Religions and Development

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, a student should be able 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 sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia.
Show an awareness of the variety of religious beliefs and expressions in their relation to economic and social development in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia.
Formulate and substantiate own position in light of a specific issue in religions and development in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia.


Two hours seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

Despite projections of increasing secularisation, religious beliefs continue to play a vital role in many non-western societies, which has multiple implications for development efforts. In contrast to a historical neglect of religious parameters, in recent years major development organisations have sought to integrate religious actors or collaborate with faith-based organisations and engage more substantively with religious idiom in their work. In parallel, religious communities have become more vocal about their right to religious expression and 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 religious communities. 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 both an epistemological and a vernacular angle. On the one hand, it applies a critical perspective on the epistemology of ‘religion’ and development’ in relation to western experience of imperialism, colonialism and secularisation, coupled with a look into the scholarly debate on religions and development since the 1950s to the present day. On the other hand, it explores specific issues emerging at the intersection of religious expression, lived faith and development in diverse societies of sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia. Topics explored throughout the course include: faith-based organisations and modes of community engagement, religious affiliation in politics and socio-economic inclusion, religious ‘fundamentalisms’ and issues of religious freedom in multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, and the engagement of religious beliefs in gender, development and law.

The course will enable students to engage with a specific field of practice, in which to test and refine their ideas about religious beliefs, faith and society. Students of development studies will become familiarised with the variability of religious sentiments and practices that development efforts in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia are confronted with and will learn about tried strategies of engaging with religious beliefs, worldviews and actors across different contexts. Participants coming from regional studies will learn to take into account specialist knowledge from other disciplines in deepening their knowledge about cultures, religions, and politics in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia. Students of decolonial studies will become exposed to a genealogy of western thought regarding the module themes, while gender studies students will develop nuanced and evidence-based understanding of the role of religious idiom in the continuation and alleviation of gender-related issues in Africa and Asia, such as domestic violence, issues of sexualities, HIV/AIDs and other health-related issues.

Method of assessment

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


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