Over the last few years the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become the umbrella to address the challenges of our times, for example climate change, poverty, inequality, health and migration. In many of these challenges religion plays, or can play, a significant role. However, the specific contributions of religion, both in perpetuating certain problems and in overcoming them, are often less clear.
The Amsterdam Centre for Religion and Sustainable Development (ACRSD) focuses on the interaction between religion (including secular worldviews) and sustainable development. Focus areas include:
- religion and climate change
- religion and poverty
- religion and gender
- religion and health
- religion and migration
The Centre seeks a dynamic interaction between scientific disciplines and societal partners on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) through a range of activities. It has an extensive and relevant national and international network. For instance it is part of the Department of Beliefs and Practices at the Faculty of Religion and Theology. In 2018 this faculty ranked number 5 in the world by the QS World University Rankings.
As of January 1st 2019, the Faculty of Religion and Theology of VU Amsterdam has established, in collaboration with development organizations ICCO and ACT Alliance, the Religion and Sustainable Development Chair. Dr. Azza Karam, active for the United Nations (UN), will hold the chair for the next five years.
About Azza Karam
Dr. Azza Karam is senior advisor for cultures at the United Nations Population Fund and is chairwoman of the UN interagency taskforce for cooperation with faith-based organizations. She taught at several universities and has worked for many years at various UN organizations at the intersection of culture, religion and development. Dr. Karam is widely known for her expertise in religion and development. She is delighted with this chair of international importance: ”It is strange that religion hasn’t played a part within these international sustainability goals, especially because more than 80% of the world population is religious. The fact that the VU acknowledges this is a good start, mostly because religion does play a major role when it comes to gender issues, education, peacebuilding, but also poverty and climate change.”
Furthermore, ACRSD participates in the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute and cooperates with Environmental Humanities Center (VU). The Centre has developed several unique activities in the field of religion and sustainable development:
Master and PhD
Within the Master's degree programme Theology & Religious Studies the Centre offers the opportunity of a focus area, in which students pursue their interest in the field of religion, theology and sustainable development.
The Centre also allows students to do a PhD in the field of religion and sustainable development. Supervisors have backgrounds in various religious traditions and expertise in various themes of the SDG-agenda. Interdisciplinary projects are highly encouraged.
The Centre has initiated a series of 12 Round Tables on Religion and Sustainable Development over a period of three years. Two pilot Round Tables have been organised in 2017 and 2018 to test the model and build the network necessary for this project. Partnering with (faith-based) NGOs, religious communities, businesses, governments, and academia, each roundtable focuses on one of the SDGs, or on one of the specific targets within the SDG-agenda.
In preparation, a factsheet is compiled to provide background information for all participants. The factsheets developed will thus together map the available knowledge on the roles of religion in meeting the SDGs. During the roundtables, distinguished speakers from different (partner) organisations and sectors offer short keynote presentations. Participants then explore the best practices and pitfalls and the underlying dilemmas. Based on the roundtable whitepapers are drafted, compiling key insights and policy recommendations.
Fellowship Ethics of the Anthropocene
The Fellowship for Ethics of the Anthropocene is a joint initiative by the VU Faculty of Religion and Theology and the VU Institute for Environmental Studies of the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences. Each year this project alternately appoints a Senior or one or more junior Fellows. The Senior Fellowship is a grant that allows internationally prominent scientists to work at the VU for a period of three to six months. The VU Junior Fellowship consists of a scholarship granted to one or more excellent PhD-students, which allows them to pursue part of their project up to six months at the vibrant academic community of the VU. In order to allow for the engagement with different religious traditions and different schools of thought, fellowships will be granted only for one period and cannot be extended or renewed.