Question 4: What are the implications for teaching about religion and global affairs?

David Hirschmann

Non-expert thoughts on why ‘we’ (development types) are interested in ‘it’ (religion)


a) Impact on 'private' behaviors:  e.g. marriage, birth, death, puberty, choice, polygamy, divorce, ambition, gender relations, alcohol, drugs, child punishment; that in turn affects public or social behavior: e.g. gender relations, population, credit, reproductive health, disease (HIV AIDS), education, employment and public safety.


b) Attitudes to causation: e.g. disease, stress,  economic failure, distress, coincidence; relevance of science and technology, witchcraft ,good spells), that in turn affect attitudes to solutions & incentives, and ‘the future’- 'rational' steps; (hypothesis: if we do A, B will happen) - e.g. training, investment, inoculations; prayer alone, sensible prayer (don’t pray for rain in the dry season), prayer + action.  


c) Attitudes to property, property rights and nature: Animist - God's attention not restricted to human beings - also to animals, plants, rivers; rather than commodity for buying and selling - affects environment policies and practices - affects to capitalism & private ownership. ‘Native title’: traditional rights, based on traditional customs.


d) Perception of justice and good development:  Responsibilities toward the poor: know their place (caste), wait till the life hereafter, sharing, charity, tithe, 'good samaritan,' 'brother's keeper;' and attitudes to the very rich/successes of capitalism (getting to heaven - 'eye of the needle'), need for humility; charity vs development/sustainability  


e) Proselytizing and development (focus on poor) Nation of Islam in US, Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Christian Missionaries in colonial and present times. Charismatic Churches in Africa: focus on poor and community welfare, Islam in Africa (with aid and schools)


f) Human rights and choices: Affects legal system, women's and children's rights and responsibilities, child labor, sexual orientation; choice of religion: apostasy punishable by death in Saudi Arabia; some states in India ban evangelists from using  “allurement” in converting Hindu Untouchables. Associational tendencies and services/civil society. Huge component of civil society, affects depth and range of social capital, trust & role and character of NGOs & civil society may deepen, broaden, bridge or divide.


g) Diverging Interpretations of Key Concepts:  (Fundamentalist, contextual, material explanations/
adaptive/evolving interpretations) e.g.  Islam & democracy; notions of authority, and shura
(consultation) and Ijma (consensus), Christian and Islam on interest rates; Christian and Jewish
notion of usury, role of women (‘feminist  Islam’ challenging Islamic theology/thinking & history
to reclaim rights; Catholic Church on  abortion, divorce, role of gays and women in the church.


h)  Powerful Channels of Communication & Public Influence: Can oppose or support development message: negative or positive stereotypes of other religions, peace and conflict, HIV AIDS education, sex education, girls education, microfinance, use of condoms, etc.

Patrick James

Religious actors, faith-based organizations, and issues of moral and ethical responsibility are all active components of the foreign policy making process.  This has long been a reality, regardless of its historic lack of validation by academia.  Indeed, the inclusion of religion as an independent variable in the academic study of foreign policy and international relations is quite a new phenomenon, one that we have hoped to encourage through the work of the RIGG project.  Questions about religious identity and its connection to global governance are now at the forefront.  As a rising generation of leadership is educated, ensuring that the question of religion is addressed in their study of international relations and global society will be critical to these future leaders’ ability to address their responsibilities in a comprehensive manner.  The challenges faced by NGOs make this area of competence an especially high priority for their leadership.

Mona Kanwal Sheik

The present century seems to call for a warranted paradigm shift in what is considered to be scientific. Increasingly the confidence in traditional social theory explanations of religion is challenged by the emerging patterns of the postmodern. Since the dominant thrust of social theory based on the modernization assumptions of the secularization thesis has explained religion mainly as a hindrance to progress, there is still a widespread tendency among academics to apply functionalist concepts of religion adopted from secularization thesis, which inclines towards biased analyses of “the religious.” Such conceptions and discourses on religion can have crucial practical implications, that need to be confronted in developing programs for international NGO leadership training. The theory of secularization embedded in the history and grand narrative of European modernization and modernity is more mythic and normative about the place of religion in the world than descriptive about the status of religion. Thus to take religion seriously as an important category does not mean merely to embrace religion from a traditional social scientific viewpoint, which has, despite the self-perception of the social sciences, deeply-imbedded problems living up to its own criteria of objectivity and value-free knowledge. Rather, the task is to open up to the idea that religion can in fact have more substantial dimensions that need to be taken into consideration, in order to enhance the sensitivity of practitioners working with religion and international affairs.


Sanjeev Khagram

"Religion has been central to transnational civil society for hundreds  of years if not millenia.  Religious, or more broadly spiritual  beliefs, have motivated people to engage in efforts across borders and  religious organizations have often provided the material and  institutional resources for these efforts.  In the contemporary  period, arguably the most powerful transnational (un-)civil society  network - Al Qaeda- is deeply embedded in religion.  And certainly the  wealthiest transnational NGO - World Vision - is shaped by a powerful  religious frame. In terms of academic training of leaders of  transnational NGO leaders, we are still lagging behind in integrating  issues of religion and global civil society.  This can often be  particularly difficult in public universities where partnerships with  religiously driven TNGOs. Still, a transnational relations/dynamics  framework provides useful pedagogical approaches to bridge this gap.   In addition, more teaching cases studies focusing on religious  interactions, challenges and opportunities via a vision transnational  civil society are needed."

Andy Lower

With over 40% of the healthcare in Africa being provided by the local church, it is imperative for NGOs to not only be working in collaboration with faith groups, but to proactively be looking to establish effective partnership with FBOs.  Not only do FBOs provide a substantial resource and network of human capital, mobilsing communities to engage in lasting change, but their application of underlying motivational factors is crucial to break the hold of extreme poverty.  Tragically a consistency of worldview is often lacking in modern day Western philosophies of international development as donors focus on polarizing views as opposed to appealing to the crucial role that faith motivation has to bring about change.


The Eleos Foundation's mission is "catalyzing capital in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty with compassion and  effectiveness".  In line with that mission, the catalyzing of spiritual capital has an integral role to play.   The history of Eleos is one of deep spirituality and continues to be reflected in the ongoing work of Eleos and its partners.

Katherine Marshall

Religion in Global Civil Society, Leadership Training for International NGOs


Ending the ancient scourges of want, conflict, ignorance, and disease that can be averted, is an achievable goal of our times. The international development agenda (which is carried in good part by international NGOs) focuses on this challenge with increasing determination and with keen awareness that new partnerships are key to success. Likewise, world religions from time immemorial have focused on human misery and the plight of those excluded from power. International development and faith inspired work, from global to regional to local, thus have related agendas but often have worked apart. Forging stronger links between rights and compassion driven development approaches and the ideas and work of religious bodies of many kinds offers great promise for wider reach, higher quality engagement, and better results. Linking faith and secular development approaches also highlights ethical dimensions of work that involves profound social change, including its impact on culture and the conundrums around achieving greater equity.

Global civil society at one level prominently includes faith-inspired nongovernmental organizations, with World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, Islamic Relief, and Habitat International prominent examples.  Interaction includes many but by no means all faith-inspired organizations that work on international humanitarian and development work. However, there is some ambivalence where “faith” is concerned, in part because the world of religion in practice is far larger than contemporary understandings of civil society, and because parts of civil society can be ill at ease with religious approaches.

Paul Nelson

Religious bodies – worshipping communities, religiously-motivated agencies and organizations, and the local, national and international governance bodies that oversee or unite faith communities – these actors are among the most widespread mass membership organizations that can make a claim to participate in transnational civil society.  Religious bodies would seem to have all the ingredients to form very strong international communities and identities: they have mass memberships, longstanding social teachings, powerful shared identities, formal and informal links among local and national bodies.  But in general the claims that people of faith, especially in poor countries, are able to make on their coreligionists in the wealthy countries do not seem to motivate concerted or sustained mass responses.  I am interested in how these relationships between coreligionists and their institutions are defined in different faiths; how they are expressed institutionally; under what circumstances they have succeeded in motivating significant acts of solidarity; and what explains the relative lack of mass political or other action.  Having worked for some years for humanitarian and development organizations with strong religious ties, I have a strong suspicion that the ability of “faith-based NGOs” to define North-South relationships as acts of charity has significantly defined these relationships.

Atalia Omer

Religion in Global Civil Society:
The question concerning the role of religion in global civil society calls to the fore two sets of interrelated conversations. The first interrogates the premises underlying the characterization of global civil society as secular and asks whether religious organizations such as the Catholic Peacebuilding Network that grounds its platform in an explicit religious orientation be considered a non-governmental organization like Doctors without Borders and subsequently be analyzed through this prism in its localized efforts for peacebuilding. The second set of conversations focuses on challenging the premises underpinning the perception of a global civil society as necessarily ‘peaceful’ and ‘progressive’.  Sociologist Laura Macdonald (2002) contends that this perception tends to be overenthusiastic and presumptuous with regards to the progressive nature of a global civil society as well as insufficiently reflective in terms of gender dynamics and structures that underlie a global public sphere in the same way they do in the more localized context of civil society (see Iris Marion Young 1996). Instead Macdonald follows Nancy Fraser’s “model of a heterogeneous, dispersed network of many publics (‘subaltern counterpublics’). Macdonald’s understanding of the conception of a global civil society as one that simply provides an extension to an already problematic concept of a civil society, a concept that conceals the power dynamics involved in construing a public sphere (a space that is defined by power dynamics and decisions concerning inclusion and exclusion), points to the caution in which one ought to proceed in articulating the role of religion in global civil society. How are we to analyze religious trans-national organizations that seem to challenge ‘progressive’ agenda? As a point of departure for responding to this quandary, the academic training for leaders of international NGOs needs to complexify the presumed ‘secularity’ of a global civil society?a presumption that constitutes an extension for an unreconstructed interpretation of ‘civil society’ as constituting a neutral secular space. Useful in this regard are contemporary conversations in the study of religion concerning post-secularity (Connolly 2000) (Taylor 2007). In addition to confronting the parameters of the categories of the 'secular' and the 'religious', this scholarship challenges hegemonic interpretations of modernity and development. A thorough engagement with these conversations may enrich the work and outlook of leaders of international NGOs, including religious NGOs.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse

On religion and civil society, with a view to international NGO work, three points. First, history-to avoid the presentism of media, political journalism and policy a historical perspective matters. Second, culture-the heading is religion but the text is mostly culture, so an anthropological approach matters. Go local, differentiate, disaggregate, avoid blanket categories and lumping concepts. Third, reflexivity-let's problematize and examine our own positions and assumptions. Who is asking the question, for
what reason? What is at stake for whom? What are the relationships in which questions are raised?

James Wellman

The academic study of religion has tended to focus on Western religions and their texts, or on the  religions of Asia, or other sects on the margins of the mainstream. There is nothing wrong with this, but the academic study of religion has, to a large extent, avoided political issues and more to the point issues of religion and international affairs. There is a lack of theory in the relation of religion to the state and to the broader issues of globalization. Recently, scholars in international studies who have no particular background in religion have filled this gap. Religion is thus often understood as a dependent variable, a functional mechanism that will pass as the state or secular civil society fills the need. In a globalized and globalizing international scene with religion both exploding in growth in the southern hemisphere and religious extremists endangering and threatening many parts of the globe, it is time to address the dilemma by calling for more formal academic studies in religion and international affairs. There are signs of progress here and there, the Luce initiative, of course, and Juan Cole’s recent book, Engaging the Muslim World are a welcome start. Scholarship that is regionally savvy, aware of language and text, attuned to the power and tenacious nature of religious mobilization is precisely what is needed in a time when secularization is more a hope than a reality and the secular has often taken on its own religious tone and temper.


Religious ideologies in contemporary societies provide groups with incentive and opportunity to question the assumptions and legitimacy of governing elites, whether in secular or religious states. The institutional infrastructure of religions (churches, mosques, religious schools, religious orders, mystical brotherhoods, and other organizing units) have provided avenues through which non-state actors can circumvent state control over information and financial resources for communities.  These groups deliver social services the state cannot or does not want to deliver. Some religious groups may choose to sustain their status as external transnational actors, and others choose to institutionalize their influence within the formal machinery of the state.  How these groups decide to institutionalize their influence will have defining consequences for human and national security in our modern world. States and their civil societies must both understand the power of religious nonstate actors and recognize that these groups can be a help rather than a hindrance to national and human security in the long run.