Individuals and organisations inspired by their faith or religion to assist people in need, whether in their own community or further afield, have long played important roles in humanitarian assistance. They are, from the point of view of the recipients of assistance, in most ways no different from others who provide assistance, and yet they are sometimes seen, and sometimes want to be seen, as different.
Many of the world’s conflicts have a faith or religious dimension which potentially complicates the work of faith-based humanitarian actors and their reception or acceptance by local communities and displaced people; secular organisations may also find that they lack an aspect that is important to those whom they wish to help. It is easy to jump to conclusions about the effects of this but there is little written for a wide audience about actual experiences and how communities and organisations deal with the interfaces between faiths and rights, protection, needs and assistance. However, there is a great deal of value in exploring this area and an appetite in both academic and agency quarters for opening up the issues at stake and understanding the realities for displaced people and those who seek to assist them.
Among the specific issues raised by humanitarian activity inspired by faith are the following:
- Inclusion/exclusion – Will those inspired by a particular faith favour those of similar faith and exclude those of other faiths or none?
- Collaboration – Is it problematic for organisations espousing different faiths to cooperate with each other? Do non-faith-based organisations trust faith-based organisations and vice versa?
- Labelling – Will carrying the name or label of a particular faith attract or put off potential beneficiaries, collaborators, donors, or governments?
- Proselytism – Can and do faith-based organisations separate their assistance activities from attempts, however low-key, to propagate, advocate for or spread their own faith?
- Accountability – What is the relationship between common standards for assistance that do not refer to faith and the motivations and precepts of faith-based organisations and individuals?
All of these issues have resonance within the international humanitarian community, with national and local faith communities which engage in humanitarian activities, and potentially with displaced communities and individuals themselves whose faith may be significant in enhancing their resilience in adversity.
The FMR editors are therefore looking for practice-oriented submissions that will reflect a diverse range of opinions and perspectives about faith-based or faith-inspired humanitarian activities focusing on situations of forced displacement and address questions such as the following:
- What is it about faith that inspires humanitarian response? Does this affect cooperation or partnership with non-faith-based agencies and/or with agencies taking their inspiration from different faiths?
- Is there any conflict between the human rights approach to assistance and protection for forced migrants and an approach based on faith claims, particularly in respect of humanitarian norms, standards and accountability?
- Do displaced persons potentially identify with and/or trust organisations inspired by faith more than secular organisations?
- Do some groups of displaced people prioritise a match between their own faith and that of the providers of assistance, or vice versa?
- Do faith-based agencies ever implement assistance in a discriminatory way or link it to activities designed to proselytise? If so, how do they justify this?
- What expectations do affected people have of faith-based organisations? Are faith-based organisations better placed to implement assistance in a more holistic fashion and, if so, what are their advantages?
- Are there ways in which their faith can be a barrier to some kinds of assistance work? Is the provision of some forms of assistance hindered by some beliefs or faith cultures and, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?
- What are the potential advantages and challenges of faith-based organisations providing assistance to different members of displaced groups, including women and children, older people, and sexual, ethnic and national minorities? In what respect, if any, do faith-based organisations – and in particular local faith-based organisations – have comparative advantages available to no other governmental, non-governmental or inter-governmental agency in immediate, mid-term or long-term responses?
- What challenges do faith-based organisations face as providers of humanitarian assistance?
- What challenges should secular (non-faith-based) providers of humanitarian assistance recognise as potentially resulting from their secular nature?
- What steps are being taken or could be taken to a) improve the role, practice, behaviour or approaches of faith-based organisations in humanitarian response, and b) improve cooperation and collaboration between faith-based organisations and between faith-based and other organisations?
We are looking for examples of good, replicable practice and experience as well as sound analysis of the issues at stake. We are particularly keen to reflect the experiences and knowledge of communities and individuals directly affected by these questions.
Please note that this issue of FMR will not address the issue of religions as contributory causes of conflict or displacement.
Maximum length: 2,500 words
Deadline for submission: 9 May 2014
Please note that space is always at a premium in FMR and that published articles are usually shorter than this maximum length. Your article, if accepted for publication, may well be shortened but you will of course be consulted about any editing changes.
Please email the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in contributing or have suggestions of colleagues or community representatives who may wish to contribute. If you can put us in touch with displaced people who might be interested in writing, please do email us; we are happy to work with individuals to help them develop an article and very keen to have their perspectives reflected in this issue.
If you are planning to write, we would be grateful if you would take note of our guidelines for authors at: http://ww.fmreview.org/writing-fmr