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Concept Note

 

The quest for sustainable pathways to development and peace has dominated the trajectory of development thought and practice for over six decades. Soon after the end of colonial rules, with the onset of nation-building, the development community embarked on capital-intensive projects and programmes aimed at modernization and industrialization with the objective of bringing prosperity to humanity that had been impoverished by the devastations of the World War 2. With economic growth as the overriding aim,  the development experts then moved on to modernization in the field of agriculture, bringing innovations in technology such as the Green Revolution and the White Revolution, which resulted in enhanced agricultural and dairy productions saving millions from hunger and starvation. Though successful to some extent, the gap between the rich and the poor continued unabated. Youth from rural areas migrated to urban settlements resulting in break-down of social cohesion. The analysis of these measures moved the development community towards more direct attempts made at poverty alleviation and participatory development involving community action. Many lessons were learnt, some improvements were made. Yet the stark reality of development was that in spite of all methods, approaches, strategies, research and analysis the goal of bringing some level of material prosperity to the vast majority of human beings remained elusive.

It was clear that in spite of a dominantly materialistic approach to development; even the goal of material prosperity had not been achieved. The international development community felt the need for a shift in paradigm. It began to question its own assumptions by looking at questions of human nature, nature of society, capacity building, the role of knowledge, the role of motivation and purpose. It concluded that it had essentially ignored the fact that the great majority of the peoples of the world do not view themselves as just material beings responding to material exigencies and circumstances, but rather as beings endowed with spiritual awareness and purpose. 

Many development thinkers, practitioners, and leaders of thought began to explore questions such as:

  • What constitutes true prosperity and meaningful betterment of society?

  • What would motivate people to become the protagonists of the process of change and development?

  • What capabilities need to be developed in individuals, communities and institutions to read their own social reality, identify the forces operating in society?

  • How to empower people to align themselves with forces of integration and be imbued with a high sense of purpose?

  • What is the role of knowledge in capacity building, what are the sources of knowledge?

  • What is the conceptual framework for lasting peace and sustainable development?

It is clear that the above questions are the concerns of the fields of development as well as religion. It is ironic that the values and perceptions enshrined in religions have not been taken into account by the development community in formulating objectives, policies and programmes explicitly.

In 1998 the World Bank brought together development and religious institutions to explore mutual objectives and concerns in a series known as the World Faiths Development Dialogue which continued till 2005. It created awareness about the potential role of religion in development work but did not lead to any programmes. A number of community services have been delivered by the United Nations development agencies and some governments in partnership with faith-based organizations and religious leaderships.

In the late 1990s, International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada sponsored a project to look at the synergistic interaction of scientific methods and know-how and religious values in the field of development. A rich exploration of the topic entitled The Lab, The Temple and the Market:  Reflections at the Intersection of Science, Religion and Development, incorporating perspectives from several faith traditions, was one of the primary outcomes of that collaboration. 

In the wake of that the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity (www.globalprosperity.org) initiated a discourse on Science, Religion and Development in 2000 with the support and partnership of over hundred stakeholders and development organizations. In this discourse, the complementary roles of science and religion as two systems of knowledge and practice for building capacity in individuals, institutions and communities were examined. Today this multi-country initiative has been able to raise questions about fundamental concepts related to the development process and look at the areas of governance, economic activity, appropriate technology and gender equality. The Institute opines that it is important to reframe and broaden development discourse by considering the interrelationship between community capacity-building processes, the spiritual bases of human action, and social transformation.1 

Religion, Science and Capacity Building:

For the vast majority of humankind the proposition that the human nature has a spiritual dimension is a self-evident truth that finds expression in all spheres of life.2 The fundamental longings within human beings that inclines it towards transcendence, towards contemplation of underlying causes of existence and the mystery of human reality, have all been met by the instrumentality of the world’s religions. Religion has been the most potent instrument in the civilizing of human character. Through the teachings and moral guidance of religion, great segments of humanity have learned to discipline their baser propensities and to develop qualities that conduce to social order and cultural advancement. Recognition and cultivation of humanity’s spiritual nature have engendered cohesion and unity of purpose within and across societies and served as the wellspring of the vital expressions of civilization. In its truest form, devoid of dogmatic accretions, religion has imparted spiritual verities that in no way contradict the discovered truth of science.3

If individuals and communities are to become the principal actors in enhancing their physical and social well-being, they must be able to draw on spiritual tenets and belief systems to give vision and focus to their endeavors. But this must be done in a way that palpably improves their capacity to define, analyze and meet their own needs.4

In essence, the development process is ultimately concerned with both the transformation of individuals and the social structures that the members of society create. The emergence of peaceful and progressive modes of living requires both an internal and external reordering, and such a reordering can only occur when the human heart is transformed. Hence, to be, effective, development activity must directly address the inner life and character of human beings as well as the organization of society. Its purpose must be to promote a process of social change that engenders cooperation, compassion, rectitude of conduct and justice – a transformation that permeates every aspect of the relationships that govern human activity.  Recognition of the inseparable connection between the material and spiritual aspects of life therefore gives rise to a fundamentally different notion of development.5

Development initiatives will not lead to tangible and lasting improvements in physical well-being without drawing on those universal spiritual postulates that give direction and meaning to life. While science can offer the methods and tools for promoting social and economic advancement, it alone cannot set direction. The goal of development cannot come from within the process itself. A vision is needed, and the proper vision will never take shape if the spiritual heritage of the human race continues to be regarded as tangential to development policy and program.6

Taken together, science (including social science) and religion provide the fundamental organizing principles by which individuals, communities and institutions function and evolve.

City Montessori School has been progressively applying the interplay of scientific knowledge and religious insights in its moral education and youth empowerment curriculum. It has been organizing series of international events providing opportunities to both its wards and faculty to understand the application of such fundamental principles as justice, compassion, trustworthiness, etc. in the areas of environment, sustainable development and peace, religious co-existence and inclusive societies.

The forthcoming International Conference on the Role of Religion in Development (2017) recognizes that development failures result as much from the lack of scientific attitudes and methods as from spiritual shortcomings. It will examine a number of inter-related themes during the course of its deliberations:

  1. Education
    Education has been a salient feature of development strategy for many decades as social advancement springs from creation and dissemination of knowledge. Education goes beyond mere acquisition of knowledge and information; it encompasses the development of a set of inter-related capabilities. What would an educational system that accepts the coherence of the material and the spiritual look like?

  2. Gender equality
    Men and Women have been created equal in the sight of God. How can religious institutions and development thinkers translate this spiritual reality in social institutions and structures of society? How can we institute the equality of women and men in all domains of human activity?

  3. Governance
    What insights does religion provide in capacity-building measures for raising up institutions of governance that elicit trust, and are committed to the ideals of service to and empowerment of those that they represent? How would such a systems of governance define “power”?

  4. Religious co-existence and inclusive societies:
    What formal and informal educational programme can safeguard and encourage acceptance of religious diversity and promote peaceful co-existence and inclusive societies? How can religious institutions and leadership work with one accord in this direction?

  5. Appropriate Technology:
    How technological choice is made in a society conscious of the material and spiritual dimensions of life?
    How can these choices be made when subject to market forces?
    How can communities be assisted to make their own technological path?

  6. Economic Activity:
    How can science and religion contribute to developing economic systems that are strongly altruistic and cooperative in nature?

Religion/ Spirituality

It is important to acknowledge the role of religion in development and not merely the role of spirituality in development thinking. The reason one should go a step further and talk about religion is this:  It is too tempting to fall into a position in which we separate the structures of society, its systems and processes, including its knowledge systems, from individual good behaviour.  When one assumes that kind of a position, spirituality becomes all too easy.  It is, of course, not an easy thing, but it soon becomes so.  And then one may end up making statements to the effect that “If people were good, if people were spiritual—by which we mean each in his or her own personal sphere—then things would be good.”

There is a certain degree of truth to this statement.  But somehow that view seems a little too simplistic.  This is not to say that everyone who is talking about spirituality falls into such a mindset, only that it is very easy to wind up there.  All the structures, all the processes and all the systems of society are left to the forces of politics, of economics, of culture and history, and spirituality is something that one does at home in the sphere of one’s own personal existence.  With that kind of spirituality, not even consumer society—the fairest fruit of materialism—finds contention.  It is just another product among the thousands of other products on the shelves from which one can choose.  It perfectly fits this world as it is.  For the hard decisions, you do not bring in any of your personal things; your personal beliefs are to be left at home where they belong, and hard decisions are basically made by materialistic considerations. So with that in mind, it is likely better for us to talk about religion, as one of two knowledge systems that must propel development.7

Effectively addressing the problems now convulsing human affairs—crushing poverty amidst vast sections of the world’s population, oppression and exploitation of women and minority groups, intractable conflicts among nations and peoples, disruption of global ecosystems, the breakdown of vital social bonds, and the erosion of standards of decency, among others—will require new models of social transformation that recognize the deep connection between the material, moral and transcendent dimensions of life. Without such a unified interaction between the mind and the heart, between the scientific and religious endowments of human experience, relief from terrible suffering now endured by so many members of the human family will remain elusive.8