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Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism


  • Barnett, Michael

    (George Washington University)

  • Stein, Janice

    (University of Toronto)


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. Contributors to this volume - Michael Barnett is University Professor of International Affairs and Political Science at the George Washington University. His most recent book is Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism (Cornell University Press). Jonathan Benthall is Professor of Anthropology at the University College London. He has published widely in the fields of the sociology of religion and humanitarianism. His most recent books are The Charitable Crescent: Politics of Aid in the Muslim World (with J. Bellion-Jourdan) and Returning to Religion: Why a Secular Age is Haunted by Faith. Erica Bornstein is Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her books include Disquieting Gifts: Humanitarianism in New Delhi (Stanford University Press, in press) and The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe (Stanford University Press 2005). She is co-editor (with Peter Redfield) of Forces of Compassion: Humanitarianism between Ethics and Politics (School for Advanced Research Press 2011) and has published articles in American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Ethnos, Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR), and the Journal of Religion in Africa. Stephen Hopgood is Reader in International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and co-Director of the Centre for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice (CCRJ) at SOAS. His publications include Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International (Cornell University Press, 2006). He is currently the holder of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship under the title "Empire of the International. " Henry Louis, a former researcher at the Feinstein International Center, works in the areas of international development and humanitarianism. Dyan Mazurana is Associate Research Professor at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University. Andrea Paras recently completed her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto and is now on faculty at the Women's University of Bangladesh. George Scarlett is a Senior Lecturer at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University. Janice Gross Stein is the Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management in the Department of Political Science and the Director of the Munk School for Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. She is the co-author, with Eugene Lang, of the prize-winning The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, and co-editor, with Peter Gourevitch and David Lake, of Credibility and Non-Governmental Organizations in a Globalizing World (2012). Her most recent book is Diplomacy in the Digital Age. Betrand Taithe is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Manchester, where he also is a director of the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute ( and edits the European Review of History- Revue europeenned'histoireand book series for Manchester University Press. He has published widely on war and medicine, humanitarianism and missionaries including: Defeated Flesh (1999), Citizenship and Wars (2001), The Killer Trail (2009), Evil Barbarism and Empire (2011, eds T. Crook, R. Gill, B.Taithe). Leslie Vinjamuri teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies where she co-directs the Center for Conflict and of the Center for the International Politics of Conflict, Rights. Her articles have appeared in leading journals, including International Security, Ethics and International Affairs, Survival, and the Annual Review of Political Science. Amy Warren is Research Associate at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. Peter Walker is Director of the Feinstein International Center, an institute of Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. In addition to his ongoing consultation work, he previously worked for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Oxfam International. He has published widely on humanitarianism, including, with David Maxwell, The Shape of the Humanitarian System.

Suggested Citation

  • Barnett, Michael & Stein, Janice, 2012. "Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199916092.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxp:obooks:9780199916092

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