islamic Relief in a North Malian Enclave

I thought this article was very interesting in the way in which it described the interaction of Islamic Relief as a non governmental organisation having an influence in an African state.

Summarised the article discussed the modernisation of this state through Islamic Aid in the running of water, roads, electricity, public transport and telephones. It discusses the poor conditions this state faced before this NGO’s intervention and the innovative programmed Islamic Relief offered.

The article also captures the obstacles the NGO had faced, the main being finding a way to help the poor and socially excluded. It also discusses how the organisation separated religion from development, eg, they did not build masjids etc.

I think this article is very effective in conveying hoe such non governmental external organisations have had such a driving force in changing and improving conditions in African states.

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Tyndale

‘This poverty is the lack of awareness of the wealth that every human being already possess. It is the poverty of alienation from who we really are that results in our hectically seeking an identity through ‘success’ or achievement and through the shallow culture of consumerism, with its emphasis on money, material possessions and the status they bring with them. It is the poverty that comes from emptying our lives of meaning.’

I thought this quote was the most powerful from the article. I find it sad that our lives now our so defined by what we possess and how it is this that gives us status and security in society. 

‘We see before us the paradox of the wealth of the poor, the power of the powerless, and the wisdom of the uneducated’. This is a beautiful outlook; most people nowadays take pity on those who have less than us, and for good reason, but it was very enlightening to read how those who don’t have much material wealth, almost make up for it with their sense of self-worth and the powerful cultural connections (or social glue) they feel in their society. In our society we are not so defined by our cultural feelings, it is more about ‘making something of oneself’ and this leads to a very competitive culture i believe. ‘The wisdom of the uneducated’ is a remarkable idea; one that conveys humility and companionship. Qualities our society lacks.

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The Role of Religion in Development: Towards a New Relationship between the European Union and Africa – Haar and Ellis.

The article looks into the relationship between development and religion and discusses influences such as conflict, peace building and governance amongst others.  A well rounded case is built informing readers about the complexities of the combining religion and development.

Before reading the article I had limited knowledge on the topic and therefore found it insightful. The article made me realise that relgion as a tool for development in Africa is not straightforward due to the complexity and variation of religious groups across the continent. Using Christian or Islamic organisations will not appeal to the majority of citizens who practice ‘indiginious’ religions.

One of the most interesting areas of the article was the discussion about armed conflicts and the issues they posed on development. The argument was made that “the power attributed to religious experts is considered morally ambivalent, in the sense that their supposed spiritual power can be used both to harm and to heal.” This idea for me, was relevant to many issues of religious conflict that are occurring across the world today, not only in sub-saharan Africa. 

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The Role of Religion in Development: Towards a New Relationship between the European Union and Africa. HAAR and ELLIS

“Religion cannot be regarded as a force destined to retreat from public space in any society that aspires to a high degree of technological achievement or of sophistication.” (352)

In the article “The role of religion in development : towards a new relationship between the European Union and Africa,’ I thought that the link between religion and development was laid out in a clear and informative way. As I am unreligious it seems to me that in development bodies there would be very little point to use religion and development together however this article has made me realise the importance that religion can play to development. In sub-Saharan Africa, religion provides a way for the people to be connected to the rest of the world through their religious beliefs. Outside of political bodies and international organisations, religion for many provides an additional means for aid to development.

The idea that religion is now misunderstood was one which I thought really supported the articles main argument to the importance of religion in development. The existence of an invisible world which is integral and cannot be reduced to the visible or material form really helped me understand that belief and religion to many people is different to the overall perception of religion in a country like the UK. In Africa, religion is made out to be more of a joining of community whereas in western societies where society is becoming more secular, ‘religion is often equated exclusively with its institutional expression.’ (354)

Religion can play a positive role in development. Religion has been a way for conflict prevention although countries like the USA would like to say that religion in African countries starts conflict rather than prevents it. I found this quite interesting as many conflict preventions do to some degree have religious tones when dealing with the situation although that may not be integral to initiatives. 

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Reflection on ‘Religion and Development in Africa’

This article examines the current focus of development enterprises in Africa, critiques these, and suggests alternative methods which incorporate religion.

The concept of human development has replaced the popularity of economic development in recent development practice. Human development emphasises aspects of people’s lives beyond the economic dimension, such as health and education. However, the authors note that economic growth and distribution of wealth remain central to development ideals and understandings.

The authors critique current development by stating that neither economic growth or state-building should be considered to be goals in themselves, that much development thinking has been too short-term and that the development enterprise has become complicated by the emergence of weak or ‘failing’ or ‘failed’ states.

A suggestion that the authors make for improving the efficacy of development enterprises is that the world of ideas of Africans, including religious ideas, need to be taken seriously. This means that policies ought to be modified to take account of traditional ideas rather than these policies simply imposing Western values and ideas on the people of Africa.

Religion is believed to be able to play a positive role in development in a number of areas. In terms of conflict prevention and peace building, it is thought that long-term reconciliation depends on religious notions of reconciliation and healing. Religious ideas can also play a role in wealth creation and production as they can influence people’s thinking on the legitimacy of wealth and on the moral value of saving or investing. The authors note that agriculture is a common means of income in many parts of Africa and suggest that it is important to integrate crucial elements of culture and religion associated with the prosperity of agricultural societies into agricultural policy. Regarding the governance of countries, it is thought that state and religious organisations ought to play a complementary role in order to effectively govern society and that religious groups should be instrumental in offering welfare. Religion is also believed to be important in health, education and the management of natural resources because traditional African religious ideas are used to understand healing and the relationships between people and their land.

Crucially the authors state that external developers need to form long-term relationships with members of religious and other networks and discuss with them what is required to develop African societies. They also note that African societies are not governable in the same manner or using the same techniques as other societies so Western officials need to change their mode of operation quite fundamentally.

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Religion, Media and the Public Sphere

The idea of religions engaging in new technological media is most compellingly curious when we consider that it is not something that has happened before.

Initially, my reaction is to think that this engagement isn’t something new because media has always been progressing and public spheres have always been changing. But the first part of this isn’t true. Media has never done what it’s doing right now – perhaps best described as a whirlwind in which one must constantly re-invent oneself (through Bebo, MySpace, FaceBook, LinkedIn, etc.) and no one has ever had the same kind of opportunities that allow instant access and global connectivity. The effects are starling when one considers that it was only a small number of years ago that university life consisted of running around with “physical books” and “actual pens”. Nowadays, the very idea of being without a phone or laptop is shocking.

With such strict expectations in our media lives, what are our expectations of other things, including religion?

We no longer expect films to be in the cinema, or even on DVD; they are streamed. We are beginning to feel the same way about books, though there still lingers an expectation of physical paper for many of us. In this way, our expectation for stories is slipping away from the physical/’live’/real ceremony (including news).

We no longer expect physical contact and ‘live’ interaction with our wider friendship groups. But we do expect family to be there for us (not just online), don’t we? Or is that becoming another social network?

We (particularly as students) expect to let our hair down with drink or drugs in the same kind of way we have before.  We expect to get examined/interviewed/judged in the same kind of way as before. These are examples of ‘ceremonies’ which are still physical/real/’live’. However, our images of Sci-Fi are increasingly restricting events, processes and consumption to technological media.

Religion is, I would argue, a little more exempt from this. It is difficult, even, to think of examples of media-sization of the religious or numinous in sci-fi…

…sometimes religion (unless it has become ‘outdated’, which is common) remains as the sole power that is larger than the science involved: e.g. Star Trek, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Time Bandits. Elsewhere, the media-sization of religion is merely a joke: the “You’ve got prayers” divine e-mail account from Bruce Almighty is a perfect example. It is as if we think it ridiculous for God to be reduced to media representation. How He can fit into a tablet or a smartphone is ridiculous.

(Perhaps, though, this is no more ridiculous than the idea of God being contained in a book; but this is a thought for the philosophers.)

What this all means practically is that religion as media in itself has yet to be taken seriously. However, this is all from a secular, Western point of view. For those in Egypt or Israel whose access to technological media is perhaps slightly limited, and for whom religion is a huge part of their lives, it makes sense for their engagement in media to evolve along religious lines. i.e. if I was a fundamentalist Egyptian Muslim who wanted to watch TV, I’d want to watch an Islamic program. But perhaps I’d still have a pretty clear idea that my physical praying and trips to the mosque were of utmost importance.

In the case of TB Joshua, we have a strong counter-example. From and through his website, Emmanuel.tv, one can perform many of the religious practices that otherwise might be physical/’live’/real. However, we talked in the lecture about the fetishization of media. And I think it would be reasonable to suggest that Emmanuel.tv is a media-sization of a pastor. It facilitates religious practices as a fetish item, and religious communication as a medium (in the way of a pastor).

Despite this assertion, Emmanuel.tv does illustrate a space into which religion can be made into media. It is the structural, performative and assistive facets of religion that can be emulated by religion. There remains a quality of the numinous which cannot be captured, but perhaps our vision into the future will develop until it is not unusual to find the numinous in new forms of media. It remains to be seen.

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The Role of Religion in Development – Haar and Ellis

Before this week’s African Religion & Ritual lecture I read Haar and Ellis’ article “The Role of Religion in Development: Towards a new relationship between the European Union and Africa”. The article focused on the interesting subject of how religion in Africa can be used to its benefit in terms of development. As western/more developed countries move toward a more secular society, African countries stay very attached to religion and do not seek to rid themselves of it. 

The classical theories of development do not include or pay attention to religion due to the fact it is not considered to be relevant, a sentiment also held by the European Union, this may have worked for western counties with their more secular societies, though may not for Africa. 

An example I found rather interesting was on the subject of conflict. Conflict prevention usually tries to take some level of religion into account when dealing with such a situation, though religion is never usually incorporated into international organisation’s initiatives. Nonetheless, in Africa religious leaders have a very high level of authority which allows them such power as to help end conflict as well as continue/start it.

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