May 22, 2014

Georgetown Professor Katherine Marshall Delves Deeper into Intersection of Faith and Development

In her eighth year at Georgetown, Professor Katherine Marshall is pressing ahead with her work to bridge the worlds of faith-inspired and secular international development efforts.

Marshall, a visiting professor in the School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, has four decades of experience in development issues, including several leadership positions at the World Bank.

Marshall says collaboration with faith-based actors was regarded with skepticism when she began focusing on faith and ethics work in 1999—and often still is today. 

Lack of Collaboration

Marshall points to the eight Millennium Development Goals announced by the United Nations in 2000 as an example of a failure to take into account the roles of faith actors. Excluding faith actors from the formulation process of these goals meant that the complex field of international human development could not benefit from their contextual knowledge, resources, and determination to engage with ethical questions.

“Lack of collaboration among secular and faith-based actors has led to many wasted resources, far too many misunderstandings, and missed opportunities. All these point to a need for understanding, knowledge, and dialogue,” explains Marshall. 

World Faiths Development Dialogue

To bridge the divide between secular and faith-inspired actors, then-president of the World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn, and then-archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, founded the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD) with the mission of advocating for collaboration and dialogue between secular and faith actors.

Marshall was involved with the creation of WFDD and currently serves as its executive director. When she came to Georgetown in 2006, Marshall brought WFDD with her, and it is now housed at the Berkley Center.

In recent years, WFDD has documented religion’s involvement in the development landscape. With support from the Luce Foundation, WFDD is now focusing on country-level cases in Cambodia, Senegal, Guatemala, Kenya, and Bangladesh to examine the operational implications of faith involvement. Through this work, the nature of, and need for, faith involvement becomes more tangible.

Marshall also hopes to focus WFDD’s work on enhancing harmonization of aid between faith and secular actors and exploring faith’s treatment of gender and family issues.

Facilitating Deeper Dialogue

Marshall describes Georgetown as the “ideal place to pursue a complicated topic in a constructive way.”

Georgetown’s commitment to facilitate ethical discussions has fostered conversations between secular and faith-based development professionals and integrated religious and cultural issues into the teaching of international development.

These efforts, Marshall says, will help “next generations of policymakers approach [development] issues with integrity, knowledge, and curiosity.”

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