In recent years, the World Bank has been moving to strengthen its understanding of and alliance with religious institutions, according to World Bank officers speaking at a conference organized by Aspen Institute in Lyon, France as well as at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona.
In an unpublished paper Katherine Marshall, counselor to the President of the World Bank and in charge of Development and Dialogue on Value and Ethics, writes that there are important intersections between the worlds of economic and social development and those of religion and faith. Today, Marshall writes, “a broadening recognition that the two worlds are and need to be linked in important respects.” A partnership with religious institutions may significantly help to implement development efforts, for instance.
The World Bank has attempted to create such bridges with the world of faith over the past few years, though not without controversy. An initiative to enhance the dialogue with religion, under the leadership of the former Archbishop of Canterbury and James D. Wolfenshohn, president of the World Bank, met strong opposition from the executive directors of the bank. Aside from thorny issues of church-state relations, many saw religion “as opposed in many respects to the fundamental goals of development institutions.”
Those issues raised by the governing body are not yet resolved, and the discussion within the World Bank continues. But Wolfensohn himself is still convinced that a dialogue process is necessary for the sake of the development agenda. Moreover, the new interest in civil society seems to be conducive to greater attention paid to the world of religion, which has previously gone unnoticed by many development practitioners.
Marshall is also co-editor of a book published in 2004 by the World Bank, Mind, Heart and Soul in the Fight Against Poverty, one of several publications recently issued by the World Bank on issues related to faith. The volume documents a variety of cases of cooperation between religious and development institutions. It remarks how religious institutions tend to be grounded close to their communities and are in a good position to understand human aspirations.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)