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Revisiting the Religious Revival in Development: A Critique of Philip Fountain (abstract)

Katherine Marshall
Revisiter le renouveau religieux dans le développement : une critique de Philip Fountain [fr]
مراجعة التجديد الديني في التنمية: نقد لفليب فوتين [ar]


Philip Fountain has written a challenging and, in places, thoughtful chapter that touches on a set of issues that currently challenge actors across a wide spectrum of differing institutions and world views. Fountain’s beginning and ending points are his reflections on the ‘discovery’ of religion by development communities. He argues that overgeneralised – I would even say sloppy – definitions of religion are commonplace. He goes on to deduce that what underlies many treatments of ‘religion’ is ‘a default conceptualisation – substantivist, essentialised, ahistorical and universal’. He makes an important argument: that where the vast and complex worlds of religion are involved, simplistic categorisations are misleading and laden with great political baggage. I agree entirely with the first point, but am far less convinced that nefarious politics are at work to the degree he suggests in his efforts to conceptualise the overlap among development and faith worlds. I would argue, in fact, that simplistic characterisations of the vast and complex worlds of international development are as similarly fraught as broad generalisations regarding religion. Fountain’s chapter is weakest, in my view, in its characterisations of development. He calls for a critical examination of ‘secular development’ but gives few indications as to what, precisely, that would involve.(…)

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Editors' notes

Paperback reference : Marshall, K. (2013) "Revisiting the Religious Revival in Development: A Critique of Philip Fountain", in International Development Policy: Religion and Development, No.4, Geneva: Graduate Institute Publications, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 31-40

Cite this article

Electronic reference

Katherine Marshall, “Revisiting the Religious Revival in Development: A Critique of Philip Fountain (abstract)”International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 4 | 2013, Online since 14 February 2013, connection on 03 March 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Katherine Marshall

Senior Fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, and Visiting Professor in the School of Foreign Service. From 1971 to 2006, she worked at the World Bank as the senior advisor on faith and development, focusing on issues facing the world’s poorest countries. She has been closely engaged in the creation and development of the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD) and is currently the organisation’s Executive Director. She also serves on the boards of several NGOs and advisory groups.

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International Development Policy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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