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Applying critical realism in spirituality at work research

Peter McGhee (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)
Patricia Grant (Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)

Management Research Review

ISSN: 2040-8269

Article publication date: 21 August 2017




This study aims to demonstrate how critical realism (CR) can be used in spirituality at work (SAW) research and to provide a practical example of CR in SAW research.


CR is a philosophical meta-theory that allows the stratification of spirituality into different levels of reality, advocates for research methods matching the ontology of the level investigated and provides complementary methods of exploring this phenomenon’s causal power in social contexts. The authors present a study where CR was used to explain how and why SAW influences ethics in organisational contexts.


The results demonstrate that CR provides a useful approach to bridging the positivist-interpretivist difference in SAW research. Moreover, a CR approach helped explain the underlying conditions and causal mechanisms that power SAW to influence ethical decision-making and behaviour in the workplace.


While CR has been applied in the management literature, negligible SAW research has used this approach. That which exists is either conceptual or does not discuss methods of data analysis, or describe how critical realist concepts resulted in their findings. This paper addresses that lacuna. CR also provides value, as an alternative approach to SAW research, in that it allows the use of both quantitative and qualitative methods as complementary, not confrontational methods while providing a more integrated and deeper view of SAW and its effects.



McGhee, P. and Grant, P. (2017), "Applying critical realism in spirituality at work research", Management Research Review, Vol. 40 No. 8, pp. 845-869.



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