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4.1 | 2013
Religion and development
Religion et développement

Religion and Development : Reconsidering Secularism as the Norm

Translation(s) of this article:
Religion et développement : reconsidérer la laïcité comme norme
الدين والتنمية: إعادة النظر في اللائكية كمعيار
Gilles Carbonnier
p. 1-5

Abstract

Until recently, religion as a key concept in the study and practice of development remained rather marginal in academic and public policy circles. As the notion and early theories of development were embedded in the Enlightenment and modernisation traditions, development studies have widely neglected religion. Given that the origins of development assistance trace back to missionary ventures and religiously inspired initiatives during the colonial era, this is something of a surprise. Today, faith-based organisations remain highly prominent actors in the aid industry. (…) The lack of attention to religion and faith in development research and policy thus stands in stark contrast to the paramount role played by religion in the daily lives of individuals and communities, particularly in the most active field of international development cooperation, the developing world.

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Index terms

Thematic keywords :

religion, secularism
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Editor's notes

Paperback reference : Carbonnier, G. (2013) "Religion and Development : Reconsidering Secularism as the Norm", in International Development Policy: Religion and Development, No.4, Geneva: Graduate Institute Publications, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-5

Full text

On behalf of the editorial board and the managing team of International Development Policy, we gratefully acknowledge the outstanding work carried out by the two guest editors. Their strong thematic expertise, vast multidisciplinary perspectives and inspirational drive has been essential throughout the editorial process, from designing and launching the initial call for papers in mid-2011 to completing the peer-review and revision process in late 2012.

1Sociologists have long predicted that the influence and role of religion(s) would wane in ‘modern’ societies. In Auguste Comte’s positivist vision, religion is somewhat constructed as an obstacle to progress. Max Weber famously posited that the rationalisation process associated with modernisation would lead to the ‘disenchantment of the world’, whereby the search for truths and meanings come to rest on scientific investigation rather than religious beliefs, myths and magic. This is not to say that the role of religious traditions should be neglected, as underscored by Weber’s thesis on the central role of Protestant ethics in the development of capitalism. Rather, it acknowledges that the separation between Church and state resulted in a power transfer from religious to secular state institutions in industrialising Western countries that witnessed the emergence of a rational legal order under the authority of non-religious social institutions. As modernisation expanded from the core to the periphery, many expected the developing world to follow suit.

2Despite the rapid post-war diffusion of the development paradigm across Asia, Latin America and Africa and, perhaps more importantly, the deepening of globalisation following the end of the Cold War, those who were predicting the death of religion were proved dramatically wrong. Religion has shown great resilience, as evidenced by the major religious revivals across the globe, be they in the Muslim world, the Americas, Africa or Eastern Europe. In the industrialised world, many policy-makers and opinion-leaders do not shy away either from dismissing scientific evidence (with reference to the theory of evolution or climate change for example) or from making decisions based on beliefs and ideology rather than on evidence-based information.

3Until recently, religion as a key concept in the study and practice of development remained rather marginal in academic and public policy circles. As the notion and early theories of development were embedded in the Enlightenment and modernisation traditions, development studies have widely neglected religion. Given that the origins of development assistance trace back to missionary ventures and religiously inspired initiatives during the colonial era, this is something of a surprise. Today, faith-based organisations remain highly prominent actors in the aid industry. The Christian organisation World Vision International, for instance, has the largest budget among humanitarian and development aid non-governmental organisations (NGOs), with total expenditures on international programmes, international relief and rehabilitation programmes, community education and advocacy, administration, and fundraising reaching US$2.72 billion in 2011. Similarly, the London-based NGO Islamic Relief has grown tremendously over the past decade, with charitable expenditures doubling in just four years, from £32 million in 2007 to £67 million in 2011. The lack of attention to religion and faith in development research and policy thus stands in stark contrast to the paramount role played by religion in the daily lives of individuals and communities, particularly in the most active field of international development cooperation, the developing world.

4It was only in the mid-1990s, under the leadership of its then-President James Wolfensohn, that the World Bank engaged with religion and faith-based organisations. The events of 9/11 and the rise of religious fundamentalism are pointed to as critical junctures that have forced policy-makers, practitioners and scholars to turn their attention to the meaning of religious revival for development policy and practice. This has been accompanied by what many consider to be an alarming trend toward outright rejection of Western-dominated humanitarian and development enterprises, notably by some groups in the Islamic world. Less than a decade ago, a few bilateral development agencies, such as the UK Religions and Research Programme Consortium, the Dutch Religion and Development Knowledge Centre, and the Swiss reflection on the Role and Significance of Religion and Spirituality in Development, began to support research into the religion-development nexus.

5In the field of religious studies, notwithstanding the various unresolved controversies regarding the definition of religion, religions have long been the subject of rich analysis, be they considered social facts, worldviews, institutions or intersubjective social structures. But the ensuing lack of conceptual clarity and corresponding uneasy relationship between secular and faith-based development organisations have likely contributed to the relative marginalisation of religion in development studies and international development cooperation. Against this background, in 2011 the editorial board of International Development Policy decided to create a special issue on religion and development with a view toward contributing to this crucial but underinvestigated area.

Fig. 1. Religious Groups by Region, 2010 (in million of believers)

Fig. 1. Religious Groups by Region, 2010 (in million of believers)

* Followers of a religion tied closely to a specific ethnic group, with membership restricted to that group; usually animists, polytheists, or shamanists.

Sources: World Christian Database (2012), (Brill Publishers: Leiden/Boston), Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2009), Mapping the Global Muslim Population (Pew Research Center: Washington), http://www.pewforum.org/​.

6We invited two guest editors to oversee this special issue: Kalinga Tudor Silva, professor of sociology and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and Dr Moncef Kartas, researcher at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP), lecturing regularly at the University of Bethlehem and the Graduate Institute. The papers presented in this issue were selected following a call for papers launched in the summer of 2011. The call invited scholars to submit papers in French or English in four key areas within the religion-development nexus: fundamental concepts and theories; religiously-inspired actors and faith-based organisations in development; religions as impediments and opportunities for development policy and practice; and, lastly, religions, worldviews, cosmologies and the limits of development studies as a naturalistic discipline.

7The papers eventually selected were presented and discussed at an international workshop in April 2012. This was followed by further exchanges between the authors and external peer-reviewers. This editorial process highlighted specific areas of contention, beginning with the definition of religion and of development. Several authors questioned the traditional secular-religious dichotomy so common to development discourse. Rather than considering the secular as a ‘given’ and religion as an object worth studying, these authors insisted that secular development deserves as at least as much academic scrutiny.

8Part 1 of this special issue brings the reader to the heart of the debate, epitomised by the heated exchange between Philip Fountain and Katherine Marshall regarding faith and development as a field of research and practice. Following the critical contribution by Fountain, the guest editors invited Katherine Marshall, as former Senior Advisor on Faith and Development at the World Bank, to provide a response. She strongly engages with Fountain’s arguments, agreeing that the ‘discovery’ of religion has often led to gross oversimplifications, but also arguing that Fountain’s analysis reflects important biases. In turn, our guest editors offered Philip Fountain the opportunity to react to Marshall’s critique. In their exchanges, the two scholars offer contrasting views on the construction of religion in development studies and the (re)discovery of religion by development theorists and policy makers, with correspondingly distinct interpretations of the implications of the potential role of faith and religiously inspired actors in development.

9Part 2 of the issue delves deeper into the challenges posed by recent changes in the development sector, as bilateral and multilateral development organisations and major donors increasingly incorporate religion into the scope of their programmatic work, most noticeably through partnerships with faith-based organisations. Beginning with Jeffrey Haynes, who examines the experience of the World Bank and Gerard Clarke that of bilateral donors, the contributing authors focus on faith-based organisations and secular development. Elliott Mourier questions the role of faith-based social action as a substitute for the state in Brazil, followed by Hannah de Wet who considers the specific case of World Vision in South Africa. The authors explore the role of religion in broader societal structures, thus examining development approaches within faith-based organisations and the role of the secular discourse of dependency therein.

10In Part 3, six authors discuss religious conceptions of development as alternatives to technocratic (neo)liberal development, with case studies ranging from various Arab-Spring states to South China via Turkey and Sri Lanka. The chapters examine topics relating to religious doctrine, statehood and violence. In doing so, they engage with broader international development debates on religion and development and open new avenues in the search for alternative development narratives and strategies both at the collective, policy level (e.g. Islamic finance, public policies in Turkey) and the community and individual levels (e.g. post-trauma and post-crisis recovery, consumer behaviour). The first two pieces examine the specific cases of the Catholic doctrine of integral human development (Ludovic Bertina) and the Muslim Brotherhood’s vision of the state and Islamic finance (Zidane Meriboute). Levent Ünsaldi examines the Muslim conception of development in contemporary Turkey as suspended between neoliberalism and religious morals, followed by two papers by Wim van Daele and Indika Bulankulame, who uncover very telling religious-development dynamics in Sri Lanka, where Buddhism and Hinduism have coexisted with Islam and Christianity for centuries. The final chapter by Sam Wong enquires into the potential of religious capital to alleviate poverty in the case of migrants in South China.

11As Kalinga Tudor Silva and Moncef Kartas conclude, this special issue demonstrates the need to carefully avoid generalisations when dealing with heterogeneous and broad concepts such as faith-based organisations and religiously inspired actors, and the corresponding necessity of questioning the secular-religious dichotomy in development. This is a prerequisite for understanding the potential of religion in the fight against poverty and environmental degradation; assessing the scope and limitations of religious organisations as ‘drivers of change’; and averting the risks associated with the mobilisation of faith and instrumentalisation of religion for specific goals, within or outside the dominant development discourse. It is our hope that this thematic issue contributes to this endeavour by shedding light on the major conceptual debates through the presentation of a wide range of rich case studies exploring critical dimensions of the religion-development nexus.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1. Religious Groups by Region, 2010 (in million of believers)
Caption * Followers of a religion tied closely to a specific ethnic group, with membership restricted to that group; usually animists, polytheists, or shamanists.
Credits Sources: World Christian Database (2012), (Brill Publishers: Leiden/Boston), Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2009), Mapping the Global Muslim Population (Pew Research Center: Washington), http://www.pewforum.org/​.
URL http://poldev.revues.org/docannexe/image/1351/img-1.png
File image/png, 209k
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References

Electronic reference

Gilles Carbonnier, « Religion and Development : Reconsidering Secularism as the Norm », International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 4.1 |  2013, Online since 21 March 2013, connection on 17 August 2017. URL : http://poldev.revues.org/1351 ; DOI : 10.4000/poldev.1351

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About the author

Gilles Carbonnier

Professor of Development Economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Editor-in-Chief of International Development Policy. His research and teaching focus on international development cooperation, humanitarianism, energy, the governance of natural resources and the political economy of war. Before joining the Graduate Institute, he gained over 18 years of professional experience in multilateral tradenegotiations, development cooperation and humanitarian action.

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Copyright

Creative Commons License
International Development Policy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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