CFP — Religion and the Politics of Development: Priests, Potentates and “Progress”

 In Call for Papers, Uncategorized


Religion and the Politics of Development: Priests, Potentates and “Progress”

Organized by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Date: 28-29 August, 2013
Venue: Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Development practitioners and academics alike are often kept awake at night
with the vexing question of why development does not seem to be ‘working’.
Why are there still 2.6 billion poor on the planet? Why do children die
from malnutrition every day in some of the world’s richest countries? All
of this despite $125 billion annually of public development dollars being
poured into making things “better”. Many explanations are offered for this,
however one argument that has recently gained traction within development
circles is the notion that development is inherently political, and hence
political approaches are necessary to render it effective (Unsworth 2009).
Allocating resources towards poverty alleviation rather than other
priorities requires political will, not just technical training or
instruments; development must face up to the primacy of politics (Leftwich
2005). Acknowledging this, major donors and development agencies have begun
developing research projects and program strategies on ‘working
politically’. Glaringly absent in this discourse is analysis of the role of
religious leaders, communities and discourses in impacting the political
realities of development. This absence is despite the fact that the notion
that religion and religious organizations have roles to play in development
is no longer considered radical in development circles. Over the past
decade several major research efforts have examined the role of religion in
development initiatives, resulting in nuanced analysis of the multiple ways
that religion engages with development, and vice-versa (Rakodi 2011;
Marshall 2008). Yet in these initiatives there has been little explicit or
thoroughgoing attention to the politics of religion in development,
including the leverage that religious actors exert on political processes,
the ways that development actors engage with religion, and the different
religious visions of progress that inform practices of poverty alleviation.

Priests, Potentates, and “Progress” will explore the nexus of religion,
development, and politics in Asia. Any discussion of politics must pay
close attention to the state and discussion at the conference will be
informed by recent developments in religion-and-the-state theory. However,
politics extends beyond the state and includes activity at communal-levels
as well as global flows of ideas, finances, and institutions. We are
interested in exploring religion and the politics of development at
multiple levels ( e.g. – municipal, provincial, national, transnational)
and within key sites of development activity – especially topics related
closely to poverty alleviation ( e.g. – health care, malnutrition, the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), water and sanitation, social justice).

The workshop will address the following topics (and related themes) as they
relate to the Asian region:
· Analysis of religion-state interactions for development,including
attention to the changing roles and nature of religious authority, regimes,
and secularization in Asia;
· Where and how donors and/or donor governments target religious groups
for assistance for specific development goals or as part of broader foreign
policy objectives;
· The potentialities and constraints for religious groups to play
significant roles in the Paris/Accra Aid Effectiveness discourse, the MDGs,
and other mainstream development initiatives;
· Exploration of ways that religious leaders/groups are mobilized by
development actors (including state actors) and vice versa for
“development” (e.g. service delivery, anti-corruption, advocacy);
· How and under what circumstances and to what ends are religious
leaders and organizations engaged in “political” approaches to poverty
· Analysis of the multiple and contrasting strategies of grassroots and
quotidian religious political activism for development;
· Religious and secular genealogies of development paradigms,
strategies, and goals among particular actors and as an ideological

Papers from any field in the humanities or social sciences that employ any
type of methodology are welcome. We are particularly interested in
submissions that employ data from fieldwork. Analytical papers by
development practitioners or representatives of religious
institutions/groups drawing on field or policy experience relevant to this
topic are especially encouraged.

Paper proposals must be for original, previously unpublished work. Selected
papers from the conference proceedings will be compiled for an edited
volume. Proposals should include a title, abstract (250-300 words), and a
brief personal biography (150 words). For more detailed guidelines or
questions regarding specific paper proposals, and for obtaining a Paper
Proposal Submission Form, please contact the conference organizers.

Please submit all applications to Dr Robin Bush ( and Dr
Philip Fountain ( by 1 February 2013. Successful
applicants will be notified by 1 March 2013 and will be required to send a
draft paper (5,000-8,000 words) by 15 July 2013. Travel and accommodation
support is available from the Asia Research Institute, depending on need
and availability of funds.

Conference Convenors:
Dr Robin BUSH, Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore

Dr Philip FOUNTAIN, Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore

Mr Jonathan Lee, Asia Research Institute
National University of Singapore

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