[Press Release] “Sustainable Development needs attention for religion”

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam launches extraordinary chair together with ICCO and ACT Alliance.

For a few years, global challenges like poverty and climate change have been approached within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Until now, however,  scarce attention has been paid to the role of religion in achieving the SDGs, even though the vast majority of people worldwide are religious. More insight is essential for international cooperation and sustainable development, and western secular countries and organisations need that knowledge. For this reason, the Faculty of Religion and Theology at Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam and development organisations ICCO and ACT Alliance are launching the extraordinary chair in Religion and Sustainable Development on Jan 1, 2019. Dr. Azza Karam, a leading United Nations Advisor in this field, will hold the chair for the next five years.

Dr. Karam is widely known for her expertise in religion and development. She is the chairperson of the UN interagency taskforce for cooperation with faith-based organisations. She is delighted by the launch of this globally important chair: “It is a strange thing that until now religions have played a relatively understated role in the work around the Sustainable Development Goals, especially when over 80% of the world’s population is religious. The VU is wisely acknowledging this fact by establishing this Chair. It is the right start, precisely because religion plays a major role in all developmental issues, including around gender, education, peacebuilding, poverty and climate change – to name but a few”.

Sustainable Development Goals

The SDG’s are increasingly important in governments’ policies, who face the global challenge to meet these goals by 2030. Like other countries, the Netherlands compiles a yearly report on its progress. Aligned to this, the new chair and the VU Centre for Religion and Sustainable Development will organise roundtables on religion and SDG’s in the coming years, together with NGO’s and government representatives. Ruard Ganzevoort, dean of the Faculty of Religion and Theology said, “During these roundtables, we will focus on issues like the impact of religion on the position of women or our response to climate change. Human acts are not isolated behaviour, but deeply influenced by underlying views of humankind, nature, and the world. Taking responsibility for tackling poverty and climate change is about more than technological solutions, but also about the underlying value patterns and world views, both religious and secular.”

Religious communities

Besides these cultural and religious value patterns, the research programme will focus on the role of the many religiously inspired NGOs.  Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, General Secretary of the ACT Alliance, said, “Networks of churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other faith-based groups are among the grassroots everywhere in the world.  Because of this, faith-based organisations can be found in many places that are hard to reach for governments, as well as multilateral organisations like the UN.” In the Netherlands and worldwide, churches and other religious communities are active in promoting sustainability, social justice, and peacebuilding. To ensure lasting change, this network of religious communities is an important ally, while always requiring a critical perspective.

About Azza Karam

Dr. Azza Karam is senior Advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund and Chair of the UN Interagency Taskforce on Religion. She has an Egyptian and Dutch background and earned her PhD from the University of Amsterdam for her research into religion, governance, and gender. She has taught at several academic institutions and has worked for many years at various UN-organisations around the intersections of culture, religion, and development.

Information for journalists

For more information about the chair Religion and Sustainable Development, please contact prof. Ruard Ganzevoort via +31-6-23080850 or r.r.ganzevoort@vu.nl