Sarah Thompson is a Project Manager for Bangladesh at WFDD. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Gender Studies from Roanoke College and a master’s degree in International Development with Migration from the University of Kent's Brussels School of International Studies. Prior to joining the WFDD team, Sarah worked in the education and NGO space in both China and Cambodia and recently at Georgetown’s Institute for Reproductive Health focusing on family planning interventions in Nepal. Sarah has a strong interest in the intersection of religion, development, and gender equity in South Asia.
The Religious Responses to COVID-19 project—a collaboration between the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLI), and the World Faiths Development Dialogue—will hit its two year anniversary in just five months. It originated from a rapidly mobilized consultation on faith dimensions of the pandemic that convened at the Berkley Center, hours before Georgetown University shifted to virtual operation on March 11, 2020. The consultation led to the creation of the Faith and COVID-19: Resource Repository and daily email digests that archived and communicated faith-related COVID-19 news sources. It is primarily managed by a team of four people who work on the project in addition to their full-time positions. The repository has now grown to over 150 pages of sources and inspired many virtual events and publications. Currently, updates from the repository are shared via a weekly digest sent to over 800 subscribers that has been cited by Devex, the UN Environment Programme, and USAID.
The objective is to track and to better understand the ways in which religious institutions, beliefs, and practices influence and are influenced by the many aspects of the COVID-19 emergencies. Since March 2020, the project has explored the dynamic and often overlooked ways in which faith communities and faith-inspired organizations have responded to the pandemic, highlighting both positive and negative contributions.
The project continues to center on its four original components: the online resource repository, a series of webinars with faith actors around the world, weekly digests highlighting new resources, and blog posts. The repository now covers a large breadth of topics spanning the globe, with a particular focus on vulnerable populations, and tracks emerging categories and themes, such as vaccine hesitancy and reopening efforts. The project has covered stories ranging from engaging faith communities in vaccination in Bhutan to tackling pandemic misinformation within Islam and Christianity in Malawi. Themes of gender-based violence, freedom of religion or belief, and secular-religious dynamics have shown the diversity and complexity of faith intersections with local and global trends. Within the last few months, vaccination has dominated the news cycle and policy circles, with mostly positive evidence that the majority of faith leaders support the vaccine. However, faith-related vaccine exemptions and misinformation still tend to dominate current debates and have left many faith leaders wary of alienating community members through taking certain stances.
In an effort to formalize the resource repository, the project has recently partnered with and received funding from the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) with website support from Data Science for Sustainable Development (DSSD) and dedicated research assistants to consolidate the content into a website that is easily searchable and categorized. The team has been working to prepare the new website and anticipates that it will be up and running by January 2022. The new website will provide an organized platform for development policymakers, religious actors, and academics to find information about faith responses to COVID-19, heightening the impact of the Religious Responses to COVID-19 project as it approaches its two-year anniversary.