Bahai News - New Approach to Development Combines Science and Religion
New Approach to Development Combines Science and
India, New Delhi - 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
"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 held.
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
"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
"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
©Copyright 2000, Baha'i World News Service
Source: The entire article or parts of it have been reproduced with
permission. The original article can be found here: New Approach to
Development Combines Science and Religion. Bahá'í World
News Service, 24 November 2000.
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