Religion in the Age of Development
A Sarvodaya Shramadana work camp has proved to be the most effective means of destroying the inertia of any moribund village community and of evoking appreciation of its own inherent strength and directing it towards the objective of improving its own conditions.A.T. Ariyaratne (quoted in Bond 1992, p. 246)
Islam regards law as a tool, not as an end in itself. Law is a tool and an instrument for the establishment of justice in society, a means for man’s intellectual and moral reform and his purification. Law exists to be implemented for the sake of establishing a just society that will morally and spiritually nourish refined human beings.Ayatollah Khomeini (1981, p. 80)
1. Development Discovers Religion
The Peace Corps combined in powerful ways both the volunteerism and the agricultural focus that came to be hallmarks of American development initiatives through the 1960s and 1970s (Cullather 2010; Immerwahr 2014).Throughout the world, the people of the newly developing nations are struggling for economic and social progress which reflects their deepest desires. Our own freedom, and the future of freedom around the world, depend, in a very real sense, on their ability to build growing and independent nations where men can live in dignity, liberated from the bonds of hunger, ignorance and poverty.
2. Islamic Law, Reconstruction and Development in Aceh, Indonesia
In the meantime, however, there is an explicit program of using the coercive apparatus of the state to inculcate desired moral sensibilities. As the official ‘Clarification’ published together with the promulgation of Law No. 11 (2002) states:Clothing that conforms to the requirements made clear by God and His prophet must be accepted as a clear sign of Islamic identity for those that have faith. The work of the government in regulating dress is aimed at educating and fostering of religious awareness—not at punishing or making things difficult for people. These measures are intended to foster the spirit of Islam in everyday life, to the point that someday matters of modest dress will no longer need to be regulated by worldly institutions.
As these examples illustrate, the implementation of Islamic law is promoted as a program that intends to reshape public morality as a central aspect of the development of the community. It aims to so by reforming the behavior and practices of individuals through a variety of means—and at times even elaborates its agenda in markedly bureaucratic, ‘rationalized’ ways. When this new religious vision is effectively and sufficiently incorporated into daily practice, so the official view as expressed in such documents proposes, the values of Aceh’s Muslims will achieve new levels of religious, social, and economic improvement. The positive benefits of shariʿa implementation are even directly elaborated by State Shariʿa Agency officials in relation to contemporary global discourses of accountability, transparency, and ‘good governance’ (Jailani 2007).The threat of a caning penalty for those who commit violations of the shariʿa is intended to both make the perpetrator more aware of the severity of his deed, and at the same time, to serve as a warning to society at large so that they do not do the same. The intent is that caning penalties will be effective in accomplishing both because the person punished in this way will feel shamed, but will not create undue hardship for his or her family. Caning penalties are also less expensive than incarceration, thus saving the government funds.(“Penjelasan atas Qanun Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam Nomor 11/Tahun 2002 tentang Pelaksanaan Syariat Islam Bidang Aqidah, Ibadah, dan Syiar Islam” (Aqidah 2009, p. 313))
The Indonesian government’s initial ‘Master Plan’ for reconstruction included specific policy strategies for addressing religious reform. Particular attention was paid to the areas of religious education, the recruitment and training of religious officials, the construction of mosques and offices for state religious bureaucracies, and fostering what was referred to as “spiritual tranquility recovery” (Regulation of the President of Republic of Indonesia 2005, p. 4). These goals were actively promoted in ways that were well established in the routine practice of international humanitarian and development organizations, including outreach sessions, focus group discussions, seminars, workshops, print publications, and social media. Through such means, many Acehnese came to embrace new ideas about peace, democratization, human rights, sustainability, capacity building, and gender justice. If initially the ubiquitous “build back better” slogan had been imagined by humanitarian workers as referring to their agendas for social and economic reconstruction, it soon became apparent that it could also be appropriated and deployed in the service of new religious agendas for development.Development encompasses more than just physical improvements, but also needs to include more intangible aspects of educating and enlightening the community (I. umat/Ar. umma). The BRR welcomes the input of the ulama in both advising on and providing the spiritual substance of the ongoing work of building a ‘new Aceh’.
3. Buddhist Development Monks in Thailand
For Ria Kloppenborg (1984, p. 102), the rise in development monks represents a significant shift from their traditional perceptions of monks’ “withdrawn presence” in society toward more activist and interventionist stances. This has served to alter profiles of Buddhist religious leadership in modern Thailand in significant ways. As a middle-aged male villager from Kham Sakaesaeng District told Lapthananon (2006, p. 19) during his fieldwork:…both development and interpretation of religion are dynamic… [creating] the potential for further reinterpretation of the practice of Thai Buddhism itself in the daily lives of rural people affected by socioeconomic development, and in the practices and actions of the monks and other development agents who implement it.
Views like this reflect evolving, on the ground, perceptions about the practical deployment of religious institutions and resources in the active service of development interventions.Development monks are monks who dedicate themselves to lead villagers to work in various activities for solving the community problems. When they realize that villagers have any problems, they don’t sit around and do nothing. They usually try to initiate some activities which are expected to solve the problems or respond to the community interests… Having a monk to lead and promote development projects, the villagers will have more confidence of having no corruption problem. Everyone believes that cheating the monk and wat will be a big sin and will probably open a door to hell.
While cases such as this highlight the work of monks as responding to the development needs of villagers not yet reached by government projects, state imperatives for modernization and stability frame this activity in significant ways. Recognizing this, however, should not preclude serious consideration of the ways in which these religious actors were at the same time pursuing their own visions for development—in which the monks themselves are configured as important agents of change (Suksamran 1988). The motivations of monks in adapting such a stance toward social intervention was in part as a reaction to the perceived suffering caused by “rapid economic, political and social change” and in which “secular rationalism and materialism” were perceived as threatening Buddhist values (Swearer 1995, p. 142).Teaching by example, Phra Khrū Sakorn solved the water problem by digging wells and constructing small canals from fresh water sources. Paddy lands were banked to protect against the intrusion of salt water. He encouraged villagers to plant coconut palms and when the market price of coconuts fell suggested that they should plant sugar palms. Other community development projects followed: cutting a new access road to the village to ease transportation of goods to the district center, building a dam to prevent the spread of salt water, electrification of the village, promoting new crops. To accomplish these goals the monk not only had to set an example and motivate villagers, he also had to fight against the exploitation of middlemen, traders, and creditors and he brought pressure to bear on government officials. Primarily he acted as a catalyst and coordinator among teachers, village headmen, local administrators and the police. By 1984 he had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish a foundation for community development.
4. Religion in the Age of Development
In the age of development, however, there have been significant reformulations of what constitutes flourishing and how it might be measured. By the end of the twentieth century, American Protestants had pioneered new theologies of prosperity which synchronized not only with capitalist accumulation, but also with newly culturally accepted modes of conspicuous consumption.37The end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord, the comfort and increase of the body of Christ whereof we are members, that ourselves and posterity may be better preserved from the common corruptions of this evil world, to serve the Lord and work out our salvation under the power and purity of His holy ordinances.
Here, we see a telling reflection of the reconfiguration of religion in the age of development. Atia thus illustrates some of the ways in which these ideational conjunctures relate to the establishment of new kinds of institutional forms.represents the merging of a market-orientation with faith; it is a productive merger that leads to new institutional forms, like private mosques, private foundations, and an Islamic lifestyle market. Pious neoliberalism generates self-regulating and ethical subjects as faith and the market discipline them simultaneously.(ibid, p. xvi)
The very nature of what constitutes religious authority in many communities today has been transformed significantly through engagements with development projects. In Muslim Indonesia, such encounters have introduced new concerns with accountability and audit culture that have deep ramifications for the ways in which rural Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) are structured and governed. Traditionally, the leaders of such schools (kiai) ruled over what amounted to private fiefdoms in which their authority was unchallenged and no mechanisms were in place for the oversight of their allocation of resources donated to the pesantren. In order to become partners in new development projects and to receive funding from both state and international donors, however, many pesantren have since established their own affiliated NGOs and are thus required to introduce new visions of accountable leadership that present potential challenges to traditional charismatic religious authority (Feener 2007, pp. 172–75). Through all of this we have seen ways in which manifestations of religion in public discourse and institutions reflect significant reconfigurations in the age of development. One could also ask what these engagements with development have done to imaginations of transcendence in particular religious communities. If the early modern ‘Age of Reason’ spurred new conversations on strange gods like watchmaker deities, what new theologies might arise in the Age of Development? What, in other words, might a developmental god look like? Beyond this, a host of other new questions present themselves on the horizon. For example, does this open up new roles for transcendence to play as a space for the imagination of alternative futures and an inspiration for new types of social, political and economic interventions?Formerly the monk had been, ideally and often actually, a community leader—educator, sponsor of cooperative work activities, personal and social counsellor, and ethical mentor—in the nearly static traditional village. Now, if he is to ‘resume’ such a role, he would have to become at least modestly competent in a whole range of ‘modern’ activities, such as literacy campaigns, modern and technical education, agricultural extension and ‘community development’… All of these are activities designed to generate social and cultural dynamism as well as economic change. The important thing to grasp here is that there is some considerable difference between the essentially conservative ‘traditional role’ of the monk in the traditional village and any credible community leadership role today for many of the activities now proposed are of a radically different character from those to which a monk sometimes gave leadership a century ago.
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For more on the ongoing entanglements of Christian mission, social activism, and development interventions in Asia, see (Scheer et al. 2018).
“Special Message to the Congress on the Peace Corps,” 1 March 1961, available at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8515 (accessed on 11 June 2018).
See, for example: (Casanova 1994).
A critical exchange between Marshall and one of the authors of the present article can be found in: (Fountain 2013a, 2013b; Marshall 2013).
For thorough analyses of the US faith-based initiative, see: (Black et al. 2004); (Formicola et al. 2003); and (Hackworth 2012).
“Participation by Religious Organizations in USAID Programs,” 10 October 2004, available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2004/10/20/04-23566/participation-by-religious-organizations-in-usaid-programs (accessed on 11 June 2018).
The MDGs are available at: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ [accessed: 11 June 2018]. Oscar Salemink (2015a, p. 53) has critiqued the utopian vision of the MDGs as a “child’s wish list” that “sacralises the system producing both wealth and poverty by at once obscuring these interconnections and presenting paradoxically this system as the solution for the woes it produces” (emphasis in original).
For more on this shift in academic temperament see: (Jones and Juul Petersen 2011).
Available at: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/government-society/departments/international-development/rad/index.aspx (accessed on 11 June 2018). See also: (Rakodi 2007) and (Tomalin 2007).
For further critiques of the typological imperative and instrumentalization in studies of religion and development, see: (Bolotta et al. forthcominga; Fountain and Feener 2017; Fountain and Juul Petersen 2018).
Markers of the broad contours of this field can be traced across the production of two influential handbooks: (Clarke 2013b) and (Tomalin 2015).
Major work by Benthall and his collaborators include: (Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2009; Lacey and Benthall 2014; Benthall 2016).
See, for example: (Salemink 2015a, 2015b; Salemink et al. 2004).
See also: (Bornstein 2012).
In addition to that volume (Fountain et al. 2015a), our contributions to this literature include: (Bolotta et al. forthcomingb; Borchert et al. forthcoming; Fountain et al. 2015b, 2016; Wu and Feener 2015; Scheer et al. 2018).
The discussion presented in this section of the paper is drawn from: (Feener 2013). Further elaborations, broader contexts, and full citations for this argument can be found there.
While theodicy tends to be highlighted in Western interpretations, this is by no means the only, nor necessarily the most important, mode through which religion is engaged and re-evaluated in post-disaster contexts. In post-tsunami Aceh, experiences of disaster and its aftermath were conceptualized by survivors in ways that included, but also extended well beyond, those of classical theodicy. In an initial mapping of Acehnese interpretations of the earthquake and tsunami it was noted that while there were some who regarded these events as purely ‘natural’ disasters, many Acehnese understood the tragedy as originating from God. However, God’s hand was perceived to be at work in the event in diverse ways, ranging from divine retribution for the sins of the people, to a test of faith, or something pre-ordained regardless of human actions in the world (Feener and Daly 2016).
For extensive documentation of these massive relief and reconstruction efforts, see: (Telford et al. 2006). A critical overview of these developments drawing on the TEC reports, see: (Telford 2012).
For more on the LRRD paradigm and its role in shaping responses to disaster in Aceh, see: (Christoplos and Wu 2012).
See, for example: (Multi Donor Fund 2006).
In contemporary Thai economic and political discourse, ‘development’ is rendered as ‘phatthana’—a term that has distinct religious connotations originating in the Abhidhamma of the Theravada Buddhist canon. Eli Elinoff has highlighted the moral resonances of this term, noting that while: “It is almost certain that few, if any of the residents along the tracks, NGO activists, or architects I worked with had encountered this text in any meaningful way. However, the linguistic connection between the words demonstrates the moral link to the term development... Moreover, the idea’s Buddhist roots underscore the division between appearance and reality that plagues debates about development” (Elinoff 2013, p. 356, n. 65).
This, it should be noted, represents a marked reversal of his initial skepticism toward the participation of monks in rural development programs in the 1970s (Cf.: Suksamran and Ling 1977).
Phongphit (1988, p. 26) draws here on a lecture on “Religion and Development” delivered at Chiang Mai by Sulak Sivaraksa in 1976.
For more on this genealogy in Muslim Indonesia, see: (Feener 2013).
For critical reflections on the ways in which religious actors and their visions of the wild and gentrified forest have shaped middle class Thai ideas about the environment, see: (Stott 1991).
Here again we see striking parallels between Islamic and Buddhist development idioms. In the 1970s, the New Order regime in Indonesia courted the support of ulama stressing the identification of their own developmentalist visions with the Qurʾanic ideal of living in “a good land under a forgiving Lord” (I. Baldatun Thajjibatun Wa Rabbun Ghafur/Ar. baldat ṭayyiba wa rabb ghafur). This phrase—taken from Sabaʾ/34:15—has long been a central trope within modern Indonesian Islamic reformist discourse. It was broadly popularized by usage in Muhammadiyah circles in the early to mid-twentieth century. It thence became a common plank in the rhetorical scaffolding of campus-based daʿwa groups in the decades after that, and it continues to resonate in contemporary debates over the direction of social change, and the role of religion in guiding particular projects of development.
See, for example: (Mackenzie 2007).
The philosophy of the Sufficiency Economy remained central to the Twelfth National Economic and Social Development Plan initiated in September 2016. For a nuanced treatment of the political complexities of contemporary Thailand’s ‘sufficiency economy’ see: (Elinoff 2014).
For reflections on USAID and other American engagements with Islamic NGOs in Indonesia, see: (Hefner 2009).
For fascinating examples of how religion has continued to play an animating role in projects of ambitious social reform, including discussion of the Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry and the high scientism of the “gospel of intellectualism” as well as its global projects of reform, see: (Vanderbilt 2018; Hu 2018).
For example, in his monumental study The Birth of the Modern World, Christopher Bayly (2004, pp. 328–33) has synthesized a vast body of work on the history of religions, arguing that all across the globe during the modern period, processes of modernization have not undermined or eliminated religion, but rather facilitated the rise of a ‘new style’ for its expression in the public sphere. He thus claims that since the nineteenth century, religious reformers in many parts of the world have increasingly drawn “on rationalistic traditions and philosophies which had long been present in their respective religious traditions,” to sharpen and clarify their identities while “expanding ‘down’ into particular societies by imposing uniformity.” While Bayly highlights the ways in which these reconfigurations of ‘religion’ served to reify imaginations of reformed, rationalized ‘world religions’ and the ways in which these reforms related to the rise of various formulations of nationalism, we argue that equally important were the new ways in which religious communities came to be mobilized for diverse social and ethical projects in the modern period.
On historical traditions of religious giving in Islam, see: (Singer 2008).
For modern transformations of Islamic charity, see: (Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan 2009; Fauzia 2013; Mostowlansky forthcoming; Taylor 2015).
The locus classicus for this is Max Weber’s ( 2013) treatment of “the Protestant Ethic of Capitalism” in Economy and Society.
For more on the history of these developments, see: (Bowler 2013).
Within emerging forms of Christianity beyond the West, for example, we find some striking examples of a diverse range of religious reformations in line with contemporary conceptions of material prosperity and economic development. See, for example, (Wiegele 2005; Kim 2014).
For another compelling ethnography of related transformations in the experiences and understandings of Islam in contemporary Indonesia, see: (Rudnyckyj 2010).
(Atia 2013, pp. xvi–xviii) defines this as “a transformation in both religious practice and modalities of capitalism. It represents a new compatibility between business and piety that is not specific to any religion, but rather is a result of the ways in which religion and economy interact in the contemporary moment. Pious neo-liberalism produces new institutions, systems of knowledge production and subjectivities.”
Similarly, a study of Thai Buddhist ‘development nuns’ has argued that “they represent a vast untapped resource with an enormous potential for social transformation” (Gosling 1998, p. 140).
Similar complexities of motivations among participants in short-term mission programs from the US have been discussed in the work of Brian Howell and colleagues. See: (Howell 2009, 2012; Priest and Howell 2013).
Taken from the organization’s website, available at http://www.sil.org/about (accessed on 15 November 2017).
At the same time, however, we should also recognize the variety and malleability of the institutional forms referred to under the broad rubric of ‘NGOs’. For critical reflections on the shape-shifting nature of NGOs as an object of, and context for, anthropological study, see (Lewis and Schuller 2017).
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Feener, R.M.; Fountain, P. Religion in the Age of Development. Religions 2018, 9, 382. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120382
Feener RM, Fountain P. Religion in the Age of Development. Religions. 2018; 9(12):382. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120382Chicago/Turabian Style
Feener, R. Michael, and Philip Fountain. 2018. "Religion in the Age of Development" Religions 9, no. 12: 382. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9120382