Bahai News - NEW APPROACH TO INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Title: New Approach to Development Combines Science and Religion
Baha'i World News Service
24 November 2000
NEW APPROACH TO INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, COMBINING
SCIENTIFIC METHODS AND SPIRITUAL VALUES, IS EXAMINED AT NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI (24 November 2000) -- Noting the shortcoming of international
development efforts to fully realize their goals of ending poverty and
achieving social justice, speakers at a ground-breaking gathering of
non-governmental, academic and religious organizations called for a new
model of development that would emphasize spiritual and religious values
as the missing ingredients in stimulating positive social change.
Called the "Colloquium on Science, Religion and Development," the event
was held 21-24 November 2000 at the India International Center, with
opening day ceremonies at the Baha'i House of Worship.
"Although there has been considerable evolution in development thinking
over the past several decades, serious questions remain concerning
present approaches and assumptions," said Bani Dugal Gujral of the
Baha'i International Community's United Nations Office in an opening
address on Tuesday. "The great majority of the world's people's do not
view themselves simply as material beings... but rather as social and
moral beings concerned with spiritual awareness and purpose.
"It has thus become evident that the mainly economic and material
criteria now guiding development activity must be broadened to include
those spiritual aspirations that animate human nature," Ms. Gujral
continued. "True prosperity -- a well-being founded on peace,
cooperation, altruism, dignity, rectitude of conduct, and justice --
requires both the 'light' of spiritual virtues and the 'lamp' of
Co-sponsored by United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), International
Development Research Centre of Cananda, Decentralised Training for Urban
Development Projects, The Department of Secondary Education and Higher
Education of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the World
Health Organization (WHO) and The Textile Association (India), the
Colloquium was organized by the National Spiritual Assembly of the
Baha'is of India and the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, an
agency of the Baha'i International Community.
Participants included representatives from a wide range of NGOs,
academic institutions and religious groups involved in development work,
mainly from India but also from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Colombia and Bolivia.
The Colloquium also featured participation by representatives of The
World Bank, UNICEF, WHO, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
"Development practitioners have for a long time been looking for a
missing link, to explain the shortcomings of the current model," said
Dr. Behnam Ta'i, the Regional Representative for South Asia of the
Netherlands-based Institute for Housing and Urban Studies, who
participated in the Colloquium. "For a long time, we thought it was the
environment. Now there is a perception that spirituality is the link and
the key idea for changing the attitudes for decision-making in the
processes of development."
Katherine Marshall of The World Bank said religious organizations have
long played a "special role" in both understanding and helping the poor.
"Yet their insights and their work are too little known in many
development circles," she said.
Ms. Marshall, who oversees the Bank's recently launched collaboration
with religious organizations, known as the World Faiths Development
Dialogue, urged a new partnership between religious groups and
development specialists. "The idea should be to engage in a process that
opens new windows of understanding, raises the bar of objectives, offers
new insights and new visions, on all sides," said Ms. Marshall in an
address on Tuesday.
The Colloquium featured a mix of plenary sessions and workshops, and
allowed for a wide range of discussion and consultation. One specific
focus was on how capacity building in the four areas of governance,
education, technology and economic activity can be assisted through the
introduction of spiritual perspectives and values.
In some respects, participants indicated, it raised as many questions
as it answered. There was a wide-ranging discussion, for example, of
what exactly constitutes "spirituality," "values," "religion," and
"faith." Participants came from virtually every religious background,
including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, the Baha'i
Faith -- as well as non-religious backgrounds.
But in the end, participants agreed on the importance of a number of
principles and points, which will be compiled in a final statement of
findings to be issued by the Colloquium's secretariat in the future.
Among the main points of agreement were: the importance of building new
partnerships between religious organizations, NGOs, aid agencies and
government offices concerned with development; the necessity of
introducing moral or "values-based" curriculum in all educational
endeavors; the significance of the principle of equality between women
and men in all aspects of development; and the need to promote
principles of good governance.
One frequently stressed theme was the essential harmony of science and
"The formidable power of science and technology can benefit humankind
only if we know how to temper it with humanism and spirituality," said
M.S. Swaminathan, holder of the UNESCO Chair in Ecotechnology, in a talk
on Wednesday at India International Centre, where the Colloquium was
Likewise, Haleh Arbab Correa of the Colombia-based Foundation for the
Application and Teaching of the Sciences (FUNDAEC), said development
specialists must begin to see "science and religion as two complementary
sources of knowledge."
"The two systems are not as dissimilar as they are presented to be,"
said Dr. Arbab Correa. "Objective observation, induction, the
elaboration of hypotheses, and the testing of predictions are important
components of scientific methods. But they are also present in religious
pursuits, albeit in different configurations and at different levels of
"Similarly, faith does not belong exclusively to religion," Dr. Arbab
Correa continued. "Science, too, is built on elements of faith,
particularly faith in the order of the world and the ability of the
human mind to explain the workings of that order."
The centrality of justice to the development enterprise was also
examined. "Creating a culture of justice," said the Attorney General
of India, Mr. Soli Sorabjee, "is intimately bound up with a process of
moral and spiritual development."
As well, participants stressed the importance of the acceptance of
religious diversity. Toward that end, many suggested that interfaith
activities should be encouraged and increased as a means of promoting a
wider understanding of the common basis of all religions.
Participants ended the event by calling for more research on a number
of these areas, including ways to create a set of development indicators
that might assess the impact of a values-based approach to development
and on identifying "best practices" of religiously inspired development
"Our goal was to bring together a diversity of organizations and
practitioners in the field of development to explore how scientific
methods and religious values can work together to bring about a new,
integrated pattern of development," said Matthew Weinberg, Director of
the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, one of the Colloquium's
"In many ways, this event was an experiment and a learning endeavor,
since an integrated discourse on these three topics has really only
recently begun to take shape in the world at large," said Mr. Weinberg,
noting the efforts of The World Bank through its World Faiths
Development Dialogue to promote a similar discussion. "The emphasis of
this event was to involve national and grassroots level organizations in
this dialogue. And we were pleased that a number of key points and
possible lines of action were identified by the participants here for
For more information, contact: Farida Vahedi / Deepali Jones / Han Ju
Kim-Farley in New Delhi at: (91) 11 3070513 or (mobile) (91) 98 11
040575 or Brad Pokorny in New York at 212-803-2500
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