CFP: Religion and the Politics of Development: Priests, Potentates and Progress


RELIGION AND THE POLITICS OF DEVELOPMENT: Priests, Potentates and “Progress”

National University of Singapore

Development practitioners and academics alike are often kept awake at night with the vexing question of why development does not seem to be ‘working’. Why are there still 2.6 billion poor on the planet? Why do children die from malnutrition every day in some of the world’s richest countries? All of this despite $125 billion annually of public development dollars being poured into making things “better”. Many explanations are offered for this, however one argument that has recently gained traction within development circles is the notion that development is inherently political, and hence political approaches are necessary to render it effective (Unsworth 2009). Allocating resources towards poverty alleviation rather than other priorities requires political will, not just technical training or instruments; development must face up to the primacy of politics (Leftwich 2005). Acknowledging this, major donors and development agencies have begun developing research projects and program strategies on ‘working politically’. Glaringly absent in this discourse is analysis of the role of religious leaders, communities and discourses in impacting the political realities of development. This absence is despite the fact that the notion that religion and religious organizations have roles to play in development is no longer considered radical in development circles. Over the past decade several major research efforts have examined the role of religion in development initiatives, resulting in nuanced analysis of the multiple ways that religion engages with development, and vice-versa (Rakodi 2011; Marshall 2008). Yet in these initiatives there has been little explicit or thoroughgoing attention to the politics of religion in development, including the leverage that religious actors exert on political processes, the ways that development actors engage with religion, and the different religious visions of progress that inform practices of poverty alleviation.

Priests, Potentates, and “Progress” will explore the nexus of religion, development, and politics in Asia. Any discussion of politics must pay close attention to the state and discussion at the conference will be informed by recent developments in religion-and-the-state theory. However, politics extends beyond the state and includes activity at communal-levels as well as global flows of ideas, finances, and institutions. We are interested in exploring religion and the politics of development at multiple levels ( e.g. -municipal, provincial, national, transnational).

The workshop will address the following topics (and related themes) as they relate to the Asian region:

  • Analysis of religion-state interactions for development, including attention to the changing roles and nature of religious authority, regimes, and secularization in Asia
  • Where and how donors and/or donor governments target religious groups for assistance for specific development goals or as part of broader foreign policy objectives;
  • The potentialities and constraints for religious groups to play significant roles in the Paris/Accra Aid Effectiveness discourse, the MDGs, and other mainstream development initiatives;
  • Exploration of ways that religious leaders/groups are mobilized by development actors (including state actors) and vice versa for “development” (e.g. service delivery, anti-corruption, advocacy);
  • How and under what circumstances and to what ends are religious leaders and organizations engaged in “political” approaches to poverty alleviation;
  • Analysis of the multiple and contrasting strategies of grassroots and quotidian religious political activism for development;
  • Religious and secular genealogies of development paradigms, strategies, and goals among particular actors and as an ideological infrastructure;

Papers from any field in the humanities or social sciences that employ any type of methodology are welcome. We are particularly interested in submissions that employ data from fieldwork. Analytical papers by development practitioners or representatives of religious institutions/groups drawing on field or policy experience relevant to this topic are especially encouraged.

For more information, see