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Religions and international poverty alleviation: the pluses and minuses.

Increasingly within the international development community and among religious organizations, it is argued that religious agencies offer something unique to development programs, especially to those designed to alleviate poverty. Generally, this comparative advantage is seen as forms of social capital. In fact, virtually all the world's major religions have traditionally urged and even imposed on their members a moral commitment to help the poor. Institutionally, they have devoted substantial material and spiritual resources to this cause. This paper examines the nature of this ethical and institutional commitment and its potential to have an impact on world poverty. It finds that religious beliefs influence economic systems, and that poverty alleviation strategies of religious agencies generally work within the dominant theories of development. Further, it also finds a danger of discrimination on the part of religious agencies due to their definition of nonmembers and the ways in which religion sanctions socially-defined roles, notably those of women.

Measured in dollars, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides the greatest support of any single agency to development programs in the world. (1) It is thus notable when Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. secretary of state, to whom USAID reported, noted in her recent book, The Mighty and the Almighty, that there was a lack of expertise on the part of the State Department with respect to religion. (2) Since, the Bush administration has moved more directly into the field of religion, most overtly by establishing the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) to facilitate the access of faith-based organizations to U.S. government funds, including those for development and poverty alleviation. (3) These and other public sector initiatives with respect to religion are based on a number of assumptions, notably that to exclude them from public monies would be discriminatory, and that faith-based organizations offer something advantageous. This essay focuses on the latter. Conceptually, this advantage includes the religious groups' deeper motivation, greater levels of personal and community commitment and trust, shared belief systems and worldviews, international support networks, and voluntary financial donations from their communities. An additional advantage is the possible long-term presence of fellow religionists on the ground, either as members of the target communities or as agents, such as missionaries committed to working in these communities on a long-term basis. The assumption is that the presence of these factors makes aid more effective.

Religious organizations concerned with poverty are extremely varied. Thus, the combination of each of the above elements of social capital will vary from group to group, even within a single tradition. Their effectiveness with respect to poverty alleviation also depends on other factors, such as their analysis of the causes of poverty and their choice of implementation strategies. Today, as religion features more prominently in national and international politics, politicians are being called upon to make policy and strategic decisions that imply judgments on the roles that religious organizations can and cannot play One purpose of this paper is to examine the premises and the perceived cause-effect relationships of the religious factors associated with faith-based development agencies with a view to providing insights for policymakers, nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders, other development agencies and to the religious organizations themselves.

The new attention to the role and functions of religion in international affairs must be contextualized in terms of both economic globalization and geopolitics. (4) Religion and economics, for example, have long been closely related. (5) The phenomenon of globalization has deep and complex roots, with religious factors never far from the economic. Historically, this was true of the early expansion of Islam and that of Christianity into the New World and sub-Saharan Africa. The growth of these religions often coincided with economic expansion. History also shows that economic forces sometimes aggravated and at other times mitigated religious tensions. For example, economic forces, namely the realization that there were mutually beneficial economic alternatives, was one of the factors that brought an end to centuries of violent conflict between Christian Europe and Islamic powers in the Middle East. (6) On the other hand, a political or economic alignment between religious and economic or business interests does not necessarily imply that their respective motives and agenda overlap or support one another. For example, European missionaries in Africa, while profiting from the support of their own governments, often decried the social and economic impact resulting from the policies of their home governments. (7) Recognizing this complexity is important as causalities are diverse and multifaceted.

Religion and poverty alleviation is not just an incidental relationship or a need of the present time. As will be illustrated below, for Muslim, Christian and Hindu traditions, helping the poor is a goal that is deeply ingrained in their ethical systems, as it is also for other religions not considered in this paper. To address the religion-poverty relationship, this essay will first examine the place of poverty in beliefs and practices of three major world religious traditions--Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. It will then consider their individual strengths with respect to social capital and strategies they use to alleviate poverty. The essay will conclude with an assessment of the role of religion in poverty alleviation from the viewpoint of the policymaker, focusing on the impact of religious factors on the agent, rather than on the intended beneficiaries.

Finally, by way of caution, it should be pointed out that measuring poverty, let alone evaluating different strategies to alleviate poverty, is a multifaceted, much disputed and lively contemporary field. This debate is well illustrated in the 2007 volume edited by Sudhir Anand and Joseph Stiglitz, Measuring Global Poverty, in which my Columbia University colleagues, Sanjay Reddy and Thomas Pogge contribute a very relevant article entitled "How Not to Count the Poor." (8) Monitoring poverty alleviation is but one of the factors discussed in this paper that call for continuing study. Some of the others are identified in the final section on implications for policymakers.


If helping the poor has long been a core commitment of the world's major religions, it is especially within the last thirty years that it has become a major focus of the international development community. (9) Starting with the fact that millions of people live in poverty and the world community's recent acceptance of the Millennium Development Goals, this essay attempts to identify the beneficial and non-beneficial roles and outcomes of religious factors in the alleviation of poverty and how policymakers should best factor them into development planning. Like other common social values, such as peace and brotherhood, all the major religions value acts that benefit the poor. Thus, the issue in question is not the goal of poverty alleviation, but how the various religions implement the ideal in practice. (10) In addition to individual giving, the current institutional strategies of faith-based organizations can be categorized into three basic models, with a fourth general group of activities of an auxiliary character: (11)

* The classic development and emergency aid model (referred to later as Model 1) similar to that used by agencies such as the World Bank, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and governmental foreign aid agencies. This model uses strategies whose overall goals are set outside the country, are funded by external loans or donations, are guided by external expertise and agents (whether full-time or as consultants) and where the local staff is primarily indigenous. Most religious development and emergency aid organizations follow this model. (12) For the purposes of this essay, Model 1 includes activities by faith-based groups that provide essentially secular services such as building and running schools, as well as managing health clinics and agricultural projects for local communities without obvious religious strings attached. It also includes activities supported financially by foreign governments or international agencies but provided by or through religious groups that in principle are committed to not using the funds for religious purposes and avoiding discrimination against non-members. Their economic models work within the economic processes typical of Western economies. It should be added that a number of agencies, such as OXFAM and CARE, are experimenting with models that elicit more local initiative and rights-based approaches, the objective of which is to move the initiative from external agents to intended beneficiaries. (13)

* Self-help models (Model 2) of economic and political development are driven by local leadership, though some financing and technical expertise may come from outside. This is a model used by some missionary organizations that focus on building local communities and developing community services like schools and health clinics. For example, Mennonites aim for this model. (14) Generally, groups that adopt this model retain a degree of independence and remain less visible to the international development community.

* Faith-based development (Model 3), occurs when religious beliefs and practices define development goals and the benefits that are expected to follow. This may or may not incorporate external inputs such as those which supported Christian missionaries prior to the Second World War, and most recently by fundamentalist Christian groups and Islamic groups such as the Wahhabi. The main difference between this model and the first is whether or not the design and implementation are subordinated to and conditioned by religious goals and practices.

* Auxiliary activities such as inter-faith activities, research, lobbying and international advocacy are designed to contribute to poverty alleviation and conflict resolution. (15)

In practice, any given initiative might include more than one of the above models. In fact, one of the criticisms commonly leveled against religious groups is that of an appearance of using the secularist model (i.e., Model 1), while actually using Model 3-type development activities and social services to recruit new members to the faith.

With this overview in mind, we will first examine the place of poverty within the beliefs and practices of three of the world's major religions. This overview has unavoidable limitations due to the significant variations in belief and practice between and within each tradition. However, it provides a necessary context for policymakers concerned with religious factors, enabling them to appreciate the diversity they must expect and deal with on the ground.


Many of the world's major religious traditions value acts that benefit the poor. For the purpose of this essay, we examine Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, both because of the size of each religion in terms of the numbers of followers, as well as the degree to which these religions illustrate the similarities and differences among and within traditions. In each case, helping the poor is a core moral value, implying obligations closely linked to rewards and/or punishments in the next life, or in some other ultimate sense. They focus on the spiritual merits of the act of giving to the poor, but not to the exclusion of the importance of such aid to actually make a difference in the lives of the poor. The following descriptions of the place of poverty in each tradition are only illustrative of thought within that tradition. They are not meant to imply that they are interpreted in the same way throughout the tradition. Within each religious tradition, there are many subgroups, not to mention individuals, with their own particular vision and practices. This segmentation is often buttressed by powerful symbols, myths, historical accounts, dogmatic distinctions, cultivated attitudes, cherished values, dress codes and behaviors, all of which can make it hard for competing religious groups to collaborate in a common commitment such as helping the poor. An analysis of the impact of these factors is beyond the scope of this study.

Hinduism's evolution throughout the centuries has led to many varied forms of the religion and a wide diversity of thought. (16) Values of social justice have been carried in many ways through time. One such branch of Hinduism that has concerned itself with social issues is the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS). Its roots are in the early 19th century religious and social reform movement formulated by the spiritual leader Sahajanand Swami. (17) Sahajanand Swami led a movement in Gujarat, India against religious and social practices that he considered superstitious as a result of fraudulent interpretations of sacred texts by influential individuals of the day. He targeted for eradication such practices as female infanticide and sati (immolation of a widow on her husband's pyre). Sahajanand Swami encouraged education for women and economic development, and he discouraged any resulting caste inequities or discrimination. According to his followers, in pursuing these goals he called for high levels of personal ethics and moral discipline among his disciples, in addition to the strict asceticism required of his monks. (18) To deal with poverty, he and his followers opened almshouses and dug ponds in times of famine and drought. He saw these good works as integral to religious thinking and practice. (19)

His ideas are inspired by Hindu teaching about dharma as divine law and as a general code of moral conduct, including customs and duties relative to each person's gender, caste, age, etc. The maintenance of dharma in the personal and public realms is understood to ensure material prosperity, stability and happiness for all members of society Sahajanand Swami believed the social deterioration in Gujarat reflected the deterioration of dharma. He called for a restoration of dharma as the necessary premise to personal growth and the well-being of society as a whole. (20) Implied in his thinking is the idea that deeper religious sensibility is tied to improvements in basic living conditions. Because Sahajanand Swami endorsed the social order that incorporated the caste structure, these beliefs might be criticized in respect to other facets of social justice. He assumed that poverty could be alleviated by eliminating injustice, but did not take steps to eradicate the caste system itself. (21)

Within Christian thought, concern for the poor is a major criterion for righteousness and thus rewards in the afterlife. Following the Jewish tradition, Jesus identified love of God and love of neighbor as the primary commandments. When a young man asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. (22) Jesus also frequently declared that those who have been impoverished in this life will be rewarded in the next. (23) He pointed to helping the poor, hungry and other marginalized populations, such as prisoners, as a major criterion separating those condemned to hell and those granted eternal life in heaven. (24) Admitting that the poor will always be with us, Jesus also said it would be harder for the rich to enter heaven. (25) Helping the poor was an expression of personal piety and was central to Jesus' moral code. His first followers adopted a communal way of life, selling personal property to provide for less fortunate believers. (26) Indeed, choosing to live like the poor was seen as benefiting spiritual consciousness. Since Jesus, small minorities of Christians have chosen to live as hermits, monks and nuns, believing this simple life to be the ideal. Other practicing Christian communities, in both Eastern and Western churches, have emphasized alms deeds, together with prayer and fasting as central to becoming a good Christian. (27) In the Middle Ages, religious orders began seeking to ensure beneficial outcomes to almsgiving by forming organizations committed to providing systematic care for the poor through hospitality (hostels, monasteries, etc.), education and healthcare. Serving the poor through education and healthcare was an integral part of Christian missions in developing countries. Most recently, concern for the poor has been reinforced by large development organizations, such as Catholic Relief Services, which is supported by religious communities, often with the support of the United States, other governments and UN agencies. (28) Within Christian churches today, anti-poverty groups are involved in a variety of activities ranging from political lobbying in Washington (e.g. Bread for the World) to soup kitchens to solidarity and prayer groups. As one such Christian group, the Fourth World Movement delineates its mission: "Whenever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty." (29)

Islamic ethics situate poverty alleviation within its theologically conditioned view of economic activity (30) God creates monetary wealth and this wealth ultimately belongs to and is the property of God. Human beings should only use property and wealth to glorify God. The poor and destitute are entitled access to wealth by right. Wealth should be distributed equitably. (31) Usury, or lending money and requiring interest, is banned. (32) The relationship between employer and employee is a social contract where the latter is treated well and fulfills his obligations and duties. Rather than using a profit-maximizing strategy, this code emphasizes proper conduct to meet each others needs. Within this perspective, poverty is seen not as a virtue but as a social ill that should be addressed by the society as a whole. (33) Indeed responding to the needs of the poor is an expression of two highly valued moral principles, compassion and justice.

Wealth is a positive attribute as long as it does not corrupt the individual and one uses it to increase the well-being of peers in society (34) The three mechanisms that distribute wealth are zakat, an almsgiving requirement that is one of the five core pillars of Islam; saddaqah, an optional charitable action; and waqf, the donation of an asset such as property, or a major gift, designed to support long-term solutions. Zakat is short-term in scope, whereas waqf aims to provide income-generating skills, increased educational opportunities and healthcare facilities, as well as job-creation programs. Both provide for wealth redistribution, albeit modest and moderately systemic. This coincides with Islamic theology's emphasis on equality before God, including equality between men and women, no matter what their status on earth. (35)

Helping the poor is thus a core moral concern in most, if not all, the traditions within these three religions. All three have followers who see poverty as an expression of religious ethics. Nevertheless, while there might be a degree of consensus and comparable social capital among these religions, individual religious identities and allegiances can place a high value on the differences among the traditions. All three religious traditions emphasize the benefits to the donor, such as rewards in the next life for Christians and Muslims. All three religions have developed international institutions for development aid to poor communities in other countries, thereby implementing their religious convictions. They draw on and reinforce their social capital through networks of mutually supportive communities that share ethical motivations and organizational structures capable of raising substantial funds. However, more than Hindus, many Christian and Muslims also see proselytizing or recruiting new members as a core religious duty Because both religions use social services as a means to reach--if not always proselytize--to new populations, their poverty alleviation efforts and other forms of social action are in danger of being associated with recruiting activities. Thus, there have been accusations of discrimination against religiously-defined humanitarian agencies on account of the ways they serve needy and vulnerable populations. (36)


Poverty reduction strategies have indeed been a major theme in the activities of the World Bank for the past twenty years. (37) Today, international concern with poverty alleviation focuses on the need for sustainable solutions that enable those in poverty to move out of that category in a permanent way. (38) These programs seek to empower the intended beneficiaries in ways that enable them to produce the goods and services they need, rather than rely on others. The questions we are asking here are whether and how the major religious traditions' approach to poverty alleviation has an impact, and whether the religions offer more than the standard practices of development aid.

It is hard to evaluate the discourse on poverty alleviation that the members of the different traditions hear routinely in their mosques, temples and churches. Certainly, appeals are made and funds collected to be used both locally and internationally As mentioned above, among secular development agencies there is a growing emphasis on outcomes and accountability, and the idea that development aid should have a tangible impact on the lives of the people it targets. This emphasis on outcomes is encouraging religious organizations to focus on the interests of the poor in addition to the spiritual rewards almsgiving might bring to the donors. A similar change is also apparent in the current international emphasis on beneficiary-driven, participatory approaches. There is also growing recognition of the legitimacy of the poor's claims to improve their condition and society's obligation to meet their needs. The international human rights community and the instruments and institutions that evolved from the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognize the existence of economic and social rights, including those to subsistence, healthcare and education. (39) In this frame of reference, poverty alleviation is seen to be a matter of justice, not just an act of goodwill or charity. This rights-based approach is increasingly emphasized by the UN and the international development community as an integral component of development. (40) For example, in 2000, the UN Human Rights Commission appointed a UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. The post was designed to develop "an integrated and coordinated approach in the promotion and protection of the right to food." (41) This rights-based perspective is also being adopted by religious organizations. (42)

Development organizations have long recognized the presence, relevance, complexities and potential benefits of the private sector to economic development. This sector includes organizations ranging from local communities and religious groups to international NGOs and multinational corporations. However, religious factors have not formed a standard part of the development equation in the eyes of agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank. (43) This reflects a traditional secularist approach, comparable to that found in Western academia where the typical university course on development and aid programs pays little attention to religious factors. For example, in their recent book, Civil Society and Development, authors Jude Howell and Jenny Pearce, do not include religious factors as components in the process through which "the poorest people on the planet are to gain access to education, health provision, an effective legal system and sustainable and equitable economic growth." (44)

In practice, even before the Bush administration, many U.S.-based religious agencies, such as Church World Services, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision, worked closely with the U.S. government and international aid programs to provide humanitarian services overseas. (45) The role that religion plays in these circumstances has been low-key. American Christian development agencies such as Lutheran World Relief and World Vision, for example, receive support from the U.S. government and generally seek to avoid any proselytizing or favoritism toward any groups. The Jewish community in the United States also participates actively in international development through agencies, such as the American Jewish World Service, that finance development and education programs in poor countries irrespective of religious affiliation. (46) While these and other religious agencies implement public policies with respect to development aid and humanitarian assistance, and many conform to a secularist model, the religious traditions of the communities they serve also significantly influence the outcome of their work. Moreover, in many parts of the world, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Hindu and Jewish aid agencies can be found working side by side. (47) Thus, treating development aid as a purely secular enterprise no longer reflects the reality and complexities on the ground. (48)

As stated above, Western religious development agencies generally work within economic systems that are based on capitalist principles and trace their heritage to the Christian West. (49) Moreover, Western governments pursue foreign policies that give priority to the interests of their international businesses. Within that commercial framework, development activities must be reconciled with organizational profit more than poverty alleviation. The business sector looks at poverty alleviation as a desirable trickle-down effect from the overall economic expansion enabled by business activity, by the work of development agencies and by the poor helping themselves through hard work and increasing savings. (50) When this vision is combined with government policies that are driven by open-market principles, there is very little space for what Richard Falk calls the pursuit of international justice. (51) Within this frame of reference, poverty alleviation is seen as an act of goodwill towards the poor. Governments are also committed to a human rights perspective based on the premise that states have treaty obligations to alleviate poverty and that poor citizens can make legal claims on their governments. However, this claim does not extend to the rights of governments and citizens of poor countries to make claims on rich nations. (52)

For religious organizations, the issue is more complex. Although they do not have the same legal obligations as governments, they have their own powerful beliefs (such as all men are equal in the eyes of God) and moral precepts (such as love thy neighbor as thyself). Most of the previously-mentioned, Western-based religious agencies provide their services within the traditional parameters of economic development, operating with goals and strategies similar to secular development agencies, inter-governmental agencies like UNDP and the World Bank, and Western governments who might fund their work. This means there is little overt conflict between their concern for social justice and their respective strategies for poverty alleviation, unlike Islamic organizations that object to development loans, which they see to involve usury Some U.S. groups, like Bread for the World, criticize the injustices of the global economy, emphasizing the rights of the poor and lobbying to maximize U.S. congressional allocations for the fight against hunger at home and abroad. But ultimately, they appeal to humanitarian sentiment and goodwill, rather than changing key elements of the global economic system. (53)


What, therefore, are the pluses and the minuses of the development work being carried out by religious agencies on the ground? This section examines three case studies. These are merely illustrations to identify some of the religious factors and causalities. It will require fieldwork to map and test them. Nevertheless, it is important to begin a more systematic process of identifying the important ways in which the social capital of a religious agency can have an impact on the outcome of development activities.

The Classic Development Aid Model

An international Islamic development agency that follows Model 1 is the Aga Khan Foundation. Portraying itself as a modern vehicle for traditional Islamic philanthropy, the foundation describes itself as "a non-denominational, international development agency established in 1967. Its mission is to develop and promote creative solutions to problems that impede social development, especially in Asia and East Africa."

Created as a private, non-profit foundation under Swiss law, it has branches and independent affiliates in fifteen countries. (54) It serves all communities regardless of their religious convictions. Its major areas of activity are health, education, rural development, civil society and the environment. Programs emphasize holistic community development by incorporating a range of activities, which are described as rural savings and credit, natural resource management, productive infrastructure development, increased agricultural productivity and skill development with a central concern for community-level participation and decisionmaking. The goal of its development activities is to enable community members to make informed choices that build towards sustainable and equitable development. A central strategy has been to create or strengthen institutional structures at the village level so that people can determine priorities and decide how best to manage common resources in the interests of the community as a whole. Thus, these principles and practices are comparable to those of most major Western or international development agencies.

These strategies, designed to promote income growth, focus on increased agricultural productivity, improved farming methods, input supplies, marketing, land development and management reform, increasing off-farm incomes and supporting enterprise development. Local capital is mobilized by promoting savings and developing financial services to enable broad access to credit on a sustainable basis. Training programs support the effectiveness and sustainability of village-level institutions by providing the management and technical skills needed to plan, implement and maintain local development activities.

The Shia religious roots of the foundation are not directly visible in its work with respect to poverty alleviation and development. The foundation's head, the current Aga Khan, personally promotes Islam as a way of thinking and as a spiritual faith that teaches compassion and tolerance--one that upholds the dignity of man and an individual's right to personal intellectual exploration, giving practical expression to an ethical vision of society. (55) The Aga Khan Foundation's approach has proved compatible with that of the U.S. government's new approach to faith-based organizations. (56) The foundation is one of USAID's fifteen partners of choice for disaster response. (57)

The Self-Help and Faith-based Models

The self-help (Model 2) and faith-based (Model 3) models are closely linked conceptually and in practice. An example of a Hindu organization concerned with poverty alleviation is BAPS, a network of nearly 10,000 centers in over forty-five countries, with a dedicated volunteer force of 55,000. (58) Based on a spiritual lineage, leadership is in the hands of His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the current spiritual teacher and organizational head of BAPS. As the spiritual ideal, he is the key source of inspiration from the perspective of theological doctrine and is a model servant of God from the perspective of his service in the administration. Service and spiritual values are closely intertwined in BAPS's self-presentation:
 Many ask, "How can you mix spirituality and service?" We ask, "How
 can you separate the two?" Those who wish to sincerely serve
 society must be spiritually pure and only those who are spiritually
 pure can sincerely save society. (59)

BAPS's work is theologically rooted in the Vedas--ancient Hindu texts--as interpreted by Sahajanand Swami in the early 19th century. This was illustrated by the response of BAPS Charities, a humanitarian subsidiary of the main group, to the devastating earthquake that struck the Kutch district in the state of Gujarat in 2001. (60) Working under the motto of "The Spirit of Service," BAPS Charities tapped into its network of volunteers and focused on immediate disaster relief. According to an interview given by Meenaben Bhavsar, a committed lifetime spiritual disciple and full-time volunteer who oversaw much of the Kutch initiative, complete credit for the earthquake intervention must be given to the spiritual teacher, guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. (61) The key characteristics of the intervention were (a) immediate on-the-ground needs assessment and mobilization of the whole BAPS network within forty minutes of the earthquake; (b) the capacity of the local center in Kutch to respond, mobilizing heavy equipment and setting up emergency shelters within an hour of the earthquake; (c) speedy transportation of donated supplies collected through the network of temples across Gujarat; (d) the ability to serve 1.8 million hot meals and approximately 900,000 food packets in the forty-five days following the earthquake; (e) the multiple responses of thousands of volunteers; and (f) their motivation and the overall religious motivation and direction. Consequently; BAPS enjoys a wide reputation as a compassionate and effective humanitarian organization able to serve all religions and sectors of society. (62) This appears to be a good illustration of the effective use of social capital by a religious agency in an emergency situation. The obvious beneficial characteristics are a level of preparedness, local knowledge and organization, proximity to the need, human and material mobilizing capacity, as well as high levels of motivation and solidarity It is also a model that can be replicated elsewhere. One lesson is the importance of having in place organizational structures capable of dealing with a major emergency.

An example of a faith-based, but not self-help approach, is that of the Islamic Development Bank which uses both zakat and waqf in its development activities. (63) Its three primary goals are the promotion of Islamic financial industry and institutions, poverty alleviation and the promotion of cooperation among member countries. It seeks to promote four primary complementary strategies for the alleviation of poverty: labor-intensive growth, cooperation with state and other agencies, investments in human capital, and safety nets for poor and vulnerable groups. For example, the fourth strategy uses private income transfer (zakat) to help assure social security. These poverty-reduction programs have been limited to small segments of poverty-stricken communities in Muslim countries. The Islamic Development Bank also seeks to adopt a different mode of lending--one that conforms to Islamic religious principles. In this respect it breaks new ground. Contrarily, it is difficult to see how the religious nature of the bank affects the quality and outcomes of its development aid aimed at poverty--other than the fact that the bank attracts and makes available--funds from investors desiring to conform to the principles of sharia.

These three case studies are examples to illustrate and emphasize the diversity in the field of poverty alleviation, rather than a distributive sampling across religious actors. A more systematic selection and analysis of such case studies would be necessary to draw further conclusions or comparisons.


This essay has been a search to identify the pluses and minuses with respect to the ways in which religious factors influence or could influence the outcomes of development aid. Although the choice of a given poverty alleviation model is inevitably conditioned by economic factors, the roots of modern globalization are driven by a capitalist economy with its own religious roots. Many sociologists, historians and economists, most famously Max Weber and Richard Tawney, have pointed to the religious roots of capitalism, namely the so-called Protestant, or more specifically, Calvinist work ethic--a way of life that values thrift, discipline, hard works and individualism. (64) Scholars pointed to these values as the foundations of the developing capitalist economy. Today, these values appear similar to those associated with the concept of social capital, notably the use of the word "capital," skills-building seen as investment, as well as the high value placed on stewardship, entrepreneurship, innovation and resource mobilization as the basis for a good economy. (65) Many other scholars have argued that religious traits and institutions can make people more or less productive. (66) Modern development aid planning, however, has paid less attention to the specifically religious traits and more to the economic premises seen to underpin growth, or at least certain definitions of growth. Simultaneously, in popular parlance, poverty is often characterized as the lack of social capital associated with such values as thrift, discipline, hard work and individualism.

An alternative view sees poverty in many parts of the world, notably Africa, as a negative outcome of the past and neo-colonialism, reinforced by development aid, both of which are seen to have perpetuated economic and political dependency. (67) A less radical position sees worldwide economic structures as more neutral and advances, instead, a concept of rights-based development, believing governments (and therefore international development agencies) must recognize the rights of all of their citizens to subsistence, healthcare and education, as well as their right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives; thus, there is an obligation on the governments to devise policies that achieve those goals. (68) As indicated above, the major faith-based development and poverty-alleviating agencies tend to be found on the part of the spectrum that works within the global economy, although they may disagree on individual strategies as well as religious tenets.

While there are many ways in which religious social capital can bring potential beneficial outcomes, as illustrated in the Gujarat earthquake case study, there are also potential negative results. Policymakers seeking to integrate religious groups into poverty-alleviation projects must take into consideration these negative outcomes in their planning, including potential discrimination used to define relationships with nonmembers. In addition to different poverty-alleviation strategies, religious organizations bring a particular set of beliefs and practices, as well as histories, to their work. Emotionally charged, generally pejorative definitions--in the minds, if not the words--of nonmembers include heretic, schismatic, pagan or apostate. These distinctions are problematic in the case of poverty alleviation because the target populations are typically poor and highly vulnerable, desperate for the basic necessities of life. In such cases, there is a danger of discriminating against nonmembers or showing favor to recipients sympathetic to the donors' values, beliefs, worldviews and practices. Even without intentional bias on the part of the donor or agent, the recipients of the services, believing that they would do better by accepting practices of the donors, act accordingly Whether such discrimination is real or merely perceived, deprived populations are at risk of being willing to do whatever they see as necessary to survive. Basic standards of justice call for such vulnerable people to be protected from overt and covert exploitation, irrespective of whether the funding for such activities comes from secular or religious sources. Poverty alleviation by religious groups is therefore at risk of being a source of coercion or discrimination, however subtle or unrecognized.

Further negative outcomes come from contextual factors, such as social differences being reinforced by religious differences among groups that are living within a given physical space. Belief systems, and their associated cultural traits, bring with them powerful patterns of social allegiance and identity. Religion, like ethnicity, is a major source of identity. When the lines of religious diversity and conflict coincide, religion is often assumed to define loyalty as observed in civil wars and communal violence. In some conflict situations such as southern Sudan, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, the former Yugoslavia and Israel/Palestine, religious factors do not appear to be causes of conflict, but appear to be strong determinants of factional identity and loyalty. To a greater or lesser extent, religious affiliation is always at risk of being used to mobilize and/or polarize communities, thereby reducing or eliminating prior levels of communal trust. In situations where there is great competition for limited resources, religious loyalties are not only difficult to extricate from economic and political factors, but they also help maintain lines of competition. Moreover, even when conflict has ceased, only a few agencies are equipped to address the specific religious values, attitudes and loyalties that underlie ongoing tensions, let alone use them as tools in peacebuilding. (69)

The above factors pose a challenge for policymakers seeking to improve relations among religious groups. The very same elements of social capital that can be conducive to alleviating poverty, such as group loyalty, empathy and trust, can just as easily reinforce animosities. Religious factors, and especially perceptions of religious factors, on the part of all parties, whether in a conflict or simply when seeking to alleviate poverty, need a sophisticated understanding on the part of involved national or international policymakers. In question is the capacity to understand the type of public policy initiatives that improve relations among religious groups in the same physical space, as opposed to simply physically segregating them. Such initiatives need to appeal to the religious communities and their leaders so that they accept the advantages of common goals rather than those emphasizing the needs of the individual communities. In these cases, the challenge is to distinguish between the factors that promote the pluses rather than the minuses.

With respect to poverty alleviation in particular, there are a number of key value and attitudinal aspects that must be taken into account to avoid jeopardizing a project. One such difference is in the attitude towards wealth and the definition of wealth itself, as well as other concepts, values and strategies associated with economic well-being. All of these are socially constructed and reflect the experience of each community. As indicated in the brief case studies above, they differ across religions and also within each religious community. This will also be apparent when both the agents and the intended beneficiaries share the same religious beliefs but not the same view of wealth, as discussed above. For some, wealth is a sign of God's blessing, while for others, even within the same tradition, it might be an obstacle to happiness and salvation. Closely linked to these differing conceptions is the idea of social justice or fairness, which finds expression and debate within most religions. The distribution and redistribution of wealth have been subjects of debate within the Catholic Church, stimulated by the thinkers associated with liberation theology and their concern to make the church truly responsive to the needs of the poor. This thinking came into conflict with Catholic Church authorities in Rome who portrayed it and its followers as too close to communism and promoting a worldview based on class warfare. (70) The movement has continued to influence religious ministry in various parts of Latin America, but it has not stimulated a wider debate about the place of the poor in church nor the strategies used by the major Catholic development agencies. The important conclusion is that the complex nature and variety of religious consciousness and affiliations calls for public policies that recognize the unique elements in each situation.

A final context where religion plays a powerful role in poverty alleviation is with respect to the consequences of socially defining gender roles. Religion is an important structural element, or at least a structural root, used by many societies to define women and their social role, even within secularized societies. This is especially relevant when looking at the degree to which women are the delivery points for the nutrition and healthcare needed to mitigate poverty. The detailed prescriptions for the performance of women's social roles are circumscribed by cultural, religious and customary definitions, which reduce a woman's decisionmaking power with respect to reproduction, inheritance and self-determination to name a few. For the vast majority, religion or its secularized legacy, is a strong determinant of the ways in which women and their children are taught to interpret the world and its challenges. These social definitions can be seen to aggravate the condition of women in civil conflicts. In addition to war's severe physical impact on women and children, religious sanctions, such as those consequent to rape in Muslim and other communities, aggravate the post-war predicament of female victims, diminishing their capacity to function within their families and contribute their share to the alleviation of poverty. (71)

The above are merely examples of some of the ways in which religious factors, directly and indirectly, can negatively impact poverty alleviation. Assessing empirically the ways in which religion impinges on poverty alleviation raises the problem of measuring religious social capital, both on the part of the donor or agent and on the part of the intended beneficiaries. If religion provides social capital, what are the sets of indicators that measure the resulting inputs and outputs? On the input side indicators are needed to measure different levels of trust, group loyalty and networks. On the output side, measurement of the levels of service and its impact on traditional socioeconomic indicators, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, GDP, to name a few, are needed. Equally relevant with respect to the input and output paradigms are indicators to identify and measure potential negative elements, such as religious, ethnic or gender bias and discrimination. Similarly, on the output side, in addition to standard indicators of poverty alleviation, research is needed to detect any resulting patterns of discrimination or inter-group hostility. The underlying challenge is to find data that permits disaggregating religious from other economic and political factors.


The aim of this paper has been to delineate a terrain to be explored rather than to provide conclusions. This review suggests that there are both positive and negative outcomes to the poverty alleviation work done by religious agencies. More detailed field research, however, is needed to be able to identify and measure them, and to illustrate for policymakers how their policies can promote the positives (e.g., voluntary service) and diminish the negatives (e.g., discrimination). Such research would examine the religious influence of both the external agents and target community on primary outcomes, such as poverty alleviation, rather than subordinate elements, such as community relations. Moreover, as religion is likely to be an increasing presence in world politics, not only in development aid and poverty alleviation, governments and international organizations are well advised to develop strategies that (a) make use of the specific capacities of the faith-based organizations, and (b) minimize conflict and promote cooperation among them. (72) Such policies need to be integrated into overall development planning priorities in ways that also incorporate other necessary dimensions of development planning, notably employment generation, training, trade and exchange programs, and different patterns of direct investment. Key components of all such policies are mechanisms that promote positive relations among the religious organizations themselves.

The implications for the policymaker would seem to be the following:

* As religious organizations are already playing a role in development, benefiting from public funding and appearing to contribute certain unique resources or social capital, they ought to be made part of any inclusive and informed strategy of economic and political development.

* As religious influence is greatest at the delivery point, especially when it represents a confluence of factors on the part of both agent and intended beneficiary, such as a strategy to promote voluntary financial inputs or use more local expertise, the forms of this confluence need to be designed in ways that interact beneficially with larger global political and economic forces.

* As religious identities and allegiances are likely to generate patterns of discrimination based on religiously sanctioned cultural and social constructs, such as those defining the roles of men and women and attitudes to social change, policymakers need to take preemptive actions.

* Given the fact that religious diversity and religious factors in development have not been studied by most policymakers and international civil servants, policymakers are advised to provide contexts where generalized concepts of religion can be discussed rather than ignored by civil officials.

* Defining and improving the overall and especially long-term benefits of this confluence will need more systematic research and evaluation.

Under pressure from the governments of developing countries, poverty is now acknowledged by the international community, and by the UN in particular, as a major threat to international security. (73) Thus, poverty alleviation has become an important agenda item for governments all over the world. No less relevant to international security are the relations between religions. Both are major concerns for international policymakers. It is in the interests of international policymakers to take religious factors and religious organizations into account. By making poverty alleviation a shared objective and enlisting the world's religions to help, governments and other funding agencies can increase dialogue and understanding among religions and reduce poverty as a breeding ground for other threats to international security Either way, such an enterprise merits fresh thinking to generate new empirical research on causes and effects as well as new policies and strategies that maximize potential positive outcomes by religious communities.


(1) For the United States, this figure was $22.7 billion; of which $10.3 billion flowed through USAID. See OECD Statistics, Disbursement and Commitments Official and Private Flows, 19 September 2007,; and USAID, 2006 Performance and Accountability Report Highlights, 22 February 2007,

(2) Madeleine Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs, (New York: Harper Collins, 2006), 75.

(3) Since President Bush's executive order in December 2002, government funds going to faith-based organizations have doubled. There are currently eleven satellite centers located in different federal agencies, including one in USAID. There is no separate source of funding solely for faith-based agencies and they must still participate in the competitive bidding process. The executive order and the administrative arrangements have augmented the ability of faith-based organizations to access existing funding measures. So far grants have covered development work, peacebuilding, food and health programs, as well as disaster relief. Most significantly, the federal government no longer requires locations of religious practice and services supported by the government to be separate. Religious symbols may be displayed and groups receiving government aid are not required to identify any prerequisites they might prescribe before providing a service. They may also consider religion when choosing personnel. This orientation is in part based on the premise that faith-based organizations are more likely to be active in rural areas in poor countries. Other than the standard reports to funding agencies by recipient groups, little independent research exists on the relative effectiveness of the faith-based programs, let alone the identification of beneficial options linked to religious factors. See These other faith-based centers housed in different major U.S. government agencies are listed at and Anne Farris, Richard P. Nathan and David J. Wright, "The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George W Bush and the faith-based Initiative," The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, August 2004.

(4) Religion is a highly-inclusive term. Generally, it is a combination of some or all of the following: beliefs, customs, moral principles and ethical codes, institutional structures and authorities, religiously-defined images, symbols and texts, personal and group worldviews and meaning systems, as well as social loyalties, identities and affiliations. Studying these different aspects calls for the inputs of many disciplines. For the purposes of this essay, religion is used to refer to the visible social institutions that are the most public form embodying the various elements.

(5) The authors recognize the importance of not essentializing but rather contextualizing religion, that is, to avoid (a) reducing religion to any single component units, such as their texts, histories, institutional policies, ethical standards and practices, activities of leaders, sources of group and individual identity and, especially, their varied cultural, geographical and political contexts; and (b) overreliance on a particular interpretation within or from outside a tradition. In practice this also means that it is very hard to compare and generalize from one situation to another, even when the same religion is dominant or different religions are active within the same cultural and political context.

(6) John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, et al., "Chapter 8," in The Cambridge Modern History (New York: Macmillan, 1902), 253; and Alan Heston, Crusades and Jihads: A Long-run Economic Perspective (Philadelphia: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 2003), 588, 112.

(7) One example of many was the continuing fight against the slave trade in the late 19th century This and many other examples of missionary lobbying are addressed in Roland Oliver, The Missionary Factor in East Africa (London: Longmans, 1969), 123ff.

(8) Sanjay Reddy and Thomas Pogge, "How Not to Count the Poor," in Sudhir Anand and Joseph Stiglitz, eds., Measuring Global Poverty (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

(9) The evidence for this is based on (a) the recent increase of U.S. development funds going to religious groups. See U.S. Agency for International Development, 22 CFR Parts 202,205, 211 and 226, RIN 0412-AA52, Participation of Religious Organizations in USAID Programs, 19 October, 2004; (b) the growth of religious organizations as subcontractors even to international organizations such as UNHCR; and (c) the expansion of Muslim development groups. See Jerome Bellion-Jourdan, "Are Muslim Charities Purely Humanitarian? A Real but Misleading Question," in Michel Feher, NonGovernmental Politics (New York: Zone Books, 2007). The reasons are discussed in Emma Tomalin, "Religion and a Rights-Based Approach to Development," Paper delivered at a conference at Manchester University, 21-22 February 2005.

(10) The use of the more impersonal term poverty alleviation, versus helping the poor, is indicative of the difference between the secular and religious agencies.

(11) These have been the subject of numerous congressional hearings. At the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, on 28 September 2006, Chairman Christopher H. Smith described their role, "In country after country in Africa, churches and mosques deliver services as part of their regular activities. When they and their affiliated organization receive government funds to help those in need, government is actually building on existing networks of service. The multiplier effect allows aid dollars to go much further than they might ordinarily do. Moreover as Ambassador Tobias said, faith-based organizations possess a reach and an authority and a legitimacy that makes them natural allies in any effort to provide help to those in need as a grassroots level. Far from being a Western intrusion in African life, working with faith-based organizations in Africa is actually a means of connecting with African heritage. African nations have a long history of integrating religion and spiritual awareness and anyone who has spent time in Africa understands that faith is not considered outside the realm of public life there." Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, Hearing on The Role of Faith-Based Organizations in United States Programming in Africa, (Publication number, 109-237),

(12) Such as the Aga Khan Foundation, American Jewish World Service, Catholic Relief Services, Christian Aid, Church World Services, Lutheran World Relief, Norwegian Church Aid, World Vision and others.

(13) CARE International UK, Rights Based Approaches,; Raymond Offenheiser, "Rights-based Approaches to Trade,"

(14) See

(15) Examples include Aman Public Charitable Trust, American Jewish Committee, Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, World Conference of Religions for Peace, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, Religion and Peacemaking Program at the United States Institute of Peace and World Council of Churches.

(16) Julius Lipner, Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, (London: Routledge, 1998). Tomalin, cited above, also devotes attention to development and Hinduism.

(17) Sahajanand Swami is often also called Bhagwan Swaminarayan. This is a term of endearment used by his followers to emphasize his divine inspiration. Bhagwan refers to the notion of ultimate divinity or deity In writing about him, we follow the academic practice used, for example, by Williams (below). On the other hand, to describe BAPS's activities, rather than adopt a particular academic or other interpretative framework, we chose to use the group's own language, leaving critical study and historical evaluation to others, such as Williams, with the scope to explain their choice of methodology.

(18) Swaminarayan Sanstha BAPS, 14 February 2007

(19) Swaminarayan Sanstha BAPS, 14 February 2007

(20) Raymond Brady Williams, A New Face of Hinduism: the Swaminarayan Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 127.

(21) Ibid., 146-147.

(22) Mark 10:17; 10:21.

(23) Luke 6:20, for example.

(24) Matthew 25:34-40; Luke 6:20.

(25) Matthew 26:11; Mark 10:25.

(26) Acts 2:45; Acts 4:32.

(27) This is best illustrated in the annual observation of Lent throughout the Christian world, which emphasizes all three practices, namely alms deeds, prayer and fasting, although the relative emphasis varies across the traditions. Lent is based on the forty days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert at the beginning of his ministry Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12 and Luke 4:2-13.

(28) In 2006, the overseas budget of Catholic Relief Services was over $500 million and its employed personnel numbered 3,500. See

(29) See

(30) See, for example, Azim Nanji, "Islamic Ethics," in A Companion to Ethics, ed., Peter Singer, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 106-118; Ayatullah Sayyid Mahmud Taleghani, Society and Economics in Islam, translated by R. Cameron (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1982), 25.

(31) Muslim "individuals are urged to spend of their wealth and substance on 1. family and relatives, 2. orphans, 3. the poor, 4. the traveling homeless, 5. the needy, 6. the freeing of the enslaved." In Azim Nanji (1991), 106-118.

(32) The Quran (2:275) reads: "Those who charge usury are in the same position as those controlled by the devil's influence. This is because they claim that usury is the same as commerce. However, God permits commerce, and prohibits usury. Thus, whoever heeds this commandment from his Lord, and refrains from usury, he may keep his past earnings, and his judgment rests with God. As for those who persist in usury, they incur Hell, wherein they abide forever.

(33) Osman GOner, "Poverty in Traditional Islamic Thought: Is it Virtue or Captivity?" Studies in Islam and the Middle East Journal (January 2005): 4.

(34) Ibid.

(35) Often cited from Quran (33:35) for sexual equality is the text that follows (in the translation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall): "Lo! Men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe, and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, ... who speak the truth, ... who persevere, ... who are humble, ... who give alms, ... who fast, ... who guard their modesty, and who remember Allah--Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward." It should also be noted that this is only one text in the Quran and the nature of male-female equality is still debated within Islam. Economic equality and redistributive justice within Islam are discussed by Shadi Hamid, a former Fulbright fellow and founding member of the Project on Middle East Democracy. "Islamic economics has two primary goals: to combat poverty and provide for a just and equitable distribution of wealth." See However, not every Muslim scholar would necessarily formulate it that way.

(36) See Jerome Bellion-Jourdan, 'Are Muslim Charities Purely Humanitarian? A Real but Misleading Question," in Michel Feher, NonGovernmental Politics (New York: Zone Books, 2007).

(37) See World Bank, Poverty Reduction Group 2006-2008 Strategy and Business Plan,

(38) The UN General Assembly; in its 57th Session in December 2002, inaugurated the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014 to harmonize economic prosperity, environmental conservation and social well being. See

(39) Notably, article 25, which reads "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services ...," and article 26, "Everyone has the right to education ... Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality ..."

(40) See Arjun Sengupta, "The Human Right to Development," Oxford Development Studies, 32 (2 June 2004), 179-203. Both the process of development and the outcomes are regarded as the fulfillment of human rights.

(41) The right to food means that governments must not take actions that result in increasing levels of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. It also means that governments must protect people from the actions of others that might violate the right to food. Governments must also, to the maximum of available resources, invest in eradicating hunger. The right to food is not about charity; but about ensuring that all people have the capacity to feed themselves with dignity. The right to food is a human right and is a binding obligation well-established under international law and recognised in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as a plethora of other instruments. The right to food has also been recognised in numerous national constitutions. See the website of the UN Rapporteur,

(42) For example, A comprehensive view is provided in Emma Tomalin, "Religion and a Rights-Based Approach to Development." See note 9.

(43) "Religious affiliation does not appear to have a robust impact on economic performance once conventional economic fundamentals are taken into account." Marcus Noland, "Religion, Culture, and Economic Performance," (Working paper 03-8, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington, DC: September 2003), 26. "Much literature on religion and development remains diverse and unconsolidated. Some development publications or collections address religious topics with the air of discovery, and do not refer to previous literature, nor to the much more consistent attention that religious groups have paid to development processes. Thus far religious influence on development has not been a primary topic of any international report on world development." Sabina Alkire, "Religion and Development," Global Equity Initiative, Harvard University (October 2004), 7. See also Robin Grier, "The Effect of Religion on Economic Development: A Cross National Study of 63 Former Colonies," Kyklos 50, no. 1 (1997), 47-62. Katherine Marshall, at the time director at Development Dialogue on Values and Ethics at the World Bank wrote: "A related characteristic of World Bank's history is worth highlighting here, because it extends well beyond to development institutions: A tendency to speak and operate in a technical framework and vocabulary, The language and values of spirituality, of 'the soul', has rarely been employed." Katherine Marshall, "Partnerships across the Worlds of Faith and Development," The World Bank Africa Christian Leaders' Gathering (London: 11 November 2004). See also "Religion and International Development," Pew Forum, (Washington DC: 6 March 2006). Text found at More generic aspects of the relationship between religion and development have been studied in different ways, e.g., Shalom H. Schwartz and Spike Huismans, "Values Priorities and Religiosity in Four Western Religions" Social Psychological Quarterly 58, no. 2 (1995), 88-107. They find support for the hypothesis that theological, sociological and psychological analyses of religion suggest that religiosity associates positively with values that enhance transcendence, preserve the social order, and protect individuals against uncertainty, and negatively with values that emphasize self-indulgence and favor intellectual or emotional openness to change.

(44) Jude Howell and Jenny Pearce, Civil Society and Development: A Critical Exploration, (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), 11.

(45) Twenty-five percent of USMD partners in 2007 were faith-based. See

(46) See This has been studied comprehensively by Stephen V. Monsma, When Sacred and Secular Mix: Religious Nonprofit Organizations and Public Money (Lanham, Mo.: Rownman and Littlefield, 1996).

(47) "The uniqueness of Hinduism is that it has maintained its identity without being tied to a given political framework--presumably an asset in the process of modernization." Noland, 7. "Contemporary research in religion and economic development is flourishing." Sriya Iyer, "Religion and Economic Development," in S.N. Durlauf and L.E. Blume, eds., The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming), 2. For more information on Hinduism and development in India, see Dani Rodrik and Arvind Subramanian, "From Hindu Growth to Productivity Surge: The Mystery of the Indian Growth Transition," Center for Economic Policy and Research, April 2004,; and G.B. Pant, "Development with Dignity," Hindu, 24 August 2003,

(48) "Until very recently, this kind of front-line development work, as carried out by development institutions such as the World Bank, was consciously very secular and there was little direct engagement with the worlds of faith, spirituality, and organized religion." Katherine Marshall, "The Causes of the Religious Revival," Couchiching Conference, 6 August 2004. Found at

(49) See Max L. Stackhouse with Lawrence M. Stratton, Capitalism, Civil Society, Religion and the Poor (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 1992). Found at

(50) This sentence hides major debates in the field of poverty reduction. One overview which notes the disagreements is provided by Lidia Cabral, "Poverty Reduction Strategies and the Rural Productive Sectors: What have we learnt, what else do we need to ask?" London, Overseas Development Institute, May 2006. Available at

(51) Richard Falk, "The Pursuit of International Justice: Present Dilemmas and an Imagined Future," Journal of International Affairs 52, no.2 (Spring 1999), 409.

(52) The operative treaty with respect to poverty alleviation is the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, of which the United States is not a signatory, although most states are. Article 2 of the Covenant reads, "Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international cooperation, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislation."

(53) "The key to alleviating rural poverty is to improve farmers' income because, as the evidence shows, the outcome is to raise living standards for farmers and non-farmers alike. Sustained poverty reduction relies on increasing the amount that small farmers can grow and increasing their ability to sell what they grow; in other words, enhancing the ability of small farmers to use markets to their benefit." "Africa and its development partners must fully embrace the challenge of building African markets and integrating Africa into regional and world markets. Improving a country's overall economic growth, while necessary, will not, in and of itself, reduce poverty and hunger. To succeed, poor and hungry people must participate in this economic growth as well. Toward that end, funding must be targeted toward: Small-scale farmers and people living in rural areas, who comprise three out of four poor people worldwide; Women and children, who are among the most socially, politically, economically and physically vulnerable to hunger; and People who are sick and infirm who often have greater nutrition needs. Resources also should be directed toward very poor countries. Africa and its development partners must fully embrace the challenge of building African markets and integrating Africa into regional and world markets." These and other policy statements available at

(54) See Again, we opt to use the language of the agency rather than another interpretative framework.

(55) See

(56) Ibid.

(57) USAID lists it a one of its fifteen disaster response partners,

(58) BAPS Charities,

(59) Ibid.

(60) Formerly known as BAPS Care International.

(61) Meenaben Bhavsar, interview by Shruti Patel, 25 February 2007, New York, NY.

(62) BAPS Charities, Gujarat Earthquake Rehabilitation and Relief Work Report,

(63) The Islamic Development Bank is a multilateral development financing institution established in 1975 with the purpose of fostering the economic development and social progress of its member countries and Muslim communities in nonmember countries in accordance with the principles of Islamic law. The Membership of the Bank has grown from twenty-two member states in 1975 to fifty-six today. For more information, see Islamic law prohibits usury, the collection and payment of interest, trading in financial risk and investments in business considered unlawful, such as selling alcohol or pork.

(64) Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London: Penguin, 1905); and Richard H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1998).

(65) In 2005 and 2006 through the Metanexus Institute (Bryn Mawr, PA) the John Templeton Foundation has provided thirteen major grants (three for teams, $500,000 each and ten for individuals $150,000 each) for research on spiritual capital, notably on how religion and religiously inspired trust, norms and behavior can shape economic, political and social affairs. Spiritual capital is seen as a subset within the field of social capital. The research is still in progress. More information can be found at

(66) Robert Barro, "Religious Faith and Economic Growth: What Matters Most--Belief or Belonging?" (Lecture, Heritage Lectures, Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC: 17 June 2004), 3.

(67) For example, Robert Easterly, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good (Oxford: University Press, 2002).

(68) UNDP, Human Development Report 2000, Human Rights and Development (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 11: "The state has the primary responsibility for ensuring that growth is pro-poor, pro-rights and sustainable--by implementing policies and ensuring that human rights commitments and goals are incorporated as objectives in economic policymaking."

(69) NGOs working in this field include the Italian Community of Sant'Egidio, The World Conference of Religions for Peace and the Swedish Life and Peace Institute.

(70) See Arthur E McGovern, Liberation Theology and its Critics: Toward an Assessment (Maryknoll, Orbis Press: 1989).

(71) See, for example, Women's Commission, Refugee and Internally Displaced Women and Children in Serbia and Montenegro, 2001, at; Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, Women Rape Victims Doubly Victimised by Islamic Law, Briefing 28, September 2003,

(72) See Gilles Kepel, The Revenge of God, The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World (Malden, Mass.: Polity, 2004); Jose Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994); and Peter Berger et al., eds, The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1999).

(73) See, for example, Andre Frankovits, The Human Rights Based Approach and the United Nations System, UNESCO, Strategy on Human Rights (2006); Gerd Oberlietner, Global Human Rights Institutions (Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2007), 103.
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Date:Sep 22, 2007
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