Beyond faith-based organizations: critiquing recent work on religion and development

Ben Jones, Marie Juul Petersen

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There is a growing body of research on religion and development, primarily from development scholars and practitioners. In many ways this represents a new departure for development studies, which has been largely uninterested in religion in the past. This growing interest in religion can be explained through a number of inter linking factors, including the persistence of religion in much of the world, and the sense that existing approaches to development have been ineffective. In reviewing this literature we put forward three broad criticisms. First, that the literature is instrumentalist in its approach; it is interested in understanding how religion can be used to do development “better”. Second, that it has a narrow focus on faith-based organisations; which is, in many ways, a consequence of the need to understand religion instrumentally. Third, that it is based on normative assumptions in terms of how both religion and development are conceptualised: religion is understood to be apart from “mainstream” development; while development is defined as that thing that development agencies do. In making sense of these criticisms we emphasise the extent to which recent interest in religion and development has come from donors and development agencies. We found little evidence of academic research on religion and development prefiguring the interest of the World Bank or bilateral agencies. The article concludes with some suggestions of how to move forward.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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