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What Has God to Do with Sustainable Development? A Sahelian Dialogue

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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

The Sahel region has become fairly well known as an environmentally vulnerable region where human inventiveness and collective organisation have been able to reverse processes of land degradation, brought about by earlier 'maldevelopment'. This paper sets out to explore schisms between local accounts of the spiritual significance of environmental decay, and regeneration involving interventions by external development agencies. It focuses on the case of two Northern NGOs. The two project-level examples are located in Mali; one is a World Vision-sponsored tree seedling project, the other an SOS Sahel-sponsored well-digging scheme. Each presents a contrasting approach to local beliefs in God; the first attempts to 'correct' what are seen as wrong beliefs: the second seeks to build on existing beliefs and religious practices. In the one. relations between humans and the natural environment are conceived as being spiritually laden, in the other they are seen as almost purely functional. If Sahelian people are to be held responsible for environmental regeneration, then their religious beliefs about nature, however complex, need to be incorporated into the design of development interventions from the outset.

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Development Studies University of Wales Swansea Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

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