circumstances. I understand the elusive nature of spirituality makes it very difficult to apply; however, our stunted religiosity needs soul nourishment to work on our holistic human development at all levels.

What is that gives life or vitality to our individual, organizational, and national systems?

By Seble Hailu
December 2, 2019