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  • Finding Faith in Development:Religious Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Argentina and Zimbabwe
  • Tara Hefferan
Erica Bornstein , The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005. 213 pp.
Laurie A. Occhipinti , Acting on Faith: Religious Development Organizations in Northwestern Argentina. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005. 211 pp.

International development—both an ideology and set of practices aimed at promoting social change to eliminate "poverty" in the global south—has in recent decades increasingly shifted from a government project to a private one. No longer are states and their agencies assumed to be the best or most desirable purveyors of development. Instead, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become important channels for development flows, a reality reflected by an "explosion" in the number of development NGOs worldwide and an intensification in the amount of money flowing through them (Riddell and Robinson 1995:26-32). Accordingly, analysis of NGOs working to design and deliver international [End Page 887] development has become a mainstay of development studies (Bebbington and Thiele 1993; Carroll 1992; Farrington and Bebbington 1993; Fisher 1997; Lewis and Wallace 2000). The development studies literature, in general, has engaged in a number of lively debates about NGOs:e.g., the relative strengths of NGOs vis-à-vis state-led development (Edwards and Hulme 1996; Riddell and Robinson 1995; Zaidi 1999); the degree to which NGOs are particularly efficient, participatory, or "local" purveyors of development (Lister 2000; Lorgen 1998; Tvedt 2001; Unnithan and Srivastava 1997); the extent to which NGOs might operate outside development's conventional and bureaucratic spheres of power, politics, and discourses (Farrington and Bebbington 1993; Gardner and Lewis 1996; Grillo 1997). Still, one particular type of NGO has been largely ignored in most discussions: the religiously-driven or "faith-based1 " NGO2 (as exceptions, see Belshaw, Calderisi, and Sugden 2001; Clarke 2005; Mayotte 1998; Hefferan 2007; Tripp 1999; Tyndale 2006).

Faith-based development NGOs route significant financial flows from the "developed" to the "developing" world, marshal the collective resources of "the faithful," and link together co-religious (and potential co-religious) in transnational relationships (Clarke 2005). Yet, faith-based NGOs—like religion and faith more broadly (Ver Beek 2000:36; see also Selinger 2004)—remain largely ignored in the development studies literature. As such, several fundamental gaps exist in our understanding of these particular types of development NGOs, including a grounded understanding of what exactly "faith-based" development is and how the faith orientation of an organization affects its mission and programming.

Answering such questions is complicated because the label "faith-based NGO" covers such a wide array of organizations, with vastly different belief systems, funding channels, programming, and the like. Nonetheless, two recently published works, while acknowledging and reflecting such complexities, also provide a number of answers. Erica Bornstein's The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe is an engaging and sophisticated analysis of Protestant NGOs World Vision and Christian Care and their attempts to evangelize Zimbabweans through development. Laurie A. Occhipinti's Acting on Faith: Religious Development Organizations in Northwestern Argentina is an absorbing examination of two local Catholic NGOs—Fundapaz and Obra Claretiano de Desarrollo (OCLADE)—working in pursuit of "social justice" for indigenous populations in Northwestern [End Page 888] Argentina. Both works situate themselves within a post/development studies literature that considers equally the meaning and practice of faith-based development.

The Meaning of Faith-based Development

While "faith-based development NGO" is a term encompassing a wide range of institutions that link religion (whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or others) with development, both Bornstein and Occhipinti focus specifically on "Christian" forms to argue that faith-based NGOs employ ideological frameworks that are different from conventional, secular development organizations. Occhipinti (2005:xviii), in her analysis of Fundapaz and OCLADE, argues that religious NGOs move "beyond a perspective that privileges either the symbolic aspect of religion or the material forces of political economy." She labels this "alternative framework" a "religious idiom of development" and suggests it allows faith-based NGOs to claim a "higher purpose" for their work, beyond merely advancing material interests. A religious idiom of development imbues the organization with a "moral authority...


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