Topic Editors

Chair in Systems Analysis for Sustainability in the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UK
Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UK
Ian Christie
Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UK

Faith and Sustainable Development: Exploring Practice, Progress and Challenges among Faith Communities and Institutions

Abstract submission deadline
1 May 2024
Manuscript submission deadline
1 July 2024
Viewed by
4945

Topic Information

Dear Colleagues,

Much has been written about the theoretical, spiritual and ethical foundations underpinning the role of faith institutions and communities, and especially of the Christian churches, in sustainable development, and much hope has been invested in the potential of religious institutions as a channel for and exemplar of sustainable practices and values. There are sound reasons for the interest in faiths and sustainability. Religion has been the dominant framework for values, cooperation and social control in most of human history. SD and environmentalism have largely evolved as secular movements in the West; but we live in a largely religious world. It is estimated that over 80% of the global population are adherents, in varying degrees, of a faith tradition. Given the scale, reach and importance of religion as a social reality, engagement with and by people in faith communities and institutions is inescapable and vital for the prospects for sustainable development both now and in a near future where population growth will be concentrated in countries permeated by faith traditions and new ones that have developed.

For secular actors, religions offer a major channel for communication and mobilisers of personal and community action. Religions can also be significant and trusted providers of social and other services. The early 1960s saw the publication of the Church in the Modern World, an outcome of the second Vatican Council, and a pioneering text in the development of Catholic Social Thought (CST), perhaps the body of theory and practical doctrine that has, so far, had most to say about the core concerns of sustainability. In June 2015, the Papal Encyclical Laudato Si on humanity and the Earth was published—this is the first encyclical on climate action, environment and SD from a pope (Pope Francis I). It introduces the concept of ‘Integral Ecology’, defined as a synthesis of ecological ethics with CST’s teachings on the just economy, dignity of individuals, social solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good. The encyclical called for new processes of dialogue across sectors, faiths, frontiers and disciplines for a radical rethinking of policy priorities and values.

While the emergence of such guidance and its basis in spirituality has been explored in a multitude of papers and books, what has been far less explored is the experience so far of faith institutions and communities in translating theological and moral commitments to sustainable development into action. What are the challenges faced by Church-based organisations when trying to turn the theory of faith-infused sustainability into practice? After all, there are often conflicts between and within religions that can result in a loss of cohesion, distraction and a loss of credibility with potential allies and partners in secular communities. Such conflicts can become magnified by economic, ecological and social pressures. But in addition to these, there are the challenges of having effective institutions and personnel at grassroots levels, and this can manifest in a multitude of ways. There is a need for funding, but this raises issues of sourcing the finance for sustainability initiatives and having to follow the necessary rules to account for expenditures and incomes. In addition, of course, there are always requirements  to show that the money that has been spent has had an impact. Having the most appropriate personnel, be they secular or religious, and institutional framework within which they can work is also of importance as, indeed, is succession planning and management when people leave positions and need to be replaced. This, in turn, raises issues of education and training as well as inducements. All of these mean that faith-based organisations operating at the frontier of SD face much the same challenges as do secular agencies. In addition, there may be dangers of instrumentalism: the temptation for secular advocates of sustainability to fall into using faith-based groups as vehicles for SD without real understanding and partnership. It leads to the central question at the heart of this Topic—how effectively can faith organisations and leaders ‘mobilise’ people for SD?

This Topic welcomes papers on the theme of the challenges of ‘making SD happen’ at grassroots levels, and examples from across the world are welcome. We are interested in perspectives from and on the major world faiths and their local denominational expressions. We are especially interested in papers that explore how challenges have been conceptualised and addressed in addition to case studies of faith-based sustainability initiatives in practice. 

Editor bionotes

Stephen Morse holds the Chair in Systems Analysis for Sustainability in the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey. Before becoming an academic, Steve was based in Nigeria and worked for the World Bank and international aid agencies (both government and non-government) in rural development, with an especial focus on improving food security and provision of micro-finance for resource-poor households. Much of his work was with Catholic Church agencies. Steve has a background in applied ecology and the environment, and his research and teaching interests are broad spanning both the natural and social sciences. These interests include methods for the assessment of sustainability (e.g., the development and use of indicators and indices, life cycle sustainability assessment) in order to help guide intervention and the development and use of participatory methodologies for sustainability assessment, including Triple Task. He has been involved in research and sustainable development projects across Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, Central/Latin America and Asia.

Jim Lynch is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Society of Biology, the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Society of Arts, and is a Chartered Chemist, Biologist, Scientist and Environmentalist. He has worked at research institutes, universities as visiting professor (Oxford, Reading, Kings College London, Imperial College, Washington State, Oregon State and Helsinki), and companies as non-executive director or advisor. He was Dean of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Surrey, Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission Research Agency, Chairman of the Biology Division of the International Union of Soil Sciences, Coordinator of the OECD Research Programme on Biological Resource Management, Board Member of the European Forest Institute, Chair of Governors University of Chichester, and is Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences Emeritus at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey. He was awarded the UNESCO Prize in Microbiology and Einstein Medal, Distinguished Scientist of the US Department of Agriculture, the Japanese Government Research Award for Foreign Specialists, and Officer of the Order of the British Empire and Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Ian Christie (lead editor) is senior lecturer (associate professor) in social science and ethics of sustainable development at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey. His career includes senior roles outside academic life in UK local and central government, business and think-tanks. He is an associate of the UK religion and public life think-tank Theos and has, for over a decade, been an advisor to the Church of England on climate and environmental challenges. He is currently an advisor to the dioceses of Guildford and Southwark, covering south London and the county of Surrey. He has published and taught on the links between sustainable development and Catholic Social Teaching and pioneered the coverage of religion in relation to sustainability and environment in his Master's-level teaching at Surrey.

Prof. Dr. Stephen Morse
Prof. Dr. Jim Lynch
Ian Christie
Topic Editors

Keywords

  • education and communication within faith communities
  • effective partnerships across faiths and with secular actors
  • finance and investment; leadership and management
  • planning for institutional sustainability
  • development of action plans for climate and biodiversity goals
  • food and water security
  • land use issues
  • action to implement the UN SDGs

Participating Journals

Journal Name Impact Factor CiteScore Launched Year First Decision (median) APC
Social Sciences
socsci
1.7 3.2 2012 27.7 Days CHF 1800 Submit
Sustainability
sustainability
3.9 5.8 2009 18.8 Days CHF 2400 Submit
World
world
- - 2020 25.9 Days CHF 1000 Submit
Religions
religions
0.8 1.1 2010 22.8 Days CHF 1800 Submit

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Published Papers (4 papers)

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23 pages, 1039 KiB  
Review
Giving and Receiving: Faith and the Sustainability of Institutions Providing Microfinance Services for Development
by Stephen Morse
Sustainability 2024, 16(5), 1923; https://doi.org/10.3390/su16051923 - 26 Feb 2024
Viewed by 509
Abstract
Topic: This review explores the important issue of the ‘institutional sustainability’ (IS) of faith-based development organizations (FBDOs) providing microfinance services to the poor in the developing world. IS has often been equated with the financial self-reliance of microfinance service providers, with income from [...] Read more.
Topic: This review explores the important issue of the ‘institutional sustainability’ (IS) of faith-based development organizations (FBDOs) providing microfinance services to the poor in the developing world. IS has often been equated with the financial self-reliance of microfinance service providers, with income from credit charged on loans as well as other fees being used to pay for the service. While the approaches and tensions inherent in the attainment of IS by microfinance providers seeking to help the poorest in society have been well explored in the literature, there has been no specific analysis of FBDO providers and the special challenges they may face. Methodology: This paper is based on a review of the literature using a combination of search terms such as ‘microfinance’, ‘development’, ‘institutional sustainability’, ‘financial self-reliance’ and ‘faith’, with a special emphasis on the literature published between the 1990s and 2023. Results: One of the main findings is that Christian and Hindu FBDOs providing microfinance largely follow the financial self-reliance conceptualization of IS applied by secular providers and apply much the same set of responses regarding the setting of interest rates and other charges and the management of repayment amongst their client base. However, FBDOs of the Islamic faith take a broader perspective on IS and include the need for spirituality and religious development amongst their clients. Future directions: This paper makes a number of suggestions for future research, including (1) the reasons why religious development and spirituality do not appear to be strong issues for Christian and Hindu FBDOs relative to their Islamic counterparts; (2) the potential for inter-faith collaboration between FBDOs and secular providers, between FBDOs of different faiths as well as FBDOs from versions of the same faith (e.g., Protestant and Catholic); and (3) whether FBDOs are more naturally predisposed and able to engage and collaborate with the informal microfinance sector than secular microfinance providers. Full article
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19 pages, 2730 KiB  
Article
The Leveraging of Support by Faith-Based Social Groups in Rural Villages of the Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria
by Stephen Morse, Nora McNamara, Nancy Nathan, Shuaibu Adamu, Oluwayemisi Idowu Micah, Muhammed Kabir, Augustine Sunday Onwuaroh and Nathaniel Otene
Sustainability 2023, 15(19), 14251; https://doi.org/10.3390/su151914251 - 27 Sep 2023
Viewed by 1059
Abstract
Social networks and social groups are often regarded as being important elements of social capital. The research set out in this paper is designed to explore whether social groups in villages located close to the Nigerian capital city of Abuja seek to lever [...] Read more.
Social networks and social groups are often regarded as being important elements of social capital. The research set out in this paper is designed to explore whether social groups in villages located close to the Nigerian capital city of Abuja seek to lever benefits from the connections (networks) they may have with the government and others in that city. Of special interest is whether there is a significant difference between secular and faith-based social groups in terms of the leveraging of such support. The research builds upon a previous study that employed a questionnaire-based survey of 26 social groups spanning two area councils (ACs; Bwari and Kwali) in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria followed by a series of in-depth interviews with leaders of the groups (e.g., chairperson, secretary, and treasurer) to explore the findings. The results were analysed using regression and suggest that most groups (14) had sought to lever support from their connections in Abuja. Those more likely to leverage support were registered with their respective ACls, a requirement for accessing credit from formal lenders, and tended to be smaller in size in terms of membership. There was also some suggestion that leverage was more likely with male social groups than female ones. Registration with an AC was more likely for secular groups than religious ones. Religious-based groups in the villages did not see their activities as being ‘project orientated’ and instead regarded their role as being in community support. Social groups cannot be thought of as static and exclusive and the diversity of such groups at the village scale is a source of strength for their communities. The results have important ramifications for those institutions, especially faith-based ones, wishing to work with social groups to help in the design and implementation of development initiatives. Full article
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3 pages, 165 KiB  
Editorial
Special Issue “Faith and Sustainable Development: Exploring Practice, Progress and Challenges among Faith Communities and Institutions”: Foreword by the President of Ireland
by Michael D. Higgins
Sustainability 2023, 15(12), 9683; https://doi.org/10.3390/su15129683 - 16 Jun 2023
Viewed by 1655
Abstract
While the concept of sustainable development has a history of more than 50 years now, with origins dating back to the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, it would take the publication of the influential 1987 report of the World Commission [...] Read more.
While the concept of sustainable development has a history of more than 50 years now, with origins dating back to the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, it would take the publication of the influential 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, or the ‘Bruntland Report’ as it is commonly known (named after its chairperson, the then-prime minister of Norway) before the term’s use became more widespread [...] Full article
16 pages, 1516 KiB  
Article
This Is Where We Have Scored”: Exploring the Interface between Project and Institutional Sustainability Facilitated by a Faith-Based Development Organisation in Sierra Leone
by Stephen Morse and Nora McNamara
Sustainability 2023, 15(9), 7292; https://doi.org/10.3390/su15097292 - 27 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1163
Abstract
This paper explores the issue of project sustainability through an analysis of the experiences of a Faith-Based Development Organisation (FBDO) in Bo, Sierra Leone. The FBDO in question was approached by members of their local Catholic Women Association (CWA) to help them with [...] Read more.
This paper explores the issue of project sustainability through an analysis of the experiences of a Faith-Based Development Organisation (FBDO) in Bo, Sierra Leone. The FBDO in question was approached by members of their local Catholic Women Association (CWA) to help them with the planning and management of a farm that had been donated to them by a chief. They agreed to this, and a series of workshops were held in June 2014, along with follow-up discussions with local experts and businesses as to what could be done to help support the women in their endeavour. Amongst other priorities, the women identified the need for the farm to produce food, income and help with their development. However, an outbreak of the Ebola virus that occurred between 2014 and 2016, following as it did on the back of an 11-year (1991–2002) civil war in Sierra Leone, led to a re-evaluation of the farm project in the eyes of the FBDO as they decided to shift to earlier priorities in education and health care. Given the constraints regarding resources and personnel, community projects, such as the CWA farm project, became of much lesser importance even though it resonated strongly with the goals of the FBDO and government, and had garnered much support amongst international donors. The paper sets out that story, beginning with the workshops and discussions held in 2014, and the ramifications of these responses to various ‘shocks’, such as those presented by the civil war and disease outbreaks (Ebola and COVID-19); it also provides recommendations that might be of use regarding the interface between project and institutional sustainability within FBDOs and, indeed, the wider community of development organisations. Full article
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