Read this: on religion and social change

Photo: I miss you my Matthew Fang (Sept 30, 2007). CC By-NC-ND-2.0 license via Flickr.
Photo: I miss you my master…by Matthew Fang (Sept 30, 2007). CC By-NC-ND-2.0 license via Flickr.

I spotted Michael Edwards’ article on last week that’s well worth a read. It explores the role of religion in social change, titled Will the left ever get religion?.

And to whet your interest, a few quotes:

Why does religion drive so many people nuts? That’s the question that opens and closes our debate on religion and social change. On the surface the answer is obvious, at least for progressives—it’s because of the damage that’s been done by religion to the causes they hold dear: independence and equality for women, gay marriage and LGBTQ rights, peace and protection from zealots and fanatics, and safety in the face of sexual abuse. How come the ineffable being is always a bloke with a beard who privileges others who look the same as him? Religion has become the mother-lode of patriarchy, stupidity, homophobia and all things conservative.

But the opposite is also true: religion gives tremendous strength and staying power to the struggle for equality and social justice. It’s a force that makes people go to jail for their beliefs, break into nuclear weapons facilities and daub biblical slogans on the walls, found social movements that change society, organize workers to stand up for their rights, and confront dictators at the cost of their own lives. Religious groups are also the mainstays of health, education, social welfare and community-level conflict prevention in many countries. For Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and many others, religion isn’t incidental to social change, it’s pivotal—it’s the reason why they are willing to give so much to the cause.

Faced by these contradictory realities, what’s the best response for those committed to radical transformation? Ignoring, belittling or actively opposing religion all have their supporters, but active, open and critical engagement is likely to be much more effective, for at least three reasons.

First, the world is increasingly religious…

The second reason for recommending a strategy of engagement is that religions are increasingly fluid and diverse in relation to their social teachings, and this generates more room-to-manoeuvre for those who want to encourage a shift towards equality and rights.

Finally, religion—or at least spirituality—has something important to offer the left in thinking about the personal changes that social transformation requires. Re-structuring the economy, deepening democracy, and re-ordering social relationships are not simply matters of institutional reform—they also rely on ‘new people’ to make them work, people who are willing to make sacrifices and live out their values in truly radical ways.

… emotional depth and resonance have been conspicuous by their absence from left party politics for 40 years or more, which is one of the reasons for their decline. This is not the case in newer forms of participatory political engagement like Podemos and in social movements like Occupy and parts of the Arab Spring, which have all made a point of bringing spirituality and artistic celebration back into the heart of politics and social struggle.

Full article available on | Will the left ever get religion? by Michael Edwards (23 June 2015).


Read on…and for more see Edwards on

Note: Michael Edwards is the author of the popular text Civil Society (now in its 3rd edition – well worth a read with plenty of implications for how we see international development as well as development education in the years ahead).