Friday, August 08, 2008

Core beliefs & environmental adaptation

The downfall of many religious organizations is not that they fail to support core teachings,
but rather that they treat all aspects of the organization as core ideology that cannot be changed

Roger Finke (2003, pp. 23)

Balancing the essential tensions in religion is difficult.  The moral answers emerging from a belief structure are a vector.  They contain an individual's history with a problem and the magnitude of force needed for a solution.  Because of the momentum and direction, specific moral solutions don't transfer overly well.  Answers are not silver bullets, but rather spandreled solutions to balance the tensions of complicated histories.  This gives rise to one of the foundational problems of organizations, perhaps best explained by Willis' (2004) thermodynamic treatment of organizational life cycles.

Organizations don't remain static.  One view is to say they are either getting more organized (often bureaucratic), or they are getting back in touch with their roots (shadow systems are gaining control).  The implication is there is never one ideal situation for an organization. Solutions always depend on the organizations trajectory and momentum (think historical factors, current direction, and current rate of change (and rate of rate change)).  To slow down the thermodynamic cycling, organizations need to have a proper responsiveness to their environment.  As Finke (2003, pp. 20) explores, "religious groups sustain organizational vitality by preserving core religious teachings as they introduce innovations for serving members and adapting to their changing environment".

New religious movements, including mormonism, are good case studies for this investigation.  A few recent bloggernacle posts help set the stage:
One question new religious movements face is how their heads can lead change in a prophetic manner without either sacrificing the wrong core elements or responding to the wrong external influences.  While non-religious organizations don't have the extra pressure of supernatural expectations, I would wager they must still maintain a balance between protecting core beliefs and adapting to environmental pressures.  

Given's book "People of Paradox" can be read to show the strength of early mormon unification enabled innovation.  A comparative lack of modern innovation may occur from an environment whose unifying tendencies are more suited to eventual entropic decay than risky chaos management.

In Finke's (2003) explanation, many faltering mainstream denominations have sacrificed their core teachings in lieu of organizational innovation.  In the quasi-religious environment of formal education, are many changes attempting to disrupt core teachings in place of environmentally appropriate innovation?

Finke, R. (2003). Innovative returns to tradition: Using core teachings as the foundation for innovative accommodation, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 43(1), pp. 19-34.

Willis, R. (2004). A complexity and Darwinian approach to management with failure avoidance as the key tool. In Complexity theory and the management of networks: Proceedings of the workshop on onganisational networks as distributed systems of knowledge (P. Andriani & G. Passiante Eds.). Imperial College Press: London. pp. 74-88

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