David H. Moore is Sterling and Eleanor Colton Endowed Chair in Law and Religion; Associate Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies
Moore summarized the global impact of the pandemic and the role religion has played in responding to those challenges:
- Physical health impacts from the pandemic causing untold infections and deaths. The World Health Organization has released statements on how treatments for HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis have stalled, hindered by the focused response to the pandemic.
- Mental health impacts from the pandemic with effects of anxiety and depression.
- Economic impacts include loss of jobs, disruption of supply chains contributing to inflation and debt burdens.
- Increasing gender inequality in forced lockdowns and gender-based bias.
- Development effects include lost progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals on hunger, poverty, and education.
What does religion offer in response to the pandemic?
Over 80% of the world’s population affiliates with a religion with part of the remaining percentage claiming they have religious or spiritual beliefs. This means that religion is always present in world issues.
- Physical Health. Religion can help motivate individuals to accept or reject change. Religious leaders are sometimes the most trusted leaders in people’s lives since they may be the only leaders people see when the state has no presence. I worked with USAID and visited a clinic in Bangladesh where the local Iman was present and persuasive in convincing people with Islamic faith to get immunized. Religious organizations are often situated to reach the most marginalized in society.
- Mental Health. Studies indicate that religious people have better mental health outcomes. A study in India shows over 70% of people with mental health issues first go to religious leaders for help.
- Economic Impact. A 2016 study shows religious organizations gave billions in aid making it tantamount to the 15th largest economy in the world. Religions play a tremendous role in assisting the developing world. World Vision alone spends more money than some countries spend on aid.
- Operational Impact: faith-based operations respond to needs. They have local knowledge and have networks on the ground.
Religions and faith-based actors are part of the solution to world problems; they are inescapably part of the solution.
How do we take advantage of this? We must ensure there is religious freedom. We often neglect this to our detriment. The context must be right for faith-based organizations to operate. There needs to be an environment for religions to exist, flourish, and operate. There are guarantees to this in laws and treaties, but my experience on the UN Human Rights Committee had evidence that across the world religious freedom is regularly violated. A key part of the solution is creating an environment in which religious freedom flourishes.
See Professor Moore’s video presentation at: https://youtu.be/LvCEMMQm8mw?t=4019