Religion and Development

Rebecca Shah

Rebecca Shah
Roundtable Chair

Religious beliefs, practices, institutions and leaders may impact development in countless –and sometimes contradictory—ways. On the one hand, religion may relieve constraints on development such as the lack of hope or the lack of aspirations, which may limit the poor’s ability to harness available opportunities and resources to improve their lives. On the other hand, certain religious actors may obstruct development because they associate it with liberal western institutions and ideologies.

There is significant potential for religious perspectives to provide an expansive and realistic notion of the human person and human development. Denis Goulet warns that if modern economics continues to yield an understanding of human development that ignores the role of religion, governments and development institutions will persist in acting as “one-eyed giants” who “analyze, prescribe, and act as if man could live by bread alone, as if human destiny could be stripped to its material dimensions alone” (Goulet, 1980). Goulet’s explicitly religious approach to development was empirically confirmed in one of the most influential and largest cross-cultural poverty assessments ever conducted by the Word Bank. The study Can Anyone Hear Us? (Narayan-Parker 2000), found that the poor, including poor women, valued harmony with the sacred as much as they did being fed, kept warm, or being healthy. Furthermore, the same study found that the poor valued relationships with family and with the wider community as much as they valued material well-being.

The goal of this roundtable is to study the relationship between religion and development. Can certain kinds of religious beliefs, virtues, and practices contribute to the well-being of the poor? Conversely do some religious institutions and practices exert an adverse effect on development? If certain religious virtues and practices are associated with economic progress among the poor, how do we explain and harness their pro-developmental power? How can governments, NGOs, and other actors devise policies that respect and encourage religion's pro-developmental power?


Student Assistant: TBA
Religion and Development Report a Problem