Skip to World Faiths Development Dialogue Full Site Menu Skip to main content

A Research Agenda: Religion, Gender and Economic Development in South Asia

A Research Agenda: Religion, Gender and Economic Development in South Asia
This is a guest post by Shareen Joshi, Visiting Professor of International Development at Georgetown University. It is a part of the Faith, Gender, and Development research of the Religion and Global Development Program at the Berkley Center.

Interactions between religion, the status of women, and fertility rates are the subject of intense academic, economic and political debate in South Asia. They are typically influenced by two observations: First, significant differences in rules and accepted marriage mark practices across religious groups in this region; Hindus and Muslims for example, differ in their views of the acceptability of polygyny, the prevalence of dowry, the preferences for marriage to a first- or second-cousin, and the opportunities for a woman to divorce and remarry. The differences in these systems of marriage and household structure have often led to contentious social, political and religious debates about morality, the role of women, and the role of the family in economic development in South Asia.

Junctures of Religion and Gender: Insights from Anthropology

Junctures of Religion and Gender: Insights from Anthropology
This is a guest post by Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, Professor at Georgetown University. It is part of the Faith, Gender, and Development research of the Religion and Global Development Program at the Berkley Center.

Women are at the crux of changing values concerning religion and gender, reform and social change, including religious and secular fundamentalism. As social changes transform communities in widely differing societies, women are redefining practical and intellectual categories and issues. Religion is a central part of the change process, as women engage in a selective blending of local and world religions in ways that transcend conventional descriptions.

Ethics and Cotton: 13,000 people versus 13 million?

Ethics and Cotton: 13,000 people versus 13 million?

Three Catholic bishops from three West African countries (Mali, Senegal, and Burkina Faso) crisscrossed Washington last month. Their purpose was to put a human face on Congressional deliberations about the farm bill. They trekked from office to office, all over Washington, to make the point that a very American piece of legislation, that Congress has wrangled over for months (and which is now in Conference), has profound effects that go far beyond American farmers and other Americans who are slated for support. The bill’s provisions for subsidies that will benefit above all some 13,000 American cotton farmers will affect world cotton prices. And world cotton prices are a matter of the keenest interest for about 13 million West African farmers, because cotton is often their only source of cash income.

A Mostly Male Picture

A Mostly Male Picture

If Muslim leaders were underrepresented in Naples at the Catholic Church's International Encounter for Peace last month, it must be said that there were also remarkably few women religious leaders nominated to represent their faiths. The predominance of males reflects a power reality that deserves careful consideration. It is, after all, obvious that women are critical for all the religions, and that religion is of deep importance for many women. But what troubles me more is how few issues for women make it onto the agenda at meetings like this one, issues such as domestic violence, education for girls, ways to balance families, and nurture children. What kind of picture would we hope to see when religious leaders gather 10 years from now?

The Face of Islam

The Face of Islam

The concludes with a striking ceremony where religious leaders sit on a platform grouped by religion, in ceremonial garb. The colors are vivid, crimson, white, black, and saffron. The symbolism is also vivid, as they light candles together for peace. This year's visual pageant showed some of the complexities of encouraging dialog among very different kinds of religions and religious organizations. The Catholic hierarchy was marked by differing colors and robes. The ranks of Orthodox recalled their ancient history with varied, yet distinctive robes and headgear. Protestants generally wore more sober hues, but visible symbols marked their office. Other faiths, and especially Islam, were represented more sparingly, and underscored the broader question of who can speak for Islam. Ezzeddin Ibrahim, founder of the University of the United Arab Emirates, was the principal spokesman for Islam at the inter-religious gathering and Muslims were outnumbered and, by some measures, outranked. The challenge of representing this diverse global religion was vividly apparent.

Sant'Egidio's 'Prayer for Peace'

Sant'Egidio's 'Prayer for Peace'

Forty years ago, Andrea Riccardi dedicated himself in Rome to helping his poorest neighbors. Last month in Naples, he challenged leading religious officials and members of the Catholic lay group he founded to confront terrorism and the "idealized" violence of war, as well as the "culture of contempt" that feeds them both. Speaking at the opening of this year's International Encounter for Peace, organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio, Riccardi acknowledged the difficulty in overcoming "the mist of pessimism that often clouds our vision." However, the gentle-aired, erudite history professor also reminded those in attendance that faith requires them to overcome pessimism and to act. "Anyone who uses the name of God to hate the other, to practice violence, or to wage war, is cursing the name of God," said Riccardi. "We commit ourselves to learn the art of living together and to offer it to our fellow believers."

About 'Faith in Action'

About 'Faith in Action'

Faith is more than beliefs. It is about right and wrong, justice and injustice -- about remaking the world. "Faith in Action" tracks the activities of people of faith across the globe and across religious traditions. It maps their engagement around critical issues, from global health to the environment -- from AIDS to zebras. It explores the struggles, alliances, and common efforts of people of faith, public and private, local and global. And it highlights how important it is for Americans to look beyond their borders and to appreciate the struggles of the "bottom billion" people in today's globalized world.

Burmese Protests Transcend Politics

Burmese Protests Transcend Politics
The monk-led protests in Burma are about spiritual authority as much as they are about raw political power. They are deeply rooted in Burma’s religious culture. Nothing illustrates this so well as the chants of the protesting monks and their overturned begging bowls. Everyone in Burma understands the message: the military rulers are evil spirits who have lost their authority. The monks are chanting the Metta Sutta, a verse that embodies the Buddha’s counsel on the power and meaning of loving kindness. Part of it runs: “Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech. Humble and not conceited… Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful, not proud and demanding in nature.”

Taking Stock: Faith in Interfaith?

Taking Stock: Faith in Interfaith?

Katherine Marshall, a Berkley Center Senior Fellow and Director of the World Faiths Development Dialogue, attended the Monterrey Religious Encounter, September 21-24, 2007.

The Interreligious Encounter hit its full stride Sunday, with speakers and participants well into routines of speeches, panels, and the like. Overall there were three full days of events, with the closing plenary on Monday evening. The International Interreligious Encounter then concludes, and in Monterrey, the Cultural Forum shifts its focus from religion to other dimensions of culture, over its 80 day life. For the Parliament of the World Religions, the focus will shift to the major global event on its calendar, the meeting in Melbourne Australia in December 2009.

Down to Business

Down to Business

There are some 60 people that the Parliament of Religions has invited to be part of the Interreligious Encounter (40+ plus speakers plus people accompanying them). This is a truly "global" group, coming from all over the world, and from an extraordinary span of religious traditions. It includes Christian leaders, a woman who works with Muslim Sufi networks, several Jain representatives, Sikhs, from the UK and California, filmmakers, Baha'is, and a few who resist simple categories (myself among them - I introduced myself as coming from a tradition of Episcopal Christianity with faith in the development of human potential). Perhaps most striking, visually, to an observer is the group of Buddhists, as Dharma Master Hsin Tao Shih from Taiwan (creator of the remarkable museum of World Religions there) came with 11 nuns, all in identical grey robes, their heads shaved, and with the same backpacks. The indigenous group includes a Hopi from Arizona, several Yorubas from Nigeria, and a representative of Paganism, who traces his roots to the Celtic world.