Spiritual Power. Ethnic Chinese Managers and the Rise of Charismatic Christianity


  • Juliette Koning VU University Amsterdam
  • Heidi Dahles VU University Amsterdam




ethnic Chinese, spiritual leadership, business, charismatic Christianity Indonesia, Malaysia


This article explores the ongoing conversion of ethnic Chinese managers in Indonesia and Malaysia to charismatic Christianity, a movement characterized by experiential spirituality, healing, and prophesying. The spiritual turn among ethnic Chinese managers is positioned against the growing literature on spirituality in organizations and the acclaimed need for managers to bring spirituality to work in order to enhance efficiency and employee well-being under the present Zeitgeist of growing global competition and organizational change. An important missing link, however, in this instrumentalist literature is a contextualized approach to the inner meanings of religion-based spirituality in the lives of the managers involved. By analyzing the experiences as narrated by converted managers in Indonesia and Malaysia against the background of their cultural, political, social and economic context - in casu the ethno-religious power relations at national levels -, this article takes the analysis beyond the goal-oriented leadership literature. Additionally, it applies a comparative approach to show that the spiritual turn may have divergent meanings to actors in different contexts. The outcomes of the research illustrate that religion-based spirituality among ethnic Chinese managers in Indonesia and Malaysia is empowering at the managerial level but also at the ethnic level. In the latter case however, this empowerment is quite differently constituted.

Author Biographies

Juliette Koning, VU University Amsterdam

Senior Lecturer; Department of Culture, Organization and Management; Faculty of Social Sciences.

Heidi Dahles, VU University Amsterdam

Full Professor; Department of Culture, Organization and Management; Faculty of Social Sciences