The dynamics of religion at the World Bank


This paper analyses the dynamics of religion at the institutional level of international development, and specifically at the World Bank Group (WBG). The phrase ‘dynamics of religion’ describes the interplay of three elements of religion at work in the international development sphere. The secular dynamics of religion are characterized by the subordination of religious actors and interests to other development structures and priorities. The sacral dynamics of religion are characterized by the primacy of religious actors and interests to shape the development agenda and/or contest development priorities. The integrated dynamics of religion are characterized by a balance of secular and sacral dynamics making it difficult (and often unnecessary) to distinguish between them. These conceptual elements form the dynamics of religion model that can be applied to analyze multiple contexts and levels of international development. In recent years the WBG has broadened its development approach and created an explicit space for engaging with religious actors. The model is thus employed to identify secular, integrated and sacral dynamics that helped bring religion into the policy domain of the WBG in the 1980s and 1990s, laying the foundation for the ‘faiths and development’ initiatives that followed under the Wolfensohn presidency. Such an approach expands our knowledge of religious agency by situating and differentiating the religious influences on WBG development ideology. It also normalizes the role of religious actors within a pluralist view of the WBG as a domain of multiple, open and competing groups. Each insight holds value for ongoing analysis and policy making on religion and international development at the institutional level.


religion, World Bank, international development, secularism, normative change


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