The Wheatley Institution

Faith and Development: A Global Engagement

Katherine Marshall
October 2, 2014

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Well good afternoon and thank you so much for coming. This is my first visit to Brigham Young University and it's been a wonderful welcome; I feel that I have learned an extraordinary amount in the few short hours that I have been here. I'm going to talk, I hope, for about 20-25 minutes, if I go beyond that, someone please give me a bird or something because I want to be sure that there's time for questions. Sometimes I get carried away with stories and go off point despite the PowerPoint.

But basically when you've looked at the news and when you think about what's happened over the last few months, I don't think there's ever been a time when religion has been on the front page and in the headlines as much as it has in the last few months. Obviously we're all of us horrified but also puzzled by the seemingly sudden emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Before that, I think one of the most horrific stories that we've heard for a long time is the sudden outburst of Christian-Muslim tensions and horrible deaths in the Central African Republic. We're focused very much on the extraordinary kidnapping of girls in Nigeria, and it was not very long ago, just a week or two ago, that I was in a meeting with a lot of Nigerians who were saying that there were thousands of girls who had been kidnapped before that, many of them Muslim, and it was not until you had this very large group of Christian girls that the social media and the media suddenly woke up. The rise of homophobia in various African countries, notably in Uganda, has really represented a crisis and again, as with all of these, forces to think about what's happening. The threat to Christians in the Middle East is really very frightening but there's also something no one expected, which is Buddhist-Muslim tensions and violence in various parts of Asia, particularly Sri Lanka and Myanmar. These all raise questions of human rights. I'm personally involved, because I'm organizing a meeting on Monday in the Ebola crisis in three countries of West Africa and again, raising the question of where is the religious dimension of this crisis; clearly it is the people who are at the forefront, the health workers who are caring for people and dying, but it is also the potential of the networks of religious leaders to respond. So these are clearly issues, global engagement is the title we gave to this presentation faith is everywhere: interwoven with politics with society with demography with urbanization and so forth. I want to emphasize, because so many of these headlines are negative, the extraordinary positive side that we see in the picture of faith: The work for peace—Desmond Tutu is just one example; social Justice—Martin Luther King; the really remarkable work of nuns particularly, but many other figures who are inspired by their religion for health and for education; the role that many religious communities are playing to protect the environment and the ancient traditions of charity and care for the poor and the vulnerable. But we do face, and this is again a preoccupation that we've seen this year more than almost anywhere else is conveyed in this picture very vividly. Does anyone know where this picture comes from? Has anyone seen it?

(UNCLEAR RESPONSE)

Yeah, it's Sao Paolo. But the extraordinary juxtaposition of wealth and poverty is something that we see sometimes as vividly as here, but often being here in Provo, you're not as acutely aware of the inequalities of our world as people who live in other parts of the world are.

So why focus on this twinning of religion and development? Partly it is because they are so deeply intertwined and that's really the topic that we'll be talking about today. I also want to emphasize that in the countries that are a major area of focus for us today and which I'm sure you're focusing on in your classes, what we call now the fragile and conflict states, or the poorly performing states, some people call them the failed states, etcetera—in those countries religion is even more important than it is in other places. And by religion I mean religious institutions as well as beliefs and the role of leaders. However, and this is again our topic here, these dimensions were largely ignored in many circles. Madeline Albright after she left her position as Secretary of State wrote a book called The Mighty and the Almighty, but it is essentially saying, "Had I thought more or known more, had more professional advice about religion, I would have handled world affairs in quite different ways." So the fact is that it has been ignored. One of my symbols is that in the World Bank Library there was no category for religion or theology or faith, and I've pointed it out many times and as far as I know, there still is no category.

So there is a new focus, and we're seeing it in many places in the UN system, and within bilateral agencies, the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Danes are all doing studies about world religion and development—the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Swiss—but I'm afraid that it's quite often fairly superficial; It's quite biased and it's quite often ephemeral.

In other words, as soon as the leader moves on, somebody comes in with a new objective. So my goal, and this is the bottom line of what I'm talking about and what I'm working for, is to see religion as an integral facet of foreign policy and development work. The issue is not what you believe anywhere near as much as it is what the people you work with believe. And we should not forget that some 85% of the world's people, this is a Pew study, belong to one or another religious community that is a major force in their lives. And if our object is to help them, we need to see that side of it. And ultimately what this will result in is a better quality of life. And that's as true in a local community as it is in some place very far away. So that's really what we're talking about.

So what I was planning, what I'm planning to do is to speak briefly about my journey through the personal life, so you have some sense of as we call it where I'm coming from, secondly the effort by the president of the World Bank and the archbishop of Canterbury to introduce these subjects seemed like something relatively bland, but it unleashed a firestorm of controversy and it was a serious controversy because the World Bank has 184 member countries, or did at the time, has a few more now. And Wolfensohn was often proud of saying that the effort on religion was a 184 to zero against, which was a slight exaggeration, but the fact is that it ran into a firestorm of opposition and we learned a great deal from trying to understand where the opposition came from. In many ways, the ways in which religion has been part of the development agenda is part of the history of development. And so I have a very quick tour through some of the major phases of thinking about development and where these issues of faith and religious institutions, religious beliefs, and leaders come into it.

We've being doing a lot of work at Georgetown and at the World Faiths Development Dialogue, a lot of research, and I have a few points emerging from the research that we can talk about here, and we can talk about later as well. But to give you a hint, they are first of all, the basic issues of governments and power, in other words the links with politics. Second is coordination because a lot of religious organizations are not part of one of the major issues in development now which is called AID harmonization or AID coordination. There are lots of concerns about proselytizing that come up when people talk about religion and development. In fact, it's often the second thing that people will mention when you say, "you should be taking this into account." And the first issue is gender because within the development community it's almost an article of faith that men and women are equal and that improving the status of women is the single-most important change that you can make, and the vision of religious organizations is that they are against equality for women. Particularly when you see photographs of religious leaders who don't include women, it detracts from their credibility. So it's a real issue for a lot of different reasons. And finally, if we have time, I'll talk a little bit about ways forward and some of the potential for partnerships and what habitat or humanity calls the theology of the hammer, which is basically working with building houses together or doing something  practical together as a way of breaking down the barriers among religious traditions, and I would argue something even more difficult between religious perspectives and the non-religious or secular perspectives that have tended to dominate many of the institutions.

So basically, when did the contemporary rediscovery of religion occur? Karen Armstrong has a wonderful word that she uses for it, she calls it "revelation" but she reminds us that revelation means removing the veil. So in other words the religious beliefs and institutions were there all the time but the question is when did people start to see them? When did the veil get removed? And the two markers that people point to often are 1979, which was the Iranian revolution, and then the second is 9/11. And those are two markers that people go back to all the time. I referred to the World Bank experience; the World Bank is probably the least likely organization from many people's perspectives to venture into the complex territory of religion. Frankly it was because of a leader, an individual leader, and I think there are important lessons there that people make a tremendous difference and that a leader can really do something, but our experience, which I became involved in in 1999 of dealing with the opposition, was an important marker and an important series of lessons. Another side of it—I'm never hesitant particularly when I'm speaking to secular people to remind them that religion is enormously complex, very dynamic, and changing all the time. Any simplistic vision of what religion is about is going to get you into trouble. But I likewise need to remind people that development is also very complex. And that it's also changing and that there are many different ways of looking at development. For any of you who have not lived through this history, I can recommend something called "The Commanding Heights," which is a six hour video that was produced based on a book by Daniel Yergin. It essentially is the history of economic thinking in the 19th century—I mean the 20th century. Sorry. And the ways in which the sort of right-wing/left-wing role of the state, role of economists, etcetera, is played out is told in a remarkably effective way. I found it fascinating because I live this working in—I was in the World Bank really for half its history—and was part of all these changes of Thatcher, Reagan, Carter, etcetera. Seeing this gave me a much better appreciation of what some of the forces behind were.

The breadth of the links between religion and development is enormous. I often put out the challenge to present an issue to me and I will find a religious dimension. Just to give you an idea, we were asked by the United Nations foundation to work on energy access. And I thought that at first that it would be impossible to find religious link, but we found many. Among them there are many, many faith-linked groups that work on clean cook stoves, on solar energy, for example, solar suitcases to hospitals so that women can deliver babies when they decide to come at night, but they also get involved in cases of the grid, the complexities of placing and subsidy policies, etcetera. So you have the millennium development goals, and now sustainable development goals, culture, politics, environment, and of course, many issues on security; these issues vary by country, by religious tradition. And so we're entering into an enormously complex area.

I'm going to skip over this one. [(In reference to a slide)]

But this is essentially this cartoon by a South African cartoonist who, by the way, gets into trouble periodically because he goes pretty far, but essentially for many people, religion is a minefield. It is one of the reasons why people have hesitated so much to deal with the issues. These are two charts for anyone who's interested in them. I've put them up as charts, not so that you have to read through them right now, but to give you an idea of the complexity of it. This is in a sense the distillation of our discussions with 184 governments as to why they were hesitant to deal with the religious aspects. And it summarizes as 3 Ds and an E. So the 3 Ds are first, that religion is seen as political and divisive; that religion—religious groups fight each other, their main object is to recruit more people; that they foster intolerance that's a very strong image that people hold of religion that we heard about constantly when we were talking to the representatives of 184 countries.

[The] second D is that Religion is seen as dangerous to progress; that it's patriarchal; that religious institutions don't want change; they don't want to see modernization and nothing is more salient there, that comes up more often than reproductive health rights and the roles of women. So, those are issues that we heard again and again as we talked. The third is that religion is basically defunct; that it's not important, not a priority because with modernization it becomes less important so why should we—why should we pay attention and why should we care?

The final issue which fascinated me—(I was one of the very first women doing the kind of work that I was doing, being a manager and a leader, and the first group of women, I think very admirably decided that we were not going to hide behind professionalism and say, "I will do my job," we decided to advocate for women within the organization but also for a strategic approach to engaging women's issues more fully in thinking about development) But in those early years it was fascinating to go to meetings about gender. And first of all, very few men would show up, but when there were mixed groups, people's voice tone changed because there was an emotional content to talking about gender that you didn't see in other issues, and it's because it's very personal. I mean, everyone faces questions within their family, they're asking these questions,and I found very much the same issue with religion, that it's very difficult to have an object conversation about religious issues because for people—it's  part of their soul, their heart, and emotions come into it; that's also in hostility. There are some people where I raise these kind of issues or would give a presentation like this, and they would simply turn off and turn away because they're not interested. So I want also to emphasize that many religious leaders, institutions, and actors, have strong views about the development communities. And there are the five Ds and Es, so I'll go really quickly through these. For many, they see the develop enterprise as empire, and particularly as American empire. It's about American multi-nationalists; it's about U.S. power and so there's an intrinsic suspicion. We're working in Senegal, and I was shocked that the religious leaders of the Sufi brotherhoods view any talk about family health and maternal health as part of an American plot to limit the number of Muslims in the world. In other words, this is a very live and important issue. People are concerned that the development institutions tend to be mute about ethics; they don't talk about ethical issues even though every single development issue raises profound questions about ethical choice. They are hostile to the effects of development, communities disrupted, families disrupted, etcetera. They're terrified of economics in many cases. They see economics as theology. In fact, it's fascinating to hear people talking about it. Economists preach, they're dogmatic, they don't listen, they believe in unseen forces, the hidden hand of the market and so forth. And they see the institutions and the discipline as enigmatic. So the upshot is that develop is dangerous.

These are two images that sort of convey some of this hostility. The first one is Noah's ark. It's actually an old Oliphant cartoon about obesity. You may not be able to read it, but it's who let the Americans on board is basically the message, and the other is another image of inequality.

I want to emphasize that there are countless synergistic positive and constructive paths. The most important is that religious institutions and development institutions are the advocates for the world's poor and excluded. They care passionately about doing something for those who are left behind and marginalized. The religious institutions have an extraordinary reach and depth. They grapple with ethical issues and talk about them all the time, and the overlap goes from AIDS to zebras—from every development issue, there's a religious link.

Another issue that I find fascinating, I don't know how many of you have heard serious speeches by people from the development world, but they're often excruciatingly boring and very serious if you go into religious circles, very often you hear the extraordinary power of communication: the power of story, and increasingly we're seeing it with modern media, with social media, you're really dealing with people who have a skill to reach people. Which we need desperately in the development world in order to awake people to what they can do and what they need to do.

The other issue that is important in looking at the religious institutions is their authenticity and durability. It's not at all uncommon to hear a religious leader or community say, "We've been here before you were born and we'll be here long after you're dead. We're an authentic part of this community," whereas an NGO or a development institution comes in, I don't know how many of you have heard the phrase "briefcase NGOs" which is a common word for the kind of NGOs that are set up for a specific purpose.

But one of the issues and something we hear about a lot is something called instrumentalizing. If we had a little bit more time I'd ask you to guess what that meant. But it essentially is a tendency of people in the developed world once they've sort of woken up to the size of these religious institutions to say, "Let's use them to get people to wash their hands. Let's use them; I'll write your sermon for you," and needless to say that generates resentment, and it doesn't work.

So to go very quickly through some of the phases of engagement: I think you can look at the international development effort as starting from World War II, basically right after World War II with the Bretton-Woods meeting in 1944 and Truman, but increasingly through the 1950s. But through most of that period, there was virtually no explicit focus on religious dimensions at all. It was ignoring an unease, there was no training, there were no bibliographies, some people wrote things, the research that was done was not reflected, there was no record of what was done, very little learning.

There was then a period of intense criticism. And many of you may have heard about the Jubilee 2000 campaign on poor country debt, but there were also many campaigns on environment. The growing power of civil society caught the World Bank by surprise, and religious organizations were often part of it. So these criticisms really hurt the institutions, and did lead over time to a rethinking of approaches and positions.

There was also study called the "voices of the poor" don't know if any of you have seen it, it was a study of 64,000 people in communities all over the world. And one of the surprising findings of this study was something that's been confirmed in many surveys afterwards. That if poor people were asked who they trusted the most, the most common answer was their religious leaders, or their religious communities. So this issue of trust and the importance of faith in people's lives was something that came out of these portraits. And then this was all multiplied by the civil society revolution, with hundreds of thousands of NGOs emerging in the world, and an uneasy relationship between religious organizations and NGOs because for some people, religion is just part of civil society, but if you actually looked at it that way, religious institutions would swamp the NGOs. So there's a complex relationship in the transformation that's taken place in civil society—these debt issues I mentioned came to a head around the year 2000 when the effort was to have an effort to address debt around the year 2000. More recently, the preoccupation with aid harmonization put some of the issues of religion in the spotlight because essentially there are so many actors involved in development now that it's often the problems of coordination have taken on an enormous importance. And just to give you a very simple picture of one African country in the AIDS programs, this is called Spaghetti, but basically what this has led to is many efforts at AID coordination and this has presented the questions of where and how do religious groups come into that. There are many alliances and partnerships on poverty that have emerged, some of them very positive. The world parliament of religions has focused on issues of development and it's meeting next year in Salt Lake City, so hopefully it will again focus on these issues of poverty and development as well as security and the environment.

As there's been more focus on the weak states, the role of religion is an obvious issue, though it hasn't had very much attention. And where targets of health and education are concerned, clearly these service delivery, what Jim Kim, head of the World Bank, calls the science of delivery are missing a huge element when they don't take into account the religious actors. The new focus on climate change also brings in many religious dimensions and has mobilized leaders. A lot of the people who met in New York last weekend the hundreds of thousands who marched before the UN meeting, many of them came from religious groups and expressed their concerns in a religious light. So turning very quickly I mentioned already that some of the themes that have emerged from our work the governance the role of the state, the issue of ethics and corruption, governance issues, how are religious organizations involved or how are they not involved: tensions around various issues of human rights, the issue of proselytizing when it's linked to development—when it's perceived as a quid pro quo. In Cambodia, if yougo the church, you get free English lessons or computer lessons that's what's the kind of issue that raises problems: the problems of coordination the issues of gender that I mentioned before.

I'm coming to the end so prepare your questions please. But just to give you an idea of things that are immediately in my inbox, in other words in my email traffic today and yesterday, the first I mentioned before is the Ebola issue. How can we try to insure that the billions of dollars that are going to be spent do involve a thoughtful approach to the role that religious institutions and leaders are playing and could play—Myanmar, where the religious tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have exploded and created a horrible obstacle, really, to the potential of that country to emerge. In Bangladesh we're organizing an event that will discuss the meaning of a secular state as opposed to an Islamic state—it's a major issue there. In Senegal we're working on family planning. In Nigeria there is an interreligious effort to combat malaria initially but extending now to child health and maternal health. In Kenya we're very much focused right now on a study of orphanages and the changing role of orphanages in light of modern thinking and modern research on the damage that can be done to children who spend their lives in orphanages. We're dealing with questions of values in education, I'm involved in organizing the International Anti-Corruption Conference and trying to bring in religious voices, and the most fun thing I do has been the Fez Festival of Global Sacred Music, which was established after the first Gulf War, and which has as its idea that if people experience music from different cultures, that they will—the emotional barriers between them will break down and in a forum that we can have a different kind of dialogue.

So on paths forward you have to deal with each country. You need evidence; you need discernment and political antennae. I think we all of us need to be willing to deal with the tough issues that are involved. There are tough issues around religious freedom; there are tough issues around gender; there are tough issues around issues like abortion and gay rights, all of those are issues where we need defined safe spaces where there can be discussion of different perspectives on those issues because they are, at the moment, major sources of tension. There's— it's imperative to bring in more women into the religious discussions, and it can be done if you try and if you look. We need to focus on networks; we need more effort to make global events make sense and interfaith work is an important approach that allows for objectivity.

So I'm gonna end with a quick story. I was in a country which I will not name with a minister of agriculture where the topic for a big meet that was coming up was human rights. And this minister did not want to be with this woman, this American woman who was trying to tell him about human rights. So we had a two hour drive and a very difficult conversation. So he came from a desert country. So I started asking him about camels. And he knew every camel in the country by name. Camels were very important—he told stories about camels that kept us going for an hour. I asked him about cattle; he knew a little bit about cattle, about sheep, he wasn't very interested in goats and chickens. But then we came to a village, where as in all villages there were donkeys everywhere that you could see, children riding on them, and so I said to him, "Well what about donkeys?" And he said, "We don't have any donkeys." So then I asked him, "Well what are these creatures that I see around?" And he said, "They're not important." So this is my parable that first of all, the first one is that something can be right in front of you and you don't see it, and clearly, that's one of the lessons from religion. The religious issues, the institutions, the leaders are there all the time—but there has been a blindness, an unwillingness to deal with them that is part of our problem. We need religious literacy. We need to have much more attention to these issues.  A second one is that what you see is very much shaped by your frame of reference. So in this case the minister didn't see village agriculture—the poverty—as anything to do with agriculture or his mission. It was not part of his vision of livestock or poverty or development and so because of his worldview, he simply didn't see. So I think the lesson from this is being conscious of what your worldview is and of how it shapes and influences the facts you draw from the enormous number of facts that you see and where it is that we're going. So few resources here, you can have this if you'd like. Let's open it up for questions.

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