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The challenge of religious fundamentalism and the response of non-governmental organisations

05 / 1993

L. Surendra is a member of the "Liberation, Religion and Cultures" unit of ACFOD, an Asian network of local groups and NGOs based in various parts of Asia. In the newsletter "Asian Action" (1991/3), Surendra writes about fundamentalism as a challenge for NGOs. He states that religious fundamentalism is quite often very far removed from the real fundamentals of the religions they aggressively propagate. It is completely divorced from the human, spiritual, ethical principles basic to most religions. (...)The rapid growth of religious extremism and fundamentalism in Asia and the recognition of the crucial role it may play in shaping the future direction of Asian societies, have made it necessary for NGOs involved in the promotion of development and justice in Asia, to deepen their understanding of the phenomena and explore ways and means of responding to the challenges it throws. (...)In almost all the cases, the processes of nation building meant in effect creating a homogenized civil society essentially as a state project, which then tries in the process to obliterate the inherent pluralism of these societies and produce varying levels of insecurity among smaller tightly knit communities bound together by either religious or cultural affinities. These attempts, basically by state elites to build cohesive (which quite often meant more homogenous)nations states, was also inextricably linked with development processes. These, in turn, in trying to accelerate the processes of capitalist development, led to a parallel process of marginalisation and disinheritance of particularly poorer and weaker sections of the population. (...)Attempts of the part of affected communities to fight these simultaneous processes of socio-economic marginalisation and weakening of their cultural traditions and roots, provoked a reaction among majority communities, leading to a spiral of greater chauvinist reactions and responses. (...)Thus to certain extent, the rise of fundamentalist movements, can also be seen as symbolic protests against the dominant development models that are being thrust upon societies, with varying social, religious, economic and cultural histories. (...)To face the challenge of fundamentalism, NGOs need a new approach. They have to look at contemporary issues in their societies in a much more serious manner and from social, religious, cultural and spiritual perspectives. Perspectives that have been nurtured by, either faith traditions or by a secular spirituality. To foster this new approach, NGOs have to be imaginative and creative on various levels. At the local level, in the communities NGOs are living in and working with, they should try to get more and more acquainted with the liberative fundamentals of their own and other religions. Intercommunal dialogues at the grassroot level should be promoted. Local festivals, customs and idioms as well as any other popular cultural media like songs and theater often carry deep socio-spiritual meaning which can be brought out more effectively.

Palabras claves


, Asia


NGOs in the North who wish to support people in the South in their struggle against injustice and oppression should recognize that this support must accept culturally and religiously embedded ways of facing realities which may not be their own ways.


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