Chapter 4: Christianity and international development
‘Before the white man came, we had the land and they had the Bible; now we have the Bible and they have the land’. So goes an African saying. Development studies has long been suspicious of religion, and rightly so. The evangelization of the Americas was mixed with the greedy motives of the Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal to plunder the continent of its resources. Bringing Christianity to Africa and the colonization of the continent were not very distinguishable enterprises. The evangelization of Africans and the expansion of the Empire went hand in hand. The technology and skills of the colonial powers made Christianity appealing and served to justify its superiority (Hastings, 1994). On the other hand, the Christian religion has paradoxically been a powerful force for defending human dignity. When the exploitation of indigenous people was widespread in Latin America during colonization, Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican friar, became the pioneer of human rights and defended freedom of conscience and of religion. In Africa, at the time of independence, a large proportion of educational and health services were provided by Christian missionaries. Today, so-called ‘faith-based organizations’ provide more than half of all health care services in sub-Saharan Africa (see Clarke et al., 2008). It is difficult for anyone working or researching in the field of international development not to avoid confronting Christian beliefs and practices, not only given the numbers – an estimated 2.1 billion Christians worldwide1 – but also given their influence in social, economic and political life. This invites a reassessment of the way religion has been researched and taken into account in development studies so far (Deneulin and Rakodi, 2011). A major step in that direction is to understand religion from within and grasp the language through which it apprehends international development.2 The object of this chapter is to enable this with regard to Christianity.
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