Today’s post is bitter-sweet. Bitter, because 2021 is the first year since 2013 that the UK has not met its 0.7% of Gross National Income spending target for Official Development Assistance (ODA). Instead, the UK contribution has decreased to 0.5%, with devastating consequences for many vulnerable human beings. The impact of the cuts is profound, and far-reaching.
The cuts have also severely impacted all ODA research funding, with many grants suspended, reassessed and reduced, or withdrawn (see here). Many Humanities subjects, including the study of religion, were already vulnerable in the higher education sector, and now international research on religion and development, too, is further compromised.
More sweet, is the release today of the research report “Transforming Conflict and Displacement Through Arts and Humanities,” by Robyn Gill-Leslie (PRAXIS, Arts and Humanities for Global Development. Leeds: University of Leeds, 2021), see attached.
The report makes a very strong case for what the Arts and Humanities bring to the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals, and to human flourishing.
Dr Neelam Raina puts it beautifully in her foreword:
“What is especially relevant about this report are the invisible, faint lines of emotions,
reflections, shared experiences, resonances which are echoed across communities and geographies. These lines, best captured by Arts and Humanities approaches to understanding our world, need urgent recognition and exploration, as they are our connection to the possibilities of creating and living in an equitable, peaceful world.”
After an introduction, the report illustrates this claim with several case studies and impact assessments. Two of these are projects led by academics associated with the Shiloh Project. One is the recently concluded project “Resisting Gender-Based Violence and Injustice Through Activism with Biblical Texts and Images” (see pages 74-79 of the report), which was centred in southern Africa and led by Shiloh Project co-director Johanna, together with Katie Edwards and Mmapula Kebaneilwe. The other is ongoing and led by Adriaan van Klinken (one of our activists from 2018 and a participant in last year’s lockdown series). Adriaan’s collaboration is called “Sexuality and Religion Network in East Africa” (see pages 86-91 of the report).
Please take a look at the report and you will see how collaborative, creative, meaningful and purpose-driven both these projects are. (And the same is true of the other wonderful projects profiled in the report.)
Moreover, these particular projects show that some literacy at least, and preferably nuanced understanding, of religions and religious studies is not only desirable but, we would say, essential for working in Sub-Saharan Africa. After all, as Adriaan points out, in this vast region between 50% and 70% of all health, education and development services are provided by faith-based organisations, which means “religion must be incorporated into development analyses and interventions” (p.87).
Today we are grateful for a report, which acknowledges and describes friendships made and productive collaborations forged towards sustainable development initiatives.
We are fearful of the consequences of sharply reducing ODA, especially at a time when populations already vulnerable are battered also by the Covid pandemic and its many repercussions. Alongside keeping up pressure for the reinstatement (and, if possible, increase) of previous levels of UK ODA spending, we also hope for more recognition of the Arts and Humanities, including the study of religion.