Review: A view from the South

Ciência, Religião e Desenvolvimento: Perspectivas Para o Brasil
Edited by Iradj Roberto Eghrari
Editora Planeta Paz
Brasília, Brazil

For anyone studying trends in the theory of social and economic development, there can be little doubt that some of the most important thinking is today being done at the intersection of science and religion.

This new approach comes because the so-called “Western” development paradigm, with its focus on big projects, monetary incentives, and top-down knowledge, has generally failed.

In the search for alternatives, development practitioners and theorists are increasingly realizing that the realm of values, spirituality and religion must be considered if new efforts in development are to succeed.

Another important stream of thought calls for greater participation by the subjects of development in the formulation of development theories — a viewpoint known as “Southern” because most global development work takes place in the southern hemisphere.

These two streams come together in a new book, Ciência, Religião e Desenvolvimento: Perspectivas Para o Brasil (Science, Religion and Development: Perspectives for Brazil ) — and the result is illuminating. Published by Editora Planeta Paz in Brasília, and currently available only in Portuguese, Perspectivas Para o Brasil contributes greatly to the overall discourse on how these new viewpoints — spiritual and southern — can be integrated into a new development paradigm.

Edited by Iradj Roberto Eghrari, the book is a collection of essays written by prominent Brazilian politicians, activists, academics and development practitioners in response to a Bahá'í-inspired initiative to stimulate a new discourse on “Science, Religion and Development.”

That initiative, launched in New Delhi in 2000 by the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity generated a paper, “Science, Religion and Development: Some Initial Considerations,” which in turn was offered to the essayists as a point of reflection.

Despite considerable diversity among the essayists, the majority of whom are not identified with any particular religion, they found agreement with the idea that the intersecting realms of science and religion cannot be ignored in development.

The New Delhi paper focused on the idea that the “international development agenda has for the most part ignored the fact that the great majority of the world's peoples do not view themselves simply as material beings..., but rather as moral beings concerned with spiritual awareness and purpose. It has thus become evident that the mainly economic and material criteria now guiding development activity must be broadened to include those spiritual aspirations that animate human nature.”

This theme clearly found a resonance among the essayists in Perspectivas .

Affonso Camargo, a federal congressman from Curitiba, for example, states that “the great discovery of the twenty-first century will be the perception that the religious question is an energy issue; that we are all, in one way or another, illuminated...”

Perhaps, he adds, the “great majority of people are unaware of our discourse on science and religion working together toward development. But there is in society a yearning for change.” And it is in understanding the “interaction between the spiritual and the material” that offers the greatest potential for making long term change.

“It's not enough to own an automobile; one must know how to drive it,” writes Congressman Camargo, suggesting by analogy that a better understanding of humanity's spiritual nature can put development participants in the “driver's seat.”

Feminist Guacira Cesar de Oliveira likewise upholds the need for a more “spiritual,” values-driven approach to development. Ms. Oliveira, a sociologist and member of the Brasília-based Feminist Center for Studies and Advisory Services, traces her own evolution from a “militant Communist” to someone who now sees herself as a “spiritualistic person.”

Communism, she writes, has faded, but “justice has remained within a spiritualistic conception, within a reality that surpasses one's own experience, that goes beyond our own rationality. So one rationalized one's possibility to transform the world. In a more spiritualistic conception, the future belongs to God,” Ms. Oliveira writes.

Roberto Crema, psychologist, anthropologist and vice rector of the REDE UNIPAZ network, writes that a materialistic assumption has long governed our understanding of development. But that conception — “one that proposes that the human being is a naked ape” and which sees development as “material development” that “can bring us benefits that are also material” — must be augmented by two other assumptions, which are that “the human being is not just any matter, he is informed matter” and that “the human being is soma, force, psyche, soul and light; he is consciousness of consciousness.”

Maria de Lourdes Siqueira, a professor of anthropology and researcher at Universidade Federal da Bahia, writes that in Brazil , “like in many other countries, the color of poverty is black...”

“This ‘legacy of skin color' cannot be denied or ignored when we attempt to propose a reconsideration of the central elements of the paradigm of human development,” writes Dr. Siqueira, saying that efforts must be made to develop a “new way of looking” at others that reinforces the “essential nobility of every human being.”

“For the vast majority of mankind, nature has a spiritual dimension,” writes Dr. Siqueira. “It is of fundamental importance to comprehend that within every human being there exists a basic urge crying for transcendence, something that brings us to understand that the quality of human relationships, whether racial, interethnic or interpersonal, or among peoples and nations, needs to be improved.

“It is human values that constitute the basis of a process of transformation in which there is promotion of equality, of citizenship responsibility, of learning to live with differences and of development, which are qualities needed for community life,” Dr. Siqueira continues. “From a perspective of human and social development, they emerge from the indigenous and black populations of the American continent, and likewise in the different traditions and perceptions of Africa, Asia and Australasia . Our challenge is to learn from these groups the values they bring as a contribution to this process.”

Other essayists likewise made reference to Brazil 's indigenous peoples. Rosângela Azevedo Corrêa, a professor of environmental education and human ecology at the Universidade de Brasília School of Education, for example drew a sharp contrast between indigenous spirituality and Western secularism. Indigenous people, she wrote, are “‘naturally' immersed in the natural world, seeing themselves like the plants and animals with which they live in practice and symbolically” while Western man sees relationships largely in terms of “the production of goods from nature.”

Dr. Corrêa said she believes that the “bells are tolling for materialistic realism” and the world is moving towards a philosophy that is “holistic, ecological and spiritual.”

Other contributors include Claudia Costin, Secretary of Culture of the State of São Paulo; Carlos Alberto Emediato, coordinator of Global Network for Peace Education; Joaquim de Almeida Mendes, the former Dean of Administration and Vice-Dean Pro Tempore at the Universidade do Estado da Bahia; and Mônica de Oliveira Nunes, an anthropologist at the Universidade Federal da Bahia. As well, an essay was contributed by the Fundación para la Aplicación y Enseñanza de las Ciencias (FUNDAEC) in Colombia. Another essay, by Farzam Arbab, currently a member of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, was republished from the book The Lab, the Temple, and the Market.