Religious NGOs

The new face of religion in civil society

Authored by: Anne Stensvold

The Routledge Handbook of Transregional Studies

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138718364
eBook ISBN: 9780429438233
Adobe ISBN:


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Non-governmental organization (NGO) is a fluid term. Depending on their field of interest and range of activity, NGOs can be local, national, or international. In a seminal article from 2003, Julia Berger defines religious NGOs as ‘a unique hybrid of religious beliefs and socio-political activism’ (2003: 1). The historical origins of NGOs can be traced back to the founding of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 (Article 71, UN Charter, UN 1945), when the term ‘non-governmental organization’ appeared for the first time (Willetts 2002: 16). Historically, the roots of NGOs are found in engaged citizens in the nineteenth century, the most prominent being the anti-slavery movement. This movement consisted of several organizations across the Western world, and was especially strong among Evangelicals (DeMars 2005: 84). The reason for including NGOs alongside government actors at the UN was to secure grass-roots information and expert advice on social and economic issues. In this way, a new opportunity for political influence was opened up to civil society actors, including religious organizations. In order to illustrate some political aspects of religious NGOs, I shall start with a story.

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