Religion, Poverty and Social Justice

Religion, Poverty and Social Justice

Religion is an important part of most, if not all, societies and cultures around the globe. It plays a vital role in people’s understanding and interpretation of who they are and why the world is ordered in the way it is. Religion, however, has not been taken seriously enough in the academic approaches to poverty-issues, neither as constituting a part of cultures and people’s lives, nor as a field of study in relationship to social justice.

The reasons for why this is so are complex and manifold. One reason might be that the academic discourses within Western social science have been too focused on the ‘secular-paradigm’; e.g. problems expected to be solved around the world have been targeted from the (rational) spheres of politics and law. In addition, the perception that religion would (will) vanish as cultures and societies progress and modernize has obscured the reality that people actually are religious and that religion actually matters and will not go away. Another ‘problem’ of historic character is the fact that much of the efforts directed at ‘helping the poor’ have been undertaken by religious actors with a seemingly ‘double’ agenda; where missionary efforts have gone hand in hand with development related work. In a postcolonial context the questions surrounding the motives of the development-actors have caused quite a few problems, which have led to tensions between secularly and religiously based development-groups which again have been reflected in distrust and suspicion between them. 
The Working Group on "Religion, Poverty and Social Justice" wants to take religion as an academic field of study seriously and put emphasis on the relationship between religion, poverty and social justice in order to:
(1) Better understand the narratives about poverty and social justice provided by and in religious world-views;
(2) better understand how religiously based values and ethics contribute to preserve social conditions, or (can) work as progressive factors;
(3) better understand how religious actors negotiate the issues of poverty and social justice in relation to society at large and how they formulate practices that they see fit as instrumental in order to eradicate poverty;
(4) better understand how distrust between secular and religious actors can be counter-productive in the struggle against poverty.
At this stage the Working Group direct its attention to the Latin American and the Nordic contexts, with the intention of expanding the focus to other areas in due time. The Group has already started the preliminary preparations for the formulation of feasible and concrete projects. An official launch takes place in Bergen, April 17, 2012, with the participation of Enrique Dussel and Fortunato Mallimaci amongst others.

For questions or comments contact:
Hans Geir Aasmundsen, PhD, Sødertørn Høgskola, and CROP.
Cecilie Vindal Ødegaard: Post doctoral fellow and researcher, dr.polit. in social anthropology, University of Bergen.

Recent activities:

International Workshop on "Religion, Poverty and Politics", Bergen, February 2013. See

Session on "Religion, Politics and Society in Latin America" at the Nolan (Nordic Latin American Network) conference, Stockholm, May 2012.

International Workshop on "Poverty, religion and social justice: the Latin American contributions", Bergen, April 2012. See



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