In Volume 2 of Human Welfare, Manini Sheker from the Department of International Development, University of Oxford, won the Steve Ngo Welfare Prize for her discussion of religion, freedom, and development.
Can a religio-moral framework provide a check on unrestrained economic growth and mitigate against any non-economic consequences that may be incumbent in following a path of poverty alleviation?
How might Catholic theology offer a more expansive notion of freedom and well-being that enriches the capability approach?
Can secular institutions or social arrangements benefit from critically examining their objectives within a religio-moral framework without compromising their plural nature or imposing a particular view of the ultimate good?
Might the capability approach provide a necessary link between theology and the social sciences?
Read a summary of her article below, read the full article here, and post your comments to her questions!
It is only in recent years that scholars in the field of development studies have challenged the assumption that the process of modernization is also one of secularization, and called for rewriting the dominant secular script in development theory and practice. In this paper, I build on recent efforts to reconsider the place of religion in the process of development by comparing the moral basis and understanding of “freedom” posited by Catholic social teaching on the one hand, and the capability approach on the other, in order to bring these views into a dialogue that would enable a more holistic conception of human welfare. I argue that the capability approach can benefit from considering the objectives of development within a more explicitly moral framework, though I show also that such an undertaking is not without problems.
In the first part of the paper, I trace the moral framework and views of the “good life” that underpin the capability approach (regarded by many as the best alternative approach to welfare economics). I show that the capability approach rests on liberal assumptions regarding the individual that derive from the traditions of the western Enlightenment, and on a conception of the “good life” where primacy is placed on the exercise of one’s agency and the realization of freedoms one has reason to value. In the second part of the paper, I discuss the conceptions of freedom and the “good life” according to Catholic social teaching, and I show that the latter has a more expansive view of freedom and what it is to be human, and is more deliberate in its considerations of non-economic aspects of poverty alleviation, suggesting that if a path of poverty alleviation is not followed with reference to material, and equally ethical and salvific liberation, it will result in spiritual impoverishment.
I conclude by offering some suggestions on how these two views may be able to enrich each other, with the important caveat that although there is a value in the critical use of a religio-moral framework in evaluating social arrangements, such a framework can never be fully implemented without compromising the plural nature of secular institutions or constricting the definitions of the ultimate human goods.