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Celebrating the Life and Work of Father Timm: A Tribute

Celebrating the Life and Work of Father Timm: A Tribute

2020 keeps taking. Katherine Marshall just paid her tribute to a social reformer from South Asia: Swami Agnivesh, who passed away on September 11, 2020. Today I write to celebrate the life of another departed soul whose dedication to serving the most marginalized populations in Bangladesh earned him an apt reputation as the “friend of Bangladesh” —Father Richard William Timm, Superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Commemorating Father Timm’s bold and bright life and work today allows us to reflect on larger questions that are so pertinent in the middle of a global crisis: What does participatory community engagement mean in the context of international development? How do we bring positive social change in an evolving society—by empowering the neglected mass, by changing structural and political systems, or both? What can we learn from the lives and works of people who embodied both Western and Eastern knowledge, thoughts, and practices in a lifetime? And how do faith and development intersect and impact each other?

Swami Agnivesh: Reflections and Memories

Swami Agnivesh and Katherine Marshall

What words and what examples come to mind when asked to highlight Swami Agnivesh’s example for the upcoming generation? For those who must take this extraordinary moment when the COVID-19 emergency has thrown so many accepted norms and normal patterns into questions, what can they learn from this remarkable, truly unique force of nature?

Faith and Debt: Challenging the G20

Faith and Debt: Challenging the G20

As the Jubilee year 2000 approached, an international, multi-faith campaign demanded international action to relieve poor countries of unsupportable debt burdens. The debt campaign centered on topics often seen as rather mundane, even sordid. Money is not what’s most important, so why would religious institutions focus on such nasty issues? The answer is that we know well that the way people’s priorities and their values are all too often best reflected is in how they allocate financial resources, so we should never ignore or forget decisions and mechanisms that involve raising and spending resources.

Engaging Religious Entities on Global Agendas in the COVID-19 Era

Engaging Religious Entities on Global Agendas in the COVID-19 Era

Voices of religious leaders and other religious actors are getting louder in policy circles. This contrasts with a time not long ago when religious perspectives were almost entirely ignored and absent, even in areas with both long histories and present engagement (health care, education) and keen interest (protection of the environment, care of the most vulnerable). Today many religious actors are “pushing with our elbows," insistent that their practical and ethical perspectives and voices be heard. The voices are far from consistent or even coherent. Some have a prophetic quality, focusing on deep injustices such as inequality. Others focus on what many term “culture wars,” especially around sexuality and relationships between women and men. The voices are not necessarily heard or agreed to in the policy circles where they make themselves known. But their volume and frequency is rising.

COVID-19’s “Shadow Pandemic” Driving Early Marriage

COVID-19’s “Shadow Pandemic” Driving Early Marriage

As COVID-19 disrupts and destabilizes on a global scale, reports from very different societies point to increasing violence against women. A related topic is rising numbers of early and forced marriages. Since early April, international development organizations and governments have released harrowing statistics and briefs underlining the dangers women and girls face in the “shadow pandemic” brought on by lockdown. However, most of the data and analysis lack a significant faith lens and few offer actionable ways for faith leaders and groups to help combat the problem. Faith leaders are often well-respected in the community and have considerable power to change social norms and advocate on behalf of social causes. Engaging more purposefully with leaders, especially in vulnerable communities, could help prevent girls from entering early marriages. This could have myriad positive outcomes not only for the girls themselves but for cultural norms and the national economy.

Catholic Peacebuilding in the Democratic Republic of Congo During the COVID-19 Emergency

Masked peacekeeper with child in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Peacebuilders (who represent a large and diverse group) rely on in-person meetings and trust-building to address conflict, and in many places the COVID-19 crisis is blocking their work. Grassroots individuals and groups play roles in building foundations of community support upon which broader peace talks and reconciliation can be built. A webinar on July 8, 2020, hosted by Boston College explored the specific impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the work of Catholic leaders and communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The common theme was that even as conflict continues, restrictions linked to the COVID-19 emergency are reducing capacities to operate, but with creative adaptations efforts continue and some take new forms. Interestingly, some technological platforms earlier seen as too impersonal to work well in fact are showing considerable promise.

What’s Faith Got to Do With COVID-19?

Disposable mask on church pew

In early March, three individuals, with the support of our organizations launched an effort to track how the world’s different religious communities and institutions were responding to the COVID-19 emergency. Katherine and Olivia (the two authors) and Dave Robinson had all followed the 2014-5 Ebola crisis intensively, seeking insights into what worked and what did not, and looking to lessons as to how religious dimensions could and should be more integrally part of the strategic framework for response. We had pursued similar reflections on other pandemics, especially HIV and AIDS, malaria, Tuberculosis, and Zika. Thus, with early reports making it clear religious bodies were deeply involved in COVID-19: we started to gather information in a resource repository; began to send out daily highlights; organized a webinar series to learn more about what was happening in different regions; and shared ideas in the form of blogs and articles. The tempo is shifting as the pandemic approaches the half year mark, and, while uncertainties lie ahead, useful insights have emerged.

Hagia Sophia in Contest During COVID-19 Emergency

Hagia Sophia in Contest During COVID-19 Emergency

Lockdowns, business closures, and restrictions on movement to protect human life and dignity from the effects of COVID-19 come with challenging consequences. Governments everywhere struggle to confront pandemic conditions and the accompanying economic crisis. In Turkey, politics around COVID responses take on religious dimensions, notably apparent in steps to convert the Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque.

Faith-Based Organizations Responding to COVID-19

Man wearing mask assembles food supplies during coronavirus pandemic

This blog post overviews a webinar on “COVID-19, Religion and Belief: Contribution of Faith-Based Humanitarian Organizations” held on June 25, 2020. The online discussion was the twelfth in a series of webinars organized by a coalition of organizations: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, European Union Office; BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies; Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies; Bruno Kessler Foundation/CIRIS; University of Siena; and FGV Escola de Direito do Rio de Janeiro.

Milk Banks for Premature Babies: Religious Debates in Bangladesh

Mother with child in Bangladesh

Human milk banks are repositories of breast milk that provide milk to preterm or undernourished infants, also serving mothers unable to lactate. Breast milk is well known in medical circles to be of immense value, particularly for underweight or sick infants suffering from health complications. However, in some Muslim-majority countries like Iran, Turkey, and now Bangladesh, milk banks have faced hurdles from Islamic groups and clerics who insist that the practice is in violation of religious law and also commercializes breast milk. The religious concern stems from the Islamic tenet that consuming human milk builds a kinship bond between infants who have consumed the same woman’s milk, which prohibits future marriage between the “milk-brothers and sisters” though they are biologically unrelated.