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Conference: Religion & Humanitarian Action
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The World Humanitarian Summit and the “One humanity” report of the UN Secretary General highlighted the importance of faith-based organisations (FBOs) in facilitating humanitarian action, peace building and development cooperation. This is in line with a renewed focus on faith-based organisations among humanitarian researchers, actors and agencies. FBOs are often motivated by a sense of divine imperative to action, stemming from religious doctrines mandating an altruistic duty. They also have the capacity to raise funds independently from the conventional (State) structures of humanitarian donorship. This makes possible a relatively autonomous approach to the delivery of humanitarian assistance. All these aspects make the relationship between religion and humanitarianism as intricate as it is congruous.

The fundamental principle of Humanity is a precept within many – otherwise diverse – religious traditions. Humanitarian concerns are therefore widely understood as being coherent with religious doctrine. Furthermore, FBOs certainly play an important role in many contexts and might often be the only humanitarian actor to fill that role. Some even argue that by virtue of their religiosity, FBOs are better equipped to bridge certain socio-political divides between conflicting groups, particularly when such divides are aggravated by religious factors. Some proponents of religious humanitarianism reject the ‘faith-based’ label in favour of the term ‘value-based’, thereby maintaining that there is no sharp distinction between their humanitarian practices and those of traditional, secular agencies.

While FBOs are widely recognised contributors to humanitarian action one can raise questions pertaining to the professionalisation of FBOs, the quality of assistance delivered by FBOs, as well as their accountability to affected populations. FBOs’ proclivity to autonomous aid-delivery serves to frustrate efforts geared toward sector-wide codes of conduct and practice. There is also a risk of a clash between the broader humanitarian principles and the specific articles of faith that identify a possible challenge for an impartial delivery of humanitarian relief.

These are but some of the issues underlying the intricate relationship between religion and humanitarianism. The general challenge is between two tendencies: on the one hand, a sector-wide push towards the globalisation of humanitarian assistance, underpinned by a professed impartial professionalism on the part of the proponents of secular humanitarian action, and on the other hand, a predilection for working within a context characterised by autonomy and self-sufficiency on the part of their faith-based counterparts. How can these two trends be combined? How can secular organisations engage with faith-based organisations in a manner beneficial for both parties? Especially, how can these different types of organisations cooperate towards the goal of peace building and intercultural cooperation? These questions are also at the forefront in the discussion on refugees and asylum seekers, a discussion inherently tied to different ideas on the role of religion in society and private life.

The Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA), the Department of International Relations at the University of Malta and the Theology Department at Uppsala University propose a public event, aimed at unearthing and deliberating the issues pertaining to the juxtaposition of religion and humanitarianism with a special focus on meetings between different religious groups and the work provided by faith-based organisations.

Objective: To unearth and deliberate the issues stemming from the juxtaposition of religion and humanitarianism, in a spirit of open dialogue, from as wide a variety of perspectives as possible.

Speakers: Ms Silvia Sinibaldi (Caritas Europa); Ms Else Berglund (Swedish Church); Mr Terance Fitzgibbon (Islamic Relief Worldwide); Dr Lars Löfquist (Theology Dept. @ Uppsala University); Dr Anna Khakee (Int. Relations Dept. @ University of Malta); Mr. Neville Aquilina (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malta); Mr. Darren Formosa (St Jeanne Antide Foundation); Mr. William Grech (KOPIN); Dr. Julian Caruana / Dr Alexia Rossi (Jesuit Refugee Service); Ms. Sylvana Pule (Tabgha Foundation). 

Registration: Interested individuals are requested to send an email to Mr Bernard Cachia Zammit on bernard.cachia-zammit@um.edu.mt including their full name and surname, the name of the organisation (if any) they work at and their position (if any) at that organisation.

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Last Updated: 19 November 2018

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