BCSR: When work becomes your religion, nothing else matters

person looking at computer
August 30, 2022

In a country that has seen a steep decline in religious practice, what do we consider as sacred? How do we express our spiritual beliefs? And what is replacing traditional places of worship?

Carolyn Chen found the answer to those questions talking to tech workers in the Bay Area. 

“Silicon Valley is one of the least religious places in America. I thought it would be a place devoid of religion and spirituality. But it is actually one of the most religious places I’d ever been,” said Chen, a UC Berkeley professor and co-director of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion. “Work is sacred to tech workers. Their companies and startups are the faith communities that spiritually form them and direct their devotion, giving them meaning, purpose and belonging in life.”

Over a five-year period, Chen delved into the Bay Area technology world and spent time with companies connecting with Silicon Valley executives, engineers and leaders. She interviewed over 100 tech workers and often socialized with them in tech trends like trance dance, mindful meditation, ice baths, diets and fasting.

Her recent book, Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes a Religion in Silicon Valley, which she will discuss Sept. 30 as part of the UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix series, chronicles that journey and explores how tech companies have created an environment that aims to provide employees with everything they need, from food to transportation and day care.