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Speakers discuss role of religion in development

Liz Lefebvre | Thursday, March 19, 2009

Decisions made toward global development must be informed by a religious understanding of human nature, Scott Appleby, the director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, who spoke Wednesday on “The Impact of Religion on Development,” said.

“Development is a far broader and richer category than mere economic and material progress,” he said. “A cultural and spiritual dimension must be a basis for informing decisions about development,” said.

The Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity presented the second part of its lecture series on “Discussions on Development” Wednesday evening.

The discussion also featured theology professor Fr. Paul Kollman, who explored the ways in which religion influences that challenge of global development.

Appleby began his portion of the lecture by explaining the term “theological anthropology,” which is the view that religions should have an anthropological view of what constitutes human nature.

Appleby said for development to succeed, there needs to be a complete understanding of human nature.

“Religion comprehends the whole human person,” Appleby said. “Religion sees a fundamental orientation to each person as a child of God.”

Appleby made this point in reference to Roman Catholicism, which holds the view of the human in relation to God, rather than seeing each person as an isolated individual.

In addition, Appleby discussed the ethical orientation of religion to development. He said “religion allows people to ask the question, ‘How ought we think about development ethically?'”

Kollman echoed Appleby’s comments and drew on his own experiences of development while living in Eastern Africa.

“Religion and development is more complex than it initially seems,” Kollman stated. “There is no unitary way they intersect.”

Kollman emphasized how religion is internally contested and how various religions question different aspects of development.

“Religion can reinforce development priorities in theory and practice, and religion can also challenge and contest these priorities,” Kollman said.

The next part of the “Discussions on Development” series will take place April 1. The event will address the topic of “Science, Technology, and Development” and will feature Mary Ann McDowell, professor of biology, and Steve Silliman, professor of engineering.