Call for Papers: “Business Retreats and Retreating at the Crossroads of Performance and Religion”

We invite scholars to submit proposals for an edited volume that considers broadly the practices of retreats and retreating in business. Interdisciplinary in scope, the main goal of this volume is to bridge management studies and the humanities and generate insights that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries. We thus invite scholars from any discipline, with particular interest in management perspectives informed by organization theory, strategy, human resources, and entrepreneurship and, on the humanities side, theater and performance studies, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, literature, and psychology. We imagine there are other connections we have not yet envisioned, and we welcome such proposals.

This volume grew out of an eighteen-month project funded by University of Alberta’s Kule Institute for Advanced Study and the University of Calgary’s Calgary Institute for the Humanities, which generated fruitful connections across disciplines. We sought to explore the theoretical underpinnings of the popular practice of business retreats, in which organizations temporarily and physically retreat from the mechanics of business operations with an aim to benefit workers and organizations by increasing efficiency and productivity, or even with the promise of ritual goods like personal and organizational transformation. Business retreats and activities involving retreating, such as meditation or taking a moment of personal time, provide an opportunity to examine how even the most outcome-driven organizations rely on softer skills, such as imagination and role-play, and draw on religious structures, such as the rite of passage, to motivate workers, create community, and foster innovation.

Our project has brought together scholars and practitioners from around the world to consider questions such as:

  • How do religious leaders from different religious traditions (such as Catholics, Buddhists, and Sikhs) speak about the process of individual and collective discernment through retreating?
  • How can the process through which actors use rehearsal and performance create a place for retreating?
  • How does an improv theater company work with organizations to develop effective leadership and communication training?
  • How are Silicon Valley technology giants reshaping spirituality to drive productivity?

Interdisciplinary in scope, one of the volume’s goals is to bridge management studies and the humanities. Retreats offer an ideal case study for a project that aims to foster scholarship at the intersection of the humanities and business because they employ methods that are often borrowed from religious traditions and frequently draw upon techniques from the performing arts. As a result, humanities scholars, such as those in religious studies and theater and performance studies, are instrumental in understanding the mechanisms through which retreats generate positive outcomes for individuals and organizations. For example, retreats constitute a transcultural practice that draws, whether consciously or not, on older models of spiritual retreats as a tool for reconnecting to the self or the divine. They also share with theater rehearsal methods for collaborating, experimenting, and creating a collective vision for future action. Business retreats temporarily remove their participants from conventional time and space, provide an opportunity to learn new skills or practice existing ones, rely on replacing traditional hierarchies with new models of interaction, and adopt a ritual structure that involves separation, liminality, and reintegration. As simultaneously a tool for escaping and reentering the world, business retreats leverage the ritual and theatrical aspects of performance as role-playing, embodiment, and patterned behavior to help workers better satisfy the evaluative side of performance in their quests for excellence and efficiency. Even as they draw on religious and theatrical traditions, they subsequently influence the non-profit sector as churches, schools, and charities create business-style retreats. Given their distance from the more explicitly profit-driven activities of a business, retreats constitute a practice that invites humanistic inquiry without immediately triggering the anti-business reflexes some humanities scholars might have, while also inviting scholars in business to examine the importance of phenomena like performance, symbols, metaphor, and narrative to business.

Although the phenomenon of business retreats is understudied, our research draws on scholarship in a range of fields. For example, in business we draw inspiration from work on tradition and custodianship (Dacin et al., 2019), the ritualization of strategy workshops (Johnson et al., 2010), history, socialization, symbol and narrative (Foster et al., 2017), and organizational ritual (Trice & Beyer, 1984; Smith & Stewart, 2011; Domenico & Phillips, 2009; Dacin et al., 2010). In religious studies, we build on scholarship that examines ritual and its functions (Durkheim, 1912, 1995; Grimes, 2014, 2021; Turner, 1967, 1969, 1979), the relationship between religion and work (Chen, 2022; LoRusso, 2017; Lounsbury & Tracey, 2014), and spiritual retreats (Goldman, 2012; Olsen & Timothy, 2021). From theater and performance studies, we look to foundational work that defines performance (Carlson, 2004; Phelan, 1993; Schechner, 1985, 2002; Taylor, 2003), work on improvisation (Barker, 2010; Bermant, 2013; Johnstone, 1981), and a growing body of scholarship on performance and business (Blackwell-Pal, 2020; Boyle, 2017; Mckenzie, 2001; Saddler, 2020).

Possible directions for exploration include, without being limited to:

  • How do retreats use temporal and spatial frameworks (by taking place in special or distant locations, by lasting for extended periods of time, etc.)?
  • What kinds of outcomes do businesses hope to achieve through retreats (learning new skills, personal or organizational transformation, relationship building, etc.)?
  • What kinds of hierarchies or power relations do retreats instantiate, subvert, critique, or maintain (for example, by designating a coach, by temporarily ignoring boss-employee structures, etc.)?
  • What kind of balance between individual work and group activities do business retreats use, and why?
  • How do business retreats draw on theatrical skills and repertoires (role-playing, rehearsal, scripts, costumes, props, etc.)?
  • How do business retreats incorporate ritual elements (meditation, rite-of-passage structures, spiritual or spiritualized practices, etc.)?
  • How do business retreats allow organizations to use symbols, metaphors, and traditions (company lore, official value statements, mascots, etc.)?
  • How have business retreats changed over time?
  • How do business retreats differ across cultural contexts?

Please send proposals of one page or less, along with a CV, by February 28, 2023 to:

We are also happy to answer any questions you might have about the volume or the larger project on “Business Retreats at the Crossroads of Performance and Religion.”

University of AlbertaUniversity of Calgary
Stefano Muneroni, Ph.D.Associate Professor Department of DramaJoy Palacios, Ph.D.Assistant ProfessorDepartment of Classics and Religion
Emily Block, Ph.D.Associate Professor, George M. Cormie Professor of Business, Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and ManagementAlice de Koning, Ph.D.RBC Teaching Fellow, Professor (Teaching), Haskayne School of Business

Barker, C. (2010). Theatre Games: A New Approach to Drama Training. Methuen Drama.

Bermant, G. (2013). Working With(out) a Net: Improvisational Theater and Enhanced Well-Being. Frontier
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Blackwell-Pal, J. (2020). Producing “The Joy of Pret”: Theatres of (Emotional) Labour in the Service Industry. Platform, 14(1 & 2), 102–116.

Boyle, M. S. (2017). Performance and Value: The Work of Theatre in Karl Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. Theatre Survey, 58(01), 3–23.

Carlson, M. (2004). Performance: A Critical Introduction (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Chen, C. (2022). Work, Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley. Princeton University Press.

Dacin, M. T., Dacin, P. A., & Kent, D. (2019). Tradition in Organizations: A Custodianship Framework. Academy of Management Annals, 13(1), 342–373.

Dacin, M. T., Munir, K., & Tracey, P. (2010). Formal Dining at Cambridge Colleges: Linking Ritual Performance and Institutional Maintenance. Academy of Management Journal, 53(6), 1393–1418.

Domenico, M. D., & Phillips, N. (2009). Sustaining the Ivory Tower: Oxbridge Formal Dining as Organizational Ritual. Journal of Management Inquiry, 18(4), 326–343.

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Durkheim, E. (1995). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (K. E. Fields, Trans.). The Free Press.

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Grimes, R. L. (2014). The Craft of Ritual Studies. Oxford University Press.

Grimes, R. L. (2021). Improvising Ritual. In G. Harvey, M. Houseman, S. M. Pike, & J. Salomonsen (Eds.),

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