SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Religions and Development

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate the ability to independently navigate the scholarly debate on religions and development and its practical implications by way of concrete example. This includes the ability to:

  • Outline in detail the history and major positions of the policy debate regarding religions and development.
  • Detail specific issues with regard to religions and development in Africa and South Asia.
  • Show an awareness of the variety of religious beliefs in their relation to economic and social development in Africa and South Asia.
  • Formulate and substantiate own position in light of a specific issue in religions and development in Africa and South Asia.


Two hours seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

Despite projections of increasing secularisation, religions continue to play a vital role in the societies of many developing countries, which has multiple implications for development efforts. Major development organisations now seek to integrate religious actors or collaborate with faith-based organisations. Religious groups increasingly project their own visions of social advancement and the role of traditions, which may be found to clash with Western values or those of other religions. In development studies this configuration has led to a renewal of the controversial debate about religions and development, with new research and publications emerging.
The course explores this increasing field of study from two angles. On the one hand it follows the scholarly debate on religions and development by providing a historical overview since the 1950s and studying concrete positions and policy documents until the present day. On the other hand it explores specific issues in relation to religions and development in Africa and South Asia, such as the role of religions in determining social class, the implications of the rise of prosperity Pentecostalism, the persistent battle against female genital mutilation, the integration of religious sentiments and traditions in education, Western medicine and traditional beliefs about health and illness, and the role of religious actors and interreligious relations in the formation of development polity.
The course thus enables students of religions to engage with a specific field of practice, in which to test and refine their ideas about religion and society. Students of development studies are familiarised with the variability of religious sentiments and practices that development efforts in Africa and South Asia are confronted with and will learn about tried strategies of engaging religious actors. Participants coming from regional studies in turn will learn to take into account specialist knowledge from other disciplines in deepening their knowledge about cultures, religions, and politics in Africa and South Asia.

Method of assessment

One 4000 word essay (worth 80%); one presentation of essay (worth 20%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules