Due to the recent surge of postmodernism and secularism, religious organizations have been greatly discredited in recent years concerning the fight against international poverty. Nevertheless, a nation’s religion can be one of its strongest institutions, instilling beliefs about how property should be handled and how the poor should be treated, both of which are vital to international development. Yet, despite the fact that they are extremely involved in education and health programs around the world, religious organizations have been largely excluded from the broader development agenda.
Those that seek to keep development and faith separate are barring themselves from certain communities. In many developing nations, communities are close-knit and knowledge is often most trusted when it comes from religious figures. Thus, even though religious officials and development experts will still continue to have different approaches to solving the problems that plague the communities they serve, secular organizations only cheat themselves by not collaborating with local religious organizations.
In the New Testament alone, there are over 2,000 references to poverty. The giving of alms to the poor, or zakat, is a pillar of Islam. And even though it admonishes attachment to material things, even Buddhism espouses dukkha, or “ill-being.” Therefore, religious groups and development organizations share common concerns.
Opponents of such collaboration, however, often speak to the divisiveness of religion. In the fight against HIV/AIDS, for example, many religious leaders (both in the developing world and in the United States) have had a history of discriminating against and stigmatizing those with the virus, which has only led to a spread of the pandemic. A similar phenomenon is currently occurring in Pakistan where radical Muslim groups are encouraging parents not to inoculate their children against the polio virus due to distrust of the West. But these are, above all, examples of why increased cooperation is sorely needed. Information is power. The truth is power. When people who are working toward eradicating poverty and disease collaborate with those involved with religious institutions, life-saving knowledge and resources can be more effectively imparted to those who need it most.