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Religion and the "Value-Added" Life

One of the most egregious (and frankly ugly) cliches of the managerial class is the language of labor that adds value, or “value-added” activity that builds on (and builds up) the entrepreneurial self.

The human subject conceived in this way engages constantly in acts of strategic self-improvement, looking forward to the future with a speculative eye and a combative demeanor, openly seeking struggle against others to strive for success. As Dardot and Laval argue in their recent book The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society (Verso 2013), this is a kind of work ethic, but one that departs radically from the Weberian attitude we’re familiar with. The aim of the entrepreneurial subject becomes constant movement-in-improvement, continual adaptation, and an emphasis on representing all human activities in terms of an imperative of production and commodification. The pursuit of fitness “adds value” to the physical body therefore making it a more desirable erotic commodity. The pursuit of a degree “adds value” to one’s educational portfolio, making one a more desirable occupational commodity. The pursuit of certain kinds of expertise “adds value” to one’s work portfolio, making one more professionally attractive, and so on. Body and soul become the object of potentially endless projects of self-improvement.

It seems to me that religion might be (should be?) useful right here, to combat the language of the “value-added” life. In the first place, the managerial/administrative understanding seems to imply that there are forms of life without the constant movement, without the accretions, without the projects of self-improvement. Are we to call this life without value? Before value? Religion in our time has to face this quandary, and it has to do so acknowledging that market forces and their ideological expression in neoliberal/libertarian thought are responsible for making the question necessary in the first instance.

It also seems to me that the affirmation of life has to rely on what Charles Taylor has called the dimension “beyond life.” It has to address and include those kinds of activities that aren’t captured in the gross mesh of market processes or easily measured and assayed in processes of quantification and commodification. This means turning in the direction of positive experiences like love, but it also necessitates a meditation on vulnerability and weakness. Both love and death laugh in the face of self-improvement. They remind us that the meaning of every project escapes the intention of its author. Religion has the potential to reflect on this remainder/reminder. It has the potential to show that the fantasy of endless self-improvement is a delusion that mimics the market’s delusional faith in endless growth. If it doesn’t engage in this practical work of critique and counterdiscourse, it risks becoming complicit in the construction of what Augustine called the City of Man.

About the Author

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.



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Amen, amen, amen, Robert.  I'd also recommend to everyone Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste (also Verso, 2013) on how and why neo-liberal capitalist ideology emerged unscathed and unapologetic out of the current crisis.

Frankly, I'm not hopeful that what one might call "really existing religion" is going to be of much help here, Robert.  American Christianity -- certainly most of its leadership and most prominent ideologues, such as Rick Warren -- is pretty much bought and paid for.  You're not going to see any prophetic leadership from this crew, just a lot of hollering about "religious liberty," i.e,. the need to impose on people what they can't persuade them to do.


It seems to me that religion might be (should be?) useful right here, to combat the language of the “value-added” life.

Well, you'd like to think so, wouldn't you?

Sadly, church-going--whether it's attending the boss's church or attending one that gives the worshiper just the right patina of respectability--has, for a long time, been a value-added in the workplace. 

What a remarkable interpretation of "value added."   I admit I don't spend a lot of time reading the sort of kitsch publications where "value added" is used in such contexts asou present, but it has simply never seemed to me to imply any such thingsas your intrepretation supplies.

For many years - and still perhaps - Professr Uwe Reinhart at Prineton gave a final lecture in one of his upper level economcs classes in which he talked about "value-added people" and about their economic prospects.  By "value added" people he was specifically calling out school-teachers, the helping professions, public servants suc as fire and police, and basic researchers in science.   He contrasted these with invesment bankers, corprate lawyers and the like.  This annual lecture was hugely attended - it was aways given in the University's largest lecture hall, and t was always wall-to-wall, so overloaded the the campus procrtors routinely had to limit entry to maintain some contact with the fire code.

Can "value aded" be misused?   Of course.   So can "freedom", "virtue", "religion,"  and "liberal".

Mark L.


Religion and life both are equivalent with each other; we have found different people with different religion around the world and their culture and communities are completely different from each other. Therefore we must say that in our planet we can get number of religions with number of people; from here we should understand the importance of religion and importance of life.

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