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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM23-PP7: The soul of the organization - archetypal paradox, belief systems or what?

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Parallel Papers Session 2

Friday 30 June 15.15pm-16.30 SAST - VENUE 2
Paper Code: PP7
The soul of the organization - archetypal paradox, belief systems or what?

Presenter: Prof. Dr. Claudia Nagel

Talking about the soul of organizations has been a long-neglected subject, especially in research but in practice as well and was often confused with an esoteric approach. It can also easily be confounded with organizational culture or with organizational ethics, yet these concepts seem to be intertwined somehow.

This leads to some basic questions such as: How can we understand organizational soul from a contemporary perspective? Why is it important and what does it contribute to our understanding of the functioning of organization from an individual as well as a systems-perspective?
In this conceptual paper, I will explore the notion of soul in the context of organizations from different perspectives whilst staying in the realm of psycho- and sociodynamics.
Some of the confusion may stem from the usage of the world soul as synonym for mind – the translation of Freuds work has certainly added to this. Earlier, in animistic religions and also in Christianity, the soul was understood as the mediator between the spiritual and the material world. Later, the link between the mind and the soul, its metaphysical and spiritual connection, was lost, and today the word soul is not as much used, although it conveys clearly a deeper and more emotional level in us humans. So, what could be the deeper human level of an organization and is there a way of getting hold of it?
Several inroads are possible – we can use archetypes and draw on the collective unconscious (following C.G. Jung) or understand an organization as the representation of an archetype or as an archetypal framework of paradoxes (Corlett & Pearson, 2003), or we can look at it as a value system (Schein, 1984), their moral implications and the ethical beliefs behind them (Bay, Taylor, & Discroll 2011). The need for sense- and meaning making of human beings also seem to play a role. I will shed some light into this jungle of connotations, also to understand the discomfort of using the word soul in an organizational context.

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  1. Distinguish between the different notions of soul
  2. Apply the knowledge of the philosophical roots of soul to the soul of organizations
  3. Identify working areas in organizations dealing with organisational soul.


Alexander G. T. (1980). William James, the sick soul, and the negative dimensions of consciousness: A partial critique of transpersonal psychology. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 48(2): 191–205.
Bell. E.; Taylor, S., Discroll, C. Varieties of organizational soul: The ethics of belief in organizations. Organization, 19(4): 425–439.
Jung, C.G. Collected Works
Corlett, J.G. & Pearson, Carol S. (2003): Mapping the Organizational Psyche. A Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics and Change. Gainesville.
Lewis, M. W. (2000). Exploring paradox: Toward a more comprehensive guide. Academy of Management review, 25(4): 760-776.
Schad, J., Lewis M., Raisch, S., & Smith, W. K. (2016). Paradox research in management science: Looking back to move forward. The Academy of Management Annals, 10(1): 5–64.
Schein, E. (1984). Coming to a new awareness of organizational culture. Sloane Management Review 25(2): 3-16, p.3
Biographical Summary
Prof. Dr. Claudia Nagel is a consultant, coach, author, and senior advisor to international organisations and their board members. She is full Professor at the VU Amsterdam University, holding a chair on change and identity. In her early career, she held leadership positions in finance/investment banking and management consulting. As an economist (MBA), organisational psychologist (PhD), and chartered psychoanalyst (ISAP), Claudia is an expert on strategic management, leadership, and change processes. She runs her own consulting business, Nagel & Company, and is president of ISPSO.