Policy-making and assumptions
All good humanitarian and development frameworks will include the need for context analysis when strategising how to help - and to do no harm. It might sound obvious that assumptions should never be the basis of actual project and programme planning, but they often are, which can waste time and limited resources, or even do damage.
So, how do religion and faith fit into this process?
Context analysis includes faith-sensitivity
There are many planning framework tools in use in the development field, and all of them include context analysis as a critical aspect of programming. Understanding the religious landscape of a community should be a part of this analysis as the values, beliefs, and needs of the people in the community are informed by religious beliefs. In addition to this critical understanding of the people in the community, faith-context awareness helps development workers to identify existing resources and traditional practices that are important assets.
Local faith actors are key change agents
Local faith actors are critical agents of change in community development and in the prevention of violent extremism. These religious actors can function as insider mediators who help to negotiate and promote important initiatives, as in the case of Northern Ireland. This is because religious leaders are often trusted community leaders who can reach the hearts and minds of their congregants on a deeper level than external and secular actors by, for example, using the language of faith or by telling stories from holy scriptures. It is important to recognize though that their actions often involve risks, especially in areas where extremist groups are active.
Religious literacy is a professional competency
Religious literacy is not about co-opting religion as a tool in the development worker’s toolkit; instead this bilingualism of faith and development languages should be about genuine partnerships and shared understanding. One does not have to be a religious person to have respect for the faithful and understanding for the role of religion in communities. Because working with religious leaders and with faith-sensitivity results in more effective and lasting development initiatives, it is important to understand that being literate in faith-language is a matter of professional competency like any other technical knowledge.