Toward a new development paradigm

The Lab, the Temple and the Market: Reflections at the Intersection of Science, Religion, and Development
Edited by Sharon Harper
IDRC/CRDI Kumarian Press
Ottawa and Bloomfield, CT, USA

For years, many of the world's top "experts" on social and economic development discounted the role of religion in the fight against poverty and social injustice - or, worse, considered the religious beliefs of the people they intended to help as antithetical to progress.

But recently, individuals at many institutions large and small, ranging from the World Bank to grassroots-based NGOs, have begun to question this view, calling specifically for a new, values-based approach to development that not only examines the role of religion in development but embraces it.

For anyone following this trend, The Lab, the Temple and the Market is a must-read. Indeed, anyone who is deeply concerned about issues related to world poverty, sustainable development and globalization will find this book of interest.

As the subtitle indicates, the book's main topic is the "interface of science, religion and development." Essentially a compilation of four essays on this subject by four scientists who are also religious believers, in this case Hindu, Roman Catholic, Muslim and Bahá'í, the book in its introduction modestly indicates that it is an outgrowth of a research project at Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to "investigate what faith and science have to offer each other in the 50-year-old endeavor called development."

Yet in its 250 pages, something more emerges. The four authors view the topic through the lens of their own faith and personal experiences in development, without much apparent coordination among the essays. The end result is nevertheless both a meaty critique of the secular approach to development and its failures and a broad outline for a new development paradigm that more fully integrates religion, spirituality, and values.

The first essay, for example, entitled "The Principle of Fundamental Oneness," outlines a broad vision for how the essential teachings and principles of Hinduism, especially as interpreted by modern Hindu thinkers and teachers, offer a powerful resource for integrated development.

"Hinduism brings a holistic approach to development, because it does not concentrate simply on the question of economic well-being but also incorporates ideals of spiritual and sociopsychological satisfaction," writes Promilla Kapur, a Hindu sociologist and psychologist who currently directs a New Delhi-based NGO.

"Life for a Hindu is basically meant to be a spiritual journey. When development becomes merely a means to fight off hunger and disease, without encompassing the spiritual dimension, then to that extent it fails to provide the essential fuel of enthusiasm and hope," Dr. Kapur continues. "The contemporary discourse of development is geared toward the physical, without incorporating any idea of what lies beyond the attainment of plenty."

The idea of factoring a spiritual perspective into the development discourse, note Kapur and the others, runs at odds with traditional secular thinking about development. In the second essay, Gregory Baum, a Catholic mathematician, sociologist and theologian, notes that many seminal development thinkers were quite antireligious in their views.

"The early literature on development, starting with The Stages of Economic Growth, by W.W. Rostow (1960), regarded the religions of peoples in the South as an obstacle to economic development, because these religions often trusted the rhythm of nature, fostered social identification with family and community, and failed to promote a culture oriented toward personal achievement and social mobility," writes Dr. Baum in an essay entitled "Solidarity with the Poor."

Dr. Baum suggests it is time to call this viewpoint into question - a process which he acknowledges has already begun with efforts like the World Faiths Development Dialogue, initiated in 1998 by the World Bank. He also believes it is time for social scientists who direct much of the development work at the international level to question whether their own work is really is values-neutral.

"Most sociologists," Dr. Baum writes, " are convinced that in modern society, which is marked by industrialization, scientific rationality, and cultural pluralism, religion no longer fulfills any important social function."

Drawing on the writings of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, as well as the work of Catholic bishops in Latin America, Dr. Baum suggests that truly integrated development cannot take place unless social scientists in the development field can fully overcome this prejudice and begin to work in a genuine partnership with the local communities that they seek to help. "A truly creative aspect of integral development is the summoning forth of meaning and wisdom derived from the cultural and religious tradition," he writes.

Azizan Baharuddin, an associate professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Malaysia, examines in the book's third essay what Islam has to say about "Rediscovering the Resources of Religion."

Dr. Baharuddin, like the other essayists, is critical of the prevailing secular development paradigm, which, she believes, suffers in particular from being "highly compartmentalized."

Like Dr. Kapur, Dr. Baharuddin sees religion as potentially offering much in helping to bring a more holistic view to development. "In religion, doctrine-theory and practice-method are inseparable," she writes. "Doctrine concerns the mind, whereas practice concerns the will; religion must therefore engage both the mind and the will of believers. Thus, the mechanism for, and of, development can ideally be seen as manifestations of religious theories and methods."

Dr. Baharuddin goes on to identify several "main Islamic value perspectives that, if creatively and thoroughly applied, could change the direction, goals and processes of science and development." These perspectives include the idea that "all human activity is 'religious,' even and especially economics, development, and science, and therefore cannot be pursued in isolation from the goals and values inherent in the religious worldview, such as justice, unity, vicegerency, and recognition of God" and the ability to integrate "diverse modes of thought."

One important idea that gradually emerges is the importance of rethinking our understanding of human nature and its fundamental motivations if the world is to properly analyze and understand the failures of the current development paradigm and move beyond it.

This idea, among others, is most fully developed in the book's fourth main essay, "Promoting a Discourse on Science, Religion and Development," which was written by Farzam Arbab, a theoretical physicist who worked for many years in development in Colombia and who is currently a member of the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith.

Dr. Arbab suggests that much of what is wrong in the modern world stems from a fundamental contradiction in the general view of human nature. "On the one hand, we dream of, and labor for, a world of peace and prosperity; on the other, what passes for scientific theory depicts us as slaves to self-interest, incapable of rising to the heights of nobility we must achieve to meet our challenges," writes Dr. Arbab. "We work, then, for objectives lying forever beyond our selfish means. It is such contradictions that have led to the paralysis of will that today pervades all strata of society."

This contradiction can only be resolved, Dr. Arbab suggests, when the spiritual and religious dimensions of life are fully investigated and recognized as a source of knowledge on a par with science.

"The only explanation I have found for how a process of intellectual enhancement, so intimately associated in its origins with the free investigation of reality, has led us to our present predicament is persistent neglect of the spiritual dimension of human existence," Dr. Arbab writes. "Modern scientific knowledge has shown its power to liberate us from the fetters of religion ruled by superstition and maintained by self-righteousness. But it has also demonstrated how it can lose its bearings when it falls victim to materialism. The knowledge system currently propelling the development of the world is fragmented. Its fragments by themselves cannot address the highly complex and interrelated problems of societies in dire need of profound transformation."

Dr. Arbab writes that the real objective for development theorists and practitioners ought to be the building of a just and prosperous world civilization. Already, Dr. Arbab writes, the processes of globalization have set the world on a "new and irreversible course," and a "global society is being born as barriers that have kept people apart crumble and are swept away."

Only by drawing on the core values at the heart of all religions, but most particularly the global-minded values offered by the Bahá'í Faith, Dr. Arbab writes, can this new entity be given a vision capable of guiding it beyond the purely economic view that currently predominates.

"Belief in the unity of humankind, with its implications of equity and selfless love, is, after all, ultimately a religious conception of reality," Dr. Arbab writes. "Viewed from the angle of oneness, development ceases to be something one does for others. A vision begins to emerge according to which the rich and the poor, the illiterate and the educated, are all to participate in building a new civilization, one that ensures the material and spiritual prosperity of the entire human race."

This short review does not really begin to do justice to the views and ideas presented in The Lab, the Temple and the Market. Although the reflections offered in the four main essays make no pretense at offering a comprehensive viewpoint on the topic of science, religion and development, the depth and breadth of thought in this collection is nevertheless profound.

The Lab, the Temple and the Market can be ordered through the IDRC. For more information, please visit the book's homepage at or contact:

Kumarian Press, Inc. 1294 Blue Hills Avenue Bloomfield, CT 06002 USA tel: 800-289-2664 fax: 860-243-2867 email: