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WeD research in Bangladesh

Internal News - 01 February 2007

Research to explore links between wellbeing and religion

Two academics from the Department of Economics & International Development have been awarded over £200,000 to explore the significance of religion for people as they seek to achieve wellbeing in their lives.

The research will be carried out over three years, and will involve detailed empirical investigation in rural and urban sites in Bangladesh and India.

The ‘Wellbeing and Religion’ project is part of a five year programme funded by the UK Department for International Development to look more generally at the links between religion, development and poverty reduction.

The research programme is being coordinated by the University of Birmingham, and consists of a series of interconnected projects taking place in five countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and Bangladesh. Collaborative partnerships have been established with leading research institutions in each country.

Dr Sarah White, one of the research leaders from Bath, said: “Conventional approaches to international development have generally overlooked the role of religion in human lives and societies.

“In part this is because religion was seen as a major obstacle to modernity and development. While this position is strongly challenged today, it remains the case that the significance of religion is poorly understood.

“We are convinced that our focus on wellbeing will result in a better understanding of the role that religious values and practices play in the lives of people.”

Religion is currently the focus of much academic debate and public discussion. It is an area of investigation that is deeply contested at local, national and international levels. The ‘Wellbeing and Religion’ project explicitly accepts this.

Dr Joe Devine, the second research coordinator at Bath, said: “Poor people have a deeply ambivalent relationship to dominant values and norms that in turn influences the possibility of achieving wellbeing. “Therefore in our research we expect to find elements of overt as well as covert hostility, compliance and inconsistency when looking at the relationship of people to religious values and the translation of these values into specific forms of action”.

The ‘Wellbeing and Religion’ project builds directly on existing work within the ESRC Wellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD) research programme which is coordinated at the University of Bath.

Dr Allister McGregor, Director of the WeD programme, said: “Our work on wellbeing has produced innovative conceptual and methodological developments that give important new insights into the reality and dynamics of poverty.

“Wellbeing challenges development practice to engage with issues that it has historically been uncomfortable with but which nevertheless play a key role in people’s lives. The realm of religion and faith is such an issue.”