The Influence of Religion and Culture in Development in the Philippines

Chapter 10 of Carnival Kingdom is a fascinating cultural interaction by Social anthropologist, writer and activist Melba Padilla Maggay, in which she critiques the influence and effect of development aid.

If development is important to the promoting and sustaining of justice and instrumental to the well-being of community, what are the cultural and religious factors which prevent some communities from flourishing?  Melba Maggay examines this question from the context of the Philippines.

Excerpts can be found posted up this last week on the Carnival Kingdom facebook page, and can be found below:-

“Depending on the nature of the culture, the experience of colonisation may create a phenomenon called ‘reverse ethnocentrism,’ as in the Philippines, where foreign influences are deemed superior to anything within the culture and so are welcomed and embraced enthusiastically, to a fault. Alternatively, the colonisation experience may lock and isolate cultures against the stimuli of growth and innovation from the outside, as with some Arab countries that felt humiliated by the breakup and decline of the Ottoman Empire and had been frozen in time, sustaining themselves by the memory of lost grandeur as imagined from an idealized past. Such reactions to cultural disruption have had profound implications on the economic behaviour of many nations. It is in this sense that culture plays a great explanatory role behind the relative poverty and progress of nations.”

“It seemed to me that the US—like most societies heavily organized by the logic of modernity—tended to have severe deficits in spontaneous empathy, the capacity for community, and the willingness to get personally entangled in the messy task of being involved beyond purely functional relationships. The ‘rugged individualism’ that had built the country had been pushed to its logical extreme. Combined with such impulses as scientific detachment and bureaucratic rationality that create a sharp separation between the personal and the professional, the corollary consequence seems to be a pervasive instrumentalism and the prioritizing of individual achievement, convenience, and cost efficiency over compassion and the shared joys and demands of community.”

“While the modern West has secularised and relegated religion to a small and private compartment of life, many of the cultures of the world still find their philosophical and social centre in their religions. Until recently, this fact has been little noticed by Western development planners and their agents in the Majority world—the educated, modernised elites of these societies. Just below the radar screen of those who make decisions over the plight of the poor in the Majority world is this subterranean conflict between their society’s ‘traditional’ values and the cultural incursions of modernising influences. Literature in the 1960s talked of ‘the passing of traditional society.’ But the truer picture is that the traditional cultures of these societies have been merely submerged under the social and ideological dominance of their elites. Whether leaning towards the liberal democratic or the socialist paradigm, the post-colonial elites of these societies were all embarked on the project of modernisation, glossing over the passive and largely mute cultural resistance of their peoples.”

“A society sustains itself by ‘story’, the religiously-based metanarrative which lends meaning to our fragmentary and fleeting experiences as a human community. ‘Who are we? How have we come to be here? What is the nature of the world in which we live?’ These are questions that have been answered for us by the myths and stories constructed by our ancestors and handed down to us. They frame and control the meaning of whatever intervention comes from the outside.”

“Without the necessary infraculture, governance and market institutions harden into systemic disincentives to entrepreneurship, innovation and hard work. A country may have rich natural resources and a highly talented workforce, but the consequent lack of ‘plausibility structures’ will constrain the flourishing of enterprise. There is much micro-entrepreneurial energy in this country [the Philippines] , for instance, but the larger social and cultural context constrains the growth of this into a force in the formal economy. Development must be contextual to be effective and sustainable. All countries have life sources, both physical and social, that were already in place long before the arrival of outside help, influence, and resources. Cultures, for instance, have great stores of knowledge gathered from the environmental context. Depending on geography, societies develop culture-specific skills in relating to the environment or what has been termed as indigenous technical knowledge.”

Dr Melba Padilla Maggay is a writer and a social anthropologist, who holds a doctorate in Philippine Studies, a masters degree in English Literature, and a 1st class degree in Mass Communication. A specialist in intercultural communication, she was Research Fellow on the subject at the University of Cambridge under the auspices of Tyndale House, applying it to the question of culture and theology. She was the founder and longtime director of ISACC, a voice for conscientiousness in politics and in church-and-culture issues.

Carnival Kingdom may be purchased here:-

Wide Margin Books  or at Amazon

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