Imagining a Gym for the Spirit, Mind, and Body for the 21st Century

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Case Study—This case explores a research and consulting engagement whose goal was to build an investment case for a new type of 21st century gym for the spirit, mind, and body. The client, a group of well-funded U.S. entrepreneurs, wanted to design and launch a venture that would be positioned to serve the emerging spiritual needs of the proximal future (2-15 years). While the founders were themselves involved in meditation, belief-dependent realism, and a loose collection of westernized oriental and mystic practices and beliefs, they had not yet defined the venture's specific offering. They suspected that (a) the dominant sociocultural climate of rationalism (e.g. rationalized life choices/paths derived from rationalized worldviews, disengaged relationship with the body and emotion, cynically-motivated wealth creation, etc.) and the lack of embodied and experience-based decision-making and living practices were at the core of a generalized social malaise, and that (b) decoding it and designing a venture to target it, if done right, had the potential to catalyze a movement that could be both highly socially beneficial and lucrative. The case describes the journey to design a research methodology to validate, qualify, and expand their theory, study spirituality in U.S. culture, map the relation of spiritual needs to salient psychosocial problems, create a predictive theory about the future evolution of human spiritual and personal transformation needs, and design a business venture that would serve those needs, be broadly appealing to the U.S. public, and become a profitable company. The end product is multiple things at once: a service, a set of beliefs and practices, a philosophy, an intelligible, intelligent, and attractive system, a community, and a business, and the difficulty designing it and studying a topic as blurry, diffuse, and totalizing as spirituality and how it engenders individuals’ relationship to reality and collective culture presents a particularly interesting opportunity to discuss how a hybrid research methodology of socio-historical research, ethnographic fieldwork, and semiotic analysis provides the correct focus with which to study and theorize around such a slippery subject.

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