The Myth of Religious NGOs : Development Studies and the Return of Religion (abstract)
AbstractIn a remarkable about-turn, development studies has discovered religion and considerable attention is now dedicated to analysing religious non-governmental organisations (NGOs). how can we understand the concept of ‘religion’ that is now being so widely discussed? Through a close reading of key texts, this chapter examines how religion has been constructed and for what purposes. While development scholars have given little attention to definitional concerns, a default conceptualisation – substantivist, essentialised, ahistorical and universal – is nevertheless apparent. A pervasive secular-religious dichotomy is implicit within this conceptualisation, constructing development as located within the secular domain, set apart from religion. drawing upon critical scholars of religion, this chapter argues that development studies has perpetuated a ‘myth of religious NGOs’. This myth arbitrarily assigns to a diverse set of development actors the status of abnormal, if still potentially useful, religious other(s). The myth conceals the historical specificity and value-laden nature of mainstream development. The current vogue for abstracted discussions of religion should be replaced with closer attention to specific practices and particular traditions, including secular development. Studies should also show greater awareness of the political uses of ‘religion’.