Development and Religion
- Robert M. BoscoRobert M. BoscoDepartment of International Studies, Centre College
The study of religion and development focuses on how the moral and ethical resources of the world’s major faith traditions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism might tame the worst excesses of market civilization. Whereas states, corporations, and international development institutions often define “development” as economic growth and all of the adjustments required to achieve it, religious approaches consider the consequences of this conception of development and recommend that the achievement of material gain be tempered by compassion, conscience, a greater concern for social equity, and a responsible application of science and technology to both the social and natural worlds. The origins of the field of religion and development can be traced back to Max Weber's seminal investigations into the elective affinities between Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism. In the 1980s, the majority of scholarly literature grappled with the meaning and significance of Weber’s basic ideas in various contexts and locales as scholars examined whether, when, and how religious traditions enhance or inhibit development at the international, regional, national, or community levels of analysis. After a period of hibernation, the study of religion and development was reenergized in the late 1990s as religious leaders and faith-based organizations played a central role in challenging the policies and practices of international development institutions, especially the World Bank.