Scientific Ecumentalism

Chris Blattman, an Assistant Professor of Political Science & Economics at Yale University, and a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development, has an interesting post on some of his recent work in West Africa:

You know experimental program evaluation has become a craze when even the Imams want it.

Today we sat down with an inter-faith network of Liberian religious leaders to talk about their peace building plans. They are a truly inspiring organization, building local capacity to resolve conflicts, and training mediators to resolve disputes in the community. The countryside is, to some extent, a powder keg, and they are building local early warning systems and rapid response capability to potentially serious conflicts.

Moreover, to reduce tensions in conflict-prone places, these religious leaders–principally Muslims and Christians–do not just aspire to a new social contract, they sit down with ethnic and religious leaders in each village and coax them to actually write one, specifying norms and sanctions.

And they want to know if it’s working.

I hum and haw about comparison groups, going through my impact evaluation 101 schpiel. I have serious concerns that one would or could develop a control group, let alone randomize, for such a program. So I dance delicately around the subject.

“Wait a minute,” interrupts the Imam, “Are you talking about a randomized control trial?”

I gape.

“Oh I see!” says one Reverend Minister, “We need a control group! This is a good idea.”

It turns out his holiness was once an agronomist. “This is just like our control plots for fertilizer. But how are we going to control for spillover effects?”

An older Methodist leader frowns sitting in the corner glowers. “Please, a moment,” he says. “I see a real problem here.”

Here it comes. Here is the doubt and questioning I expected. We’re talking about a peace building exercise, not fertilizer on a farm plot. Even I have my reservations. This man, of an older generation, clearly has other priorities.

“How,” he asks “are we going to select a proper sample?”

Canada could probably learn a thing or two on how to reduce similar tensions here.

h/t Siris

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4 Comments on "Scientific Ecumentalism"

  1. Oh good gawd I dread the prospect of a “social contract” being drawn up by religious leaders. Particularly when the non-religious are a bigger proportion of the Canadian population than all the non-Christian religions combined.

    No theocracy thank you.

    Not to mention that this is a country of individuals where “leaders”, be they religious or otherwise, have no power unless they are duly elected.

    LawIsCool: The article in question has nothing to do with theocracy. Although politically fragile, Liberia is also an elected democracy.
    Ecumentical activities occur on a regular basis in Canada, and are a positive step in reconciling the differences between faith communities. Furthermore, political representatives in Canada commonly interact with faith leaders as bona fide representatives their congregation.
    We do agree however, that more irreligious/atheist elements of the population should take it upon themselves to become involved in interatction with others with different beliefs to help break down barriers and stereotypes that exist on all sides.

  2. When you talk about “ethnic and religious leaders… actually writ[ing a social contract], specifying norms and sanctions” you are talking about theocracy. A democratic country where majority religions or majority religions in concert with minority religions impose religious “norms and sanctions” on the non-religious and/or other religions is a theocracy. Atheists shouldnt have to band together to counter the religious mafia. The government should respect the fact that “freedom of religion” is as much an entitlement for the non-religious to not have to live by the religious rules and values of the majority, as it is an entitlement of minority religions not to have to live by the religious rules and values of the majority religion.

    I frankly dont care if different religious groups dont get along. Thats not my problem. While I believe that we should “live and let live”; I also dont believe the state should involve itself in religion, encourage its existence and spread, or grant religion and its leaders a privileged place in the formulation of policy.

    All I know is that religion has no place determining the “social contract” and the “norms and sanctions” under which I have to live. If the religious want freedom of religion they better damn well respect the rights of atheists and the nonreligious to live their own lives in accordance with their own values subject only to reasonable and rational limits imposed by secular law.

    LawIsCool: The norms and sanctions may be as simple as how to get along. Don’t read too much into it unless you have further information to share with us.

  3. Its very simple. How about this: LEAVE EACH OTHER ALONE!

    LawIsCool: Some of us prefer to try to get along instead.
    Interaction is inevitable, cooperation, ideal.

  4. I interact and cooperate with many people every day and dont need “norms and sanctions” to do so. Follow the live and let live principle and its easy. THIS is exactly why individualism is so superior to collectivism. Under the former voluntary association and the ability to withdraw is all you need. Under the latter you need “norms and sanctions” because the tribes are so irreconcilable and bent on having things their way that they can barely coexist.

    LawIsCool: The Canadian “tribe” is a cultural mosaic, not a melting pot as in the U.S.
    We’ve coexisted with First Nations, Anglophones, and RC Francophones since Confederation.

    Interactions between different groups is highly regulated by the law.
    For example, in R. v. Valencia the court said,

    [10] The obvious underlying rationale for the right to interpreter assistance is related to the multicultural nature of Canadian society. Parliament’s enactment of s. 14 is reflective of the Canadian cultural mosaic and the role of language in allowing a culture to sustain its identity.

    These values affect many other areas of Canadian law.
    Bruker v. Marcovitz, a very recent SCC decision, begins with,

    Canada rightly prides itself on its evolutionary tolerance for diversity and pluralism. This journey has included a growing appreciation for multiculturalism, including the recognition that ethnic, religious or cultural differences will be acknowledged and respected. Endorsed in legal instruments ranging from the statutory protections found in human rights codes to their constitutional enshrinement in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to integrate into Canada’s mainstream based on and notwithstanding these differences has become a defining part of our national character.

    We’ve contacted the original author for clarification over what they intended by the terms in question.

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