Chapter 1: Understanding the nexus between religion and development
Eighty per cent of the world’s population profess religious belief. The world’s 2.1 billion Christians, 1.3 billion Muslims, 950 million Hindus, 400 million Buddhists, 13 million Jews and millions holding other traditional spiritual beliefs suggests that religious belief is a common human characteristic. Religious practice of these adherents generally involves ‘the worship of a personal supernatural deity, a revealed scripture, a divinely ordained code of laws, and an assortment of institutions and communal structures in which the religion is observed’ (Segal, 2009, p. 4). Whilst religion is primarily concerned with a personal relationship with an unseen order, rightful relations with this unseen order is most often dependent upon ensuring rightful relations with fellow humans and our immediate community. Religion and religious beliefs and practices1 therefore have a material dimension that results in a high level of relevance to ‘day-to-day’ living. Those with religious beliefs interpret their own circumstances and make decisions on how to act and interact within wider society based on religious teachings that contain precepts on how to live a righteous life, including responding to those who are materially poor. This is particularly important when we consider that (using the most common World Bank measure of poverty), over 1 billion of the world’s population live in poverty and exist on less than US$1 a day (and nearly 3 billion live on less than US$2 a day). More than 1 billion people around the globe do not have access to safe water, 115 million children do not attend primary school and 10 million children die each year of preventable illness (World Bank, 2011). Religion therefore is not simply concerned with the private circumstances of an individual and their rightful relationship with a supernatural deity, but rather it has a social realm that has relevance for wider society.
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