Posted by Robert / 12 days ago / 0 Comments

Keeping Faith in 2030: Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals (highlight notice)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of PRHS


Religion is a major cultural, social, political, and economic factor in many ODA recipient countries, and understanding the relevant religious dynamics and the role of faith actors is crucial to bringing about sustainable development. While development practice and development studies had essentially subscribed to a modernist, secular paradigm of social change for much of the twentieth century, this has begun to change in recent years. Increasing portions of development aid are now channeled via so-called faith-based organizations, and religion is increasingly recognized as a human resource rather than an obstacle to development. Many religious groups have also been involved in development policy by adopting and heralding the Millennium Development Goals and through consultations in the drafting of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Academic research has, to some extent, addressed these developments in pioneering research projects (such as the DfID-funded Religion and Development (RaD) research programme at Birmingham University, 2005-2011) and there has been an increasing number of relevant publications on related themes, contributing to the rise of a new academic field of 'religions and development' in the UK and internationally, as an interdisciplinary effort between the Arts & Humanities and other disciplines.

While these are promising developments and a useful stepping stone for this proposal, there are major challenges which need to be addressed by a sustained effort in order to take religions and development research further, so that it can better respond to the challenges and opportunities generated via the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and its associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By networking scholars from the UK, Ethiopia, and India, the proposed Research Network seeks to address the following three challenges:

1) Integrate voices from the Global South: Notable exceptions notwithstanding, there is a considerable disconnect between the religions and development literature produced in the Global North and what development researchers, policymakers and practitioners do in many ODA recipient countries in the Global South. There is a danger that the current interest in religions and development reflects little more than a donor trend among Western policymakers and researchers, while in ODA recipient countries the continued public role of religions is a much more problematic and controversial case.

2) Integration of faith-based actors: While there is much research on so-called faith-based organizations and increased funding opportunities available to them, collaboration in research and development policy and practice has been harder to achieve. More work needs to be done for enabling a more in-depth and open dialogue between the faith-based organization and development actors, especially in order to provide an important feedback mechanism for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

3) Improved methodologies, interdisciplinary dialogue, and better data: Academic debate on religions and development is not as nuanced as it could be, due to different methodologies, varying conceptualizations of religion, and relatively little comparative data. The network will focus on issues of methodology and comparison across disciplinary boundaries and methodological premises to pave the way for more balanced and comparative discussions. Our regional focus supports this approach, as it allows us to collate data, major issues and perspectives in our policy briefings and dossiers in a comprehensive manner.

The activities of the research network are built around three conferences (UK, Ethiopia, India), which will be used to network the main actors in the field, produce material and publications relevant to academic and non-academic users, and highlight central areas for further research. A multi-user website and steering group will facilitate ongoing activities.

Planned Impact

The main non-academic user groups who will participate in and benefit from the network will encompass secular and faith-based actors operating across different sectors of development, as well as policymakers working in government development agencies and multilateral organizations such as the UN and the World Bank. We are able to reach these audiences through existing contacts, having collaborated with a number of them already in our research and impact work.

The Islamic Relief Academy will be our project partner, based on its working relationship with the PI and Co-I in setting up a UK Development Studies Association study group on religions and development. We also intend that the network will strengthen ties with other faith-based groups (e.g. Christian Aid, Tearfund, World Vision), local development actors in Ethiopia and India (e.g. Ethiopian Inter-Faith Forum for Development Dialogue and Action), governmental and non-governmental organisations (DfID, INTRAC), and hubs such as the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities.

To summarise, and as outlined more fully in the 'pathways to impact', the network will pursue four engagement and impact strategies, which are linked to relevant outputs:

1. Involve non-academic users in planning and conducting all activities.
2. Deliberate conference programming to facilitate engagement between non-academic users and generators of religions and development research.
3. Produce material relevant to policy-makers, development practitioners, and faith-based organizations.
4. Network academic and non-academic users beyond direct conference engagement.

Linked to these strategies users will benefit in a variety of ways. First, through being involved in planning and conducting all activities, non-academic participants will play a role in shaping the content of the conferences so that the design of the sessions are relevant to their needs, as either faith-based or secular development actors (although in practice this binary is not always apparent, particularly in the Global South). For instance, the conferences will be a forum to disseminate information to different audiences about the ways in which faith groups are engaging with the SDG process, particularly in India and Ethiopia. This is likely to be information that secular development actors, for example, do not have access to in other fora and will help inform and improve their design of development policy and practice such that it is appropriate for different communities.

Second, non-academic users will be at the center of the process that produces the 'good practice guide' and 'policy dossiers', assisting with translating academic material into a language and format useful to non-academic users, as well as helping to disseminate it. The 'good practice guide' will be a practical document to assist a range of development actors, faith-based and secular, in engaging in dialogue, particularly with respect to tricky or contested areas, such as gender inequality or sexual rights. Three policy dossiers will be produced for the UK, Ethiopia and India, making visible to a policy audience the key issues relating to religions and development, particularly with respect to the SDG agenda, as well as offering some comparative analyses. We anticipate that these dossiers will contribute to improving development policy and practice where it involves engagement with faith actors, a goal that we are strengthened via the launch event in the House of Commons to which policymakers, practitioners, and academics will be invited.

Finally, the considerable networking and collaboration opportunities provided by the project website (which will also play a role in dissemination) will benefit all participants by pro-actively connecting researchers and practitioners with similar topical interests, and by highlighting project initiatives and/or funding opportunities in this regard.

Emma Tomalin (Principal Investigator)
Jörg Haustein (Co-Investigator)



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