There are various groups and individuals worldwide that interpret the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, the Vidas, and Buddhist scripture differently. The majority of these groups and religious actors will interpret their respective ‘holy books’ as being a beacon of peace with emphasis on a one-ness with their deity and their community. These same scriptures, though, can be read in another way: a way that condones the use of force under certain circumstances. The emphasis in the early 21st century has been primarily on the justification for violence by small minorities inside these major religions. In contrast, since before the advent of modern day religious terrorism, there have been religious organizations that function purely for the purpose of aiding those in need, whether it is through collecting monthly donations for children, or brokering peace agreements between two groups in open conflict. In another fashion, the two interpretations are not necessarily mutually exclusive inside a specific group. While groups that pursue violence for their political theology and those that perform nation building after a conflict are simple to identify in purpose, the groups that transcend these boundaries are not. The attempt by many academics to ascertain the purpose behind religious acts, philanthropic or violent, has yielded overly reductive results, failing to see beyond their own ‘rational’ blinders. The call for “deeper scholarship on religious violence” as well as the underestimated role of humanitarian faith based (or inspired) organizations demonstrates the distinct desire for understanding that mainstream secular academia has.
Faith Inspired Organizations
In many cases, religious humanitarian organizations, or faith-inspired organizations (FIOs) will be the first to announce that the act of aid to an individual or group in need is the primary goal of their organization, rather than conversion of the local populace. In 2000, prominent Catholic and Protestant humanitarian agencies received one quarter of the $2.5 billion that the US Government allocates for humanitarian organizations, and that percentage was projected to rise. In practice, their roles may vary from the care of orphans from a conflict or natural disaster, to negotiating a peaceful settlement between two conflicted parties. Interestingly, as Katherine Marshall states:
“[o]ften religious institutions are the only ones left behind to offer what help they can as conflict flares.”
This is hardly the picture that is often painted of religious involvement in areas of crisis. This commitment to relief work is not unique to religious organizations, but the motivation behind their actions may be.
The major religions of the world, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism all have humanitarian assistance as part of their base scripture and it is upon this as well as the situation that these NGOs derive their purpose. It is impressive and surprising to some that these...