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Human Development & the Globalizing Economy

Religious and secular traditions alike make claims that human beings have intrinsic worth beyond their value as units of economic production and consumption. Catholic, Muslim, and secular discourses overlap and contend with each other over our responsibility to respond to material human need, including global economic disparity, with justice and compassion, and what constitutes a just economic order and authentic human development. This working group will examine the tensions that exist between transcendent religious and secular principles of social justice and the dynamics of a global market economy.


In my previous post I examined some of the ways in which the Catholic Church in the Arabian Peninsula helps cultivate skills and competencies that enable its members to achieve successful economic outcomes. A second set of resources it offers could be called ideational resources — ideals, attitudes, beliefs, and values that have a long-standing, habitual nature. Here, the classic example of how ideas or values contribute to economic outcomes is Weber’s argument, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Does Catholicism impart a distinctive “Catholic ethic” among its adherents in Gulf cities?


The Arabian/Persian Gulf region is home to some of the fastest-developing cities in the world. In my research into these new hubs of global capitalism, one issue I examine is the role of Catholicism. While official statistics on foreign populations are not available, estimates from various sources (including embassies and churches) place the Catholic population in these cities at — astonishingly — between 10-30 percent, with a contributing factor being the increasing Filipino emigration to cities such as Dubai and Doha. One crucial way Catholicism shapes modern life in the Gulf is by serving as a source of “technical” competencies or cultural capital—technical in the sense of having to do with techniques, skills, and practices that contribute to economic outcomes and social mobility.

Catholics in the call center


In 2005, I visited Bangalore for the first time in ten years, and was astonished at the major facelift the city had undergone. The once quiet and easy-going “garden city” was now a thriving metropolis, dotted with an ever-growing number of shopping malls, coffee shops, glass-paneled office towers, KFC and McDonald’s franchises, and Pepsi billboards. Besides these usual symbols heralding the arrival of globalization, one new development struck me as peculiar: the outsourcing industry. I soon discovered that outsourcing highlights some of the important tensions between new modes of secularity and new religious modernities—including Catholic ones—emerging around the world.