The Influence of Religion on Sustainable Development

Prof. Dr. Matthias Basedau
2015 - 2018
Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)



Research Questions
Religion plays an important role in the process of social and economic development. In most societies, especially in developing countries, religious beliefs strongly shape the political and economic institutions, and hence either hamper or spur overall development. However, despite its potentially important role for prosperity, religion has been a neglected area in development policy and development cooperation. This project thus seeks to investigate empirically what conditions of religion stimulate or retard sustainable development. Given the relevance for development, it also seeks to provide policy recommendation for development policy and development co-operation.

Contribution to International Research
The project contributes to the international research on religion by delivering an up-to-date literature review, by compiling and analysing a comprehensive database on religion and sustainable development, and by analysing the data from the qualitative case studies, the elite surveys, one representative survey, and behavioural experiments.

Research Design and Methods
These research questions will be addressed in three modules. In module 1, the project team will thoroughly review the literature and identify pertinent research gaps. In module 2, as the core part of the project, the team will conduct a number of empirical investigations, for which a mixed research design will be employed, containing three major elements. First, the project will compile a comprehensive data set on 125 developing countries (1990-2014). Second, the team will conduct three qualitative case studies, including field work in three to four mostly African countries. The third element is the use of quantitative methodologies in the country cases, which will complement the qualitative component, namely three elite surveys, one representative survey on the whole population, as well as behavioural experiments. On the basis of the empirical findings from module 2, the team will develop in module 3 a number of conceptual propositions for development policy in general as well as for practical development co-operation.

Preliminary Results
The review of the quantitative literature revealed a number of methodological problems. There are manifold causal mechanisms linking the several dimensions of both religion and development; data on countries in the Global South is frequently missing. The main challenge is the identification of a causal link between religious dimensions and development. As a result, only few results can be considered robust (e.g. a positive impact of religion on well being and mental health and a negative one on gender equality). The empirical module of the project will try to address some of the research gaps.