Holy Evil

The Foundations of Organizational Evil, 2012. ed. Carole Jurkiewicz, M. E. Sharpe, 124-142.

21 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2011 Last revised: 3 Apr 2012

See all articles by J. Patrick Dobel

J. Patrick Dobel

University of Washington - Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance

Date Written: February 15, 2012


Religious experience lies at the core of the human journey for many people. Individuals discover meaning and direction through an experience that they believe links them to a truth or presence that lies beyond the boundaries of nature. The experience of the holy divides the world into sacred and profane. This division can become the foundation of notions of good and evil that drive organizations. At this point notions of good and evil grounded in holiness transcend the secular and traditional understanding of evil as the infliction of harm on innocent people, beings and the world. The division of the world between sacred and profane and believers and nonbelievers also impacts the notion of state and religion where the two exist as separate but related estates. Evil as a concept unites worldly wrong with spiritual transgression, and the privilege to define it carries immense organizational and political import for the idea of organizational evil.

When the holy domain bonds with organizational governing, this bond transforms law and authority. To violate a law not only becomes disobedience, but a sin. To disrespect the state not only becomes disrespect, but a sacrilege. To disagree not only becomes dissent, but blasphemy. Clerics and government apply different rules to people and places that fall outside the halo of their divine institutions. Drawing upon etymology, social psychology and organizational culture and history, the paper examines how religiously formed meaning profoundly influences the capacity of people and organizations to do evil. The paper maps out the internal moral and religious logic of organizations that are anchored in the experience of holiness for their legitimacy. The role of clerics becomes extremely important since they become the group that stabilizes the relationship with the divine source and uses ritual and interpretation to control the direction of organizations and define the nature of good and evil for its members. The organizational logic illuminates how holy organizations both control definitions of evil in the world and helps their members evade indictment as evil by annulling such external claims in their internal moral world.

Keywords: political ethics, organizational theory, organizational evil, etymology of holy, holiness & politics, legitimacy, responsibility

Suggested Citation

Dobel, J. Patrick, Holy Evil (February 15, 2012). The Foundations of Organizational Evil, 2012. ed. Carole Jurkiewicz, M. E. Sharpe, 124-142.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1928226 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1928226

J. Patrick Dobel (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance ( email )

Box 353055
Seattle, WA 98195
United States
206-616-1680 (Phone)

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