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Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism [Paperback]

Michael Barnett , Janice Stein

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Book Description

Aug. 15 2012
The global humanitarian movement, which originated within Western religious organizations in the early nineteenth century, has been of most important forces in world politics in advancing both human rights and human welfare. While the religious groups that founded the movement originally focused on conversion, in time more secular concerns came to dominate. By the end of the nineteenth century, increasingly professionalized yet nominally religious organization shifted from reliance on the good book to the public health manual. Over the course of the twentieth century, the secularization of humanitarianism only increased, and by the 1970s the movement's religious inspiration, generally speaking, was marginal to its agenda. However, beginning in the 1980s, religiously inspired humanitarian movements experienced a major revival, and today they are virtual equals of their secular brethren. From church-sponsored AIDS prevention campaigns in Africa to Muslim charity efforts in flood-stricken Pakistan to Hindu charities in India, religious groups have altered the character of the global humanitarian movement. Moreover, even secular groups now gesture toward religious inspiration in their work. Clearly, the broad, inexorable march toward secularism predicted by so many Westerners has halted, which is especially intriguing with regard to humanitarianism. Not only was it a highly secularized movement just forty years ago, but its principles were based on those we associate with "rational" modernity: cosmopolitan one-worldism and material (as opposed to spiritual) progress. How and why did this happen, and what does it mean for humanitarianism writ large? That is the question that the eminent scholars Michael Barnett and Janice Stein pose in Sacred Aid, and for answers they have gathered chapters from leading scholars that focus on the relationship between secularism and religion in contemporary humanitarianism throughout the developing world. Collectively, the chapters in this volume comprise an original and authoritative account of religion has reshaped the global humanitarian movement in recent times.

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"This marvelous book transgresses many boundaries. It examines foreign aid through the dual optics of sanctification and secularization. Since all humanitarian organizations are faith-based and since efficiency has become perhaps their highest calling, we are left without established categories to make sense of the world. Michael Barnett and Janice Stein force us to think anew. And they have assembled an impressive set of authors who provide the evidence that makes this book's far-reaching claims compelling. Sacred Aid opens entirely new vistas and compels us to reconsider fundamental political issues."--Peter J. Katzenstein, Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor of International Studies, Cornell University

"Everybody now recognizes that the 'faith-based' or 'faith-inspired' NGO is a crucial component of the global architecture of humanitarian relief and economic development. But almost nobody has thought critically about what exactly a 'faith-based' or 'faith-inspired' NGO really is, much less what distinguishes it from its 'secular' counterparts. That is, until now. In Sacred Aid, distinguished international relations scholars Michael Barnett and Janice Stein have brought their characteristic creativity and lucidity to this crucial though neglected thicket of conceptual and practical puzzles. In the process, among the many insights they and their contributors offer is that the boundary between 'sacred' and 'secular' humanitarianism is not nearly so neat as most of us have assumed."--Timothy Samuel Shah, Associate Director of The Religious Freedom Project, Berkley Center For Religion, Peace, and World Affairs

"This volume is a timely response to the challenge of how to think and write about the politics of humanitarianism after the critique of secularism. These essays take us deep inside a diverse series of projects, actors and associations that intervene in the lives of individuals and communities around the world in the name of convictions and commitments both secular and religious. Sacred Aid sets a high bar for a new research agenda on these influential actors and processes, and the political and religious worlds that they create."--Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University

"Sacred Aid is a welcomed addition to the aid literature. While there is much research to be done, this book serves as a good first step to understand the changing nature of humanitarianism. The book is highly recommended for scholars, humanitarian workers, and policymakers interested in understanding the intersection of religion and humanitarian work. Sacred Aid is also a must read for anyone who teaches classes in economic development, non-profit studies, or foreign aid."--e-International Relations

About the Author

Michael Barnett is University Professor of International Affairs and Political Science at George Washington University. Janice Stein is Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management and Political Science and Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

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