Katherine Marshall, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, leads the center’s work on religion and global development. She is also a professor of the practice of development, conflict, and religion in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, teaching diverse courses on the ethics of development work and mentoring students at many levels. She helped to create and now serves as the executive director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue, an NGO that works to enhance bridges between different sectors and institutions. In September 2022, she was appointed as a member of the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Marshall has five decades of experience on a variety of development issues in Africa, Latin America, East Asia, and the Middle East, particularly those facing the world’s poorest countries. She was a World Bank officer from 1971 to 2006, and she led the World Bank’s faith and ethics initiative between 2000 and 2006.
The COVID-19 pandemic is clearly not over for many across the world, but the rhythm of events and reports has changed. COVID-19-specific reports recede and blend with the multiple crises facing the world in late 2022.
Therefore, the team that took on the challenge of tracking and learning from the faith dimensions of the pandemic is shifting gears. Updates in the future will be quarterly or, should major new perspectives emerge, on a case-by-case basis. We will continue to maintain the repository with the wide range of resources that we have collected thus far, including articles, webinars, interviews, press notes, and more.
We have sent out 250 updates, reporting on new developments and, increasingly, analysis of the significance of responses. To recall, during a meeting at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center on March 11, 2020, in the then rather experimental hybrid mode, a team comprised of members from the Berkley Center, the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD), and the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Partners (JLI) agreed to work together to follow how religious communities were responding to the fast-moving pandemic and how their responses were shaping it. We had little inkling then about how long the pandemic would rage or its profound global impact. At first our updates were daily, but then they shifted to a weekly model, and they developed alongside building the repository of information and other project outputs, notably webinars aimed at linking people in affected communities. Significant parallel efforts included work with the WHO EPI-WIN outreach to faith communities, as well as cooperation with Religions for Peace and Faiths4Vaccines. Other partners included the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD) and UNICEF. Data Science for Sustainable Development (DSSD) helped in building the repository. Information about the project is gathered on the Berkley Center website.
The project set out to follow but above all to learn from the COVID-19 experience. We have framed and pursued a constantly updated set of questions and emerging hypotheses and reflections about both the short-term and enduring impacts of the pandemic. Some are reflected in articles and blogs, and others will be published in the months ahead. Teaching courses at Georgetown University has engaged the lived experience of students and helped to identify case studies (such as looking at the practical and ethical decisions involved in lockdowns). The G20 Interfaith Forum has highlighted policy implications and the work of the “network of networks” that has, in many ways, also helped to frame analysis and proposals for G20 and other leaders. The learning process and anticipated policy changes will continue.
Meanwhile, an ongoing question is whether or not the pandemic is truly coming to an end. A recent article contests President Joe Biden’s assertion that the pandemic is over. It highlights the spiritual challenges involved as we look ahead, ones that we see as central themes running through our pandemic reflections.
Meanwhile, recent studies illustrate the types of study, commentary, and analysis we have seen thus far, highlighting both global trends and context-specific impacts. For instance, a Christian Aid study finds that COVID-19 linked restrictions has contributed to the trend to limit civil society space in wide-ranging country situations, and their podcast series includes a discussion about what can be learned through a faith focus in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar.