12 Apr 2022


Religion and its Relationship with Community Development

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What is religion? Religion may be defined as an establishment of dogmas, feelings, doctrines and practices that describe dealings between humans and sanctified being or spirituality. Religion is the biggest of all “means for the establishment of order in the world and for all peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein” (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Social development on the other hand, can be viewed as the improvement of the welfare of every person in society so they can achieve their full potential with the triumph and well-being of a society being linked to every individual (Govt., 2009) . Based on these definitions, we can easily derive that religion in itself is a key corner stone to the development of the society as a whole. Religion first and foremost can be viewed as a vehicle by which peace and love (two of the major fundamentals of well-being) are can be fostered among members of a community. The peaceful coexistence of people leads them to spur development all with the intent to ensure the well-being of every member of the community. The more development occurs, the more people tend to be content and hence can focus on peaceful coexistence. Development and peaceful coexistence go hand in hand and religion strongly encourages both. This article seeks to consider the positive impact that religion bears on the community and its development (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Religion brings about empowerment. Empowerment can be defined in this case as gaining the authority or power to do something. Most or all the religions focus to an extent on the importance of harnessing this power within to add value to the surroundings. Empowerment can come about through different approaches like taking part in making an honest living, being of help to those that cannot support themselves or lending to the poor and neglected. Religion promises rewards, whether physical, social, personal or spiritual for the indulgence in these activities. The Bible itself mentions that one should not eat if they do not work. This in itself is a strong statement against not participating in community development since work in itself serves as a way to foster development within a community (Lunn, 2009). The Sardovaya movement in Sri Lanka is based on the philosophy that material empowerment of communities is merely a means to spiritual awakening. It is tremendously popular in the region due to the fact that it largely pursues to enable divine awakening through “community and economic empowerment” (Lunn, 2009)

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Religion is also responsible for identity development. In ascribing to an entity greater than oneself, through religion, a person begins to rediscover themselves and understand the purpose for which they came to existence. It is famously said that without purpose, one is lost, like a speck of dust being carried by the wind on an endless journey with no destination. The journey to self-realization is majorly characterized by interacting with the world around a person, ideally the people around. What this in turn yields is a myriad of possible things that one would feel comfortable participating in and those he or she would not. Self-realization involves the discovery of talents, skills and voluntary callings that have for long been locked up within one’s personality. The positives of self-realization eventually spiral into benefits towards the community. Study conducted between youth who ascribe to no religion and those that do revealed that those who do view religion as important as community service. This in turn means that they ae more vibrantly involved in schooling, community development and development of identities which presage healthy lives (James Youniss, 1999) .

Another factor brought about by religion is change. Looking around, when people decide to make changes to their religious status either by joining a new one or joining one for the first time, the main motivation towards such a move would be the search for a different experience. Religious entities have been associated with testimonies of people who have had situations in their lives change as a result of joining or moving to a certain religion. Positive change of spirit among individuals and ultimately the community as a whole would mean that neighborhoods become more secure to live in, work environments become more conducive and there is more happiness. This overall translates into to the better development of a community. Conversion becomes a catalyst to community development the conversion experience leading to resultant changes in values (James Youniss, 1999) .

Religion is also known to fuel economic development. This is evidenced majorly in the third world or otherwise still developing countries. In Africa for example, before the beginning of colonialism, missionaries were sent to parts of Africa to discover the land and introduce religion to the people (Lunn, 2009). Religion fueled the locals of the time to acquire education which to present day despite the hardships experienced during the colonial era has led to the current growth in development seen. Religion is seen to breed more responsibility and accountability in individuals. In recent years, there has been more efforts in the creation and deployment of Non-Governmental Organizations to fill in the gap left behind as relations between governments or governments and their people crumble. The role that these organizations take on comes to restore hope to people and encourage continual development of the affected communities. Non-governmental institutions funded by religious organizations have begun to step in the government’s position in providing aid. According to Mayotte (2017), the emergency of NGOs has played a great role in directing community developments to new ideas and direction as opposed to just filling a vacuum. These values are crucial towards encouraging them to participate actively in the growth of economies. Religion played a very important role in the days when slavery was the work force behind the development of the United States. Religion offered a sense of hope in a better tomorrow to slaves at that time hence attracting very many slaves to join churches and other religious bodies. During this trying time where the Baptist denominations were growing stronger by the day, “it had not gone unnoticed that it was primarily black pastors who had been active in evangelizing among the slave population, in establishing schools and “uplifting the race” (Sewell, 2001) .

Religion also brings about moderation. The connection between religion and development has high probability of being harmonization provided religious beliefs and practices encourage fairness as opposed to extremism (Swell, 2001). Moderation in this case would refer to fairness in treatment and opportunities offered. Religious values stand for the equality of all human beings regardless of race or any other socio- economic differences. Extremes on the other hand would be in references to social vices such as crime, corruption, favoritisms of all kind and impunity. Moderation seeks to allow that all people have equal opportunities so that there is no unfair suffering for the innocent. Moderation also stands for the understanding that no one is perfect alongside encouraging the thought that all human beings are equal and therefore stand an equal opportunity at life. Religion is at the forefront in this by encouraging repentance and reconciliation within the framework of the family and community (Merry, 2009) .

One other benefit of religion is that it brings about the spirit of community, otherwise known as charity. Charity by definition is the offering of voluntary aid or assistance to people that are less fortunate in one way or the other in a humanitarian act. Religion yields a heart of compassion towards those that may be suffering within a community preaching that the betterment of their lives is the betterment of our own since it’s possible for every other person to be in those very shoes. Religious factions are responsible for the development of most Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) In light of this, civil society actors favored in development are well established NGOs (Chandhoke, 2003) . According to Hill (1994), churches offer hope, power and strength to their congregations; and they continue playing a significant role efforts in to steer community and economic development. In places where there are churches for instance, these serve as sources of community strength, places where people can be comforted in times of need. In these places, food clothing and shelter can be provided at no cost. Many residents around these centers have said that if you think those churches don’t do anything, imagine what this place would look without them ( McCleary, 2008 ).

To sum up, religion is a local development corporation. This has proved to be true on many levels. The responsibility that religion has placed on itself include the initialization of programs for the youth to help in their development through identity development and nurturing responsibility, the creation of job training centers where people who join can receive vocational training in various fields they feel they have a passion towards and the development of care centers that assist people that are in dire need. All these are ways in which the people who participate whether directly or indirectly are contributing towards the development of the community. This growth, as unstructured as it may seem on the outside, with minimal supervision but self-accountability being a key foundation eventually leads to an overall positive growth in different facets of the society. 


Ajaegbu, E. E. (2017). Religion and National Development in Nigeria. National Development 13.1 (2016): 32.

Lunn, J. (2009). The Role of Religion, Spirituality and Faith in Development: a critical theory approach.  Third World Quarterly 30 (5), 937-951.

Bond, G. (1996). A. T Ariyarante and the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka. In S. K. Ch. Queen, Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (pp. 121-146). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Chandhoke, N. (2003). The Conceits of Civil Society. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Govt., N. B. (2009). Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation . Retrieved from www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/esic/overview/content/what_is_social_development.html

Hill, R. B. (1994). The Role of th Black Church in community and economic development activities. National Jounal on Sociology , 8(1-2): 149-157.

James Youniss, J. A. (1999). Religion, community service, and identity in American youth. Journal of Adolescence , 243-253.

Mayotte, J. A. (1998). Religion and global affairs: the role of religion in development.  SAIS Review 18 (2), 65-69.

McCleary, R. M. (2008). Religion and economic development.  Policy Review , (148), 45

Merry, S. E. (2009). Rights, Religion and Community: Appoaches to Violence Against Women in the Context of Globalization. Law and Society Review , 39-88.

Polis, C. (1996). Religion Community. Religion and Social Capital , 7(4): 4-7

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being.  American psychologist,  55(1), 68.

Sewell, S. (2001). African American religion: The struggle for community development in a southern city.  The Journal of Southern Religion 4 , 1-21.

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