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Decolonisation, Development and Faith

This panel focuses on the nexus of decolonisation, development and faith. Debates on anti-racist and decolonised approaches amongst development/humanitarian researchers and practitioners acknowledge that local communities are central agents in their own liberation, yet they continue to be marginalised in decision-making and resource allocation by large parts of the international aid/development sector. The majority of people worldwide identify with a faith. The role of faith is often particularly strong in the ‘Global South’. Local capacities, social capital, leadership, expertise, networks and service provision are often faith-based. Ignoring the contribution of faith in development/aid devalues pivotal dimensions of people’s lived experiences and diminishes their sources of power, legitimacy, accountability and resilience. An inability to speak authentically as faith actors contributes to the erasure of non-white cultures and non-Western faiths. Yet faith actors are not immune from anti-racist and decolonial critique, and often have complex and contested histories that involve colonialism, missionaries, and conversions. Faith communities have a mixed record when it comes to challenging racism and other forms of systemic discrimination. Faith-based organisations perpetuate the same white supremacist culture and racist and (neo)colonial development and faith legacies as the broader aid/development sector, by failing to acknowledge colonial legacies, neo-colonial practices, the dominance of Western theological constructs, complicity in broader racist structures, and hierarchical power dynamics. Research on religion and development has not sufficiently contended with these concepts, if at all. This panel aims to give a higher profile to this much needed debate.

Religions and Climate Action

While religious traditions might appear to emphasise that the natural world is sacred and to call for restraint in the use of natural resources, applying this in practice towards environmental protection is less straightforward. Sustainable Development Goal 13 calls for 'Climate Action' and target 13.3 to 'Build knowledge and capacity to meet climate change'. Considering the highly religious nature of many Global South settings as well as their ecological vulnerability, this panel will examine the relationships between religions and climate action. What role might religious perspectives be able to play in addressing climate change? Alternatively, in what ways might religious beliefs and practices present barriers to climate justice? What do policy makers need to know about the religion-environment nexus in order to support local communities in developing culturally appropriate responses to climate change? What role are local faith actors playing in providing moral guidance to encourage custodianship and sustainable practices? How successful have faith-based initiatives been in inspiring action against climate change and what can be learnt from these examples? We invite papers that address these questions and are particularly interested in papers that have a practical focus and examine the role of religions towards achieving SDG 13. We need to move beyond purely theological/theoretical accounts of how religions might impact upon people's relations to the natural world and instead generate research that can help policy makers appreciate the 'nuances and complexity inherent in religious values for motivating environmental action' (Sachdeva 2016: 11).

Mission Statement:

Since its establishment as an academic discipline in the 1960's the field of International Development Studies (IDS) has evolved from a fragmented topic, contained within the many silos of different academic departments, into an interdisciplinary field that draws on knowledge from across the humanities and social sciences. Despite this growing trend, until recently, religious and theological studies have found it a challenge to contribute to this growing conversation. The International Development and Religion Unit was established at the AAR in 2009 as one avenue through which religious and theological studies could engage in this emerging constructive dialogue with development studies.

The primary objective of our Unit is to use the AAR’s interdisciplinary and international reach as a focal point to gather scholars from across the humanities and social sciences, including those outside the AAR, who are engaged in the study of the space and place of religion in the context of economic, political and socio-cultural development in the global south.

We wish to support theoretically robust and practically oriented research that interrogates the post/de/colonial, theological, religious and missionary assumptions and mentalities of the global confluence of international development and religion in the developing world, including, but not limited to the investigations of current faith-based NGO’s and their projects in the field, practitioner-based research and reflection from the field and the encounter between private and public religion(s) in the developing world.

Method of Submission:

INSPIRE, E-mail without Attachment (proposal appears in body of e-mail)

Papers of sufficient quality will be considered for publication in an edited volume on the same or similar theme for the Routledge Research in Religion and Development book series. (see [http://ow.ly/FGEJb])



John Rees, john.rees@nd.edu.au

Emma Tomalin, e.tomalin@leeds.ac.uk


Steering Committee:

Jill DeTemple, detemple@smu.edu

Christopher Duncanson-Hales, theolog3n1@gmail.com

Jonathan D Smith, j.d.smith@leeds.ac.uk 

Marie Stettler Kleine, stettlmm@vt.edu

David Tittensor, david.tittensor@deakin.edu.au

Olivia Wilkinson, oliviajwilkinson@gmail.com


Session Allotment: Tier 1 – Two 90-minute sessions

Next Review: 2023