As I compose these thoughts, hundreds of jets are on their way to Davos, Switzerland for the 2019 version of the World Economic Summit. As always, those in attendance will include capitalist barons, politicians, celebrities, researchers, UN and NGO delegations, and past, present and future national leaders.
I write about the summit every year because, well, it is an important opportunity for the moral, anti-poverty, social justice and women’s movement leaders to speak to the elite and weigh in on the side of collective humanity.
But in the last two years there is one group that has been asked to partner with the Davos organizers that will come as a surprise to many – faith leaders from around the world. There are some key and sensible reasons for this (you can link to the entire paper here), but first let’s come to terms with the same realities that the summit organizers already know and which prompted their action.
For those believing that religion is on its way out as the world becomes more secularized, think again. At present, 84% of the global population claim to be religious – followers of one faith or another. It’s a number that that has grown considerably in recent years, primarily in Asia and Africa, and represents a force to be reckoned with. Most of these are young people and they are the driving force behind the increases.
Slightly over 2.3 billion of this number adhere to the Christian faith, while Muslims comprise 1.8 billion. Though the Christian faith continues to grow, the Muslim faith is growing faster and will soon surpass those professing Christianity. Rounding off the top four are Hinduism (1.1 billion) and Buddhism (500 million). For those wondering, the Jewish faith is also growing, reaching 20 million in the next few years.
These are significant numbers and, as the Forum notes, can represent massive forces of good or ill. Nevertheless, their presence and ameliorating influence in regions like developing regions of the world have assisted in the rapid financial and civil-society expansion. And because the majority of religious people are now young, they stand to hold a powerful effect on the Davos deliberations into the future. The Economic Summit recognized as much in the opening paragraphs on its paper on the importance of faith:
“The power of faith to impact global issues and shape global perspectives is a fundamental reason why the Forum is engaging faith leaders and perspectives in our work. As part of our efforts to incorporate an understanding of the impact of faith in our analysis of complex global trends and challenges, the Forum established the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith. Council members comprise the world’s foremost experts to provide thought leadership that furthers the faith agenda within Forum activities.”
The Davos gathering also recognized that faith adherents of all stripes are serving as doctors, nurses, development workers, nutritionists, peace workers, educators, disease and environmental specialists and gender champions on the front lines of some of the modern world’s greatest challenges. And as with any form of belief system (capitalism, racism, democracy, socialism, political persuasions, feminism, sexism, and many others), extremists have the power to undo much of the more positive work being done in the world. That is why the great moderating forces must come together and work for sustainable and equitable progress. It is clear that with 84+% of the global population adhering to one kind of faith or another, religious leaders must combine forces with their peers in commerce, finance, health, gender, climate change, and anti-poverty sectors to bring healing to the world. And, as the Summit noted, many of these change makers in such areas are themselves motivated by personal faith.
Davos is interested in the faith component of world affairs applying itself to these key areas:
- Food security and agriculture
- Economic growth and social inclusion
- Employment, skills and human capital
- Environment and natural resource security
- Future of the global financial system
- Future of the Internet
- Gender parity
- International trade and investment
- Long-term investing, infrastructure and development
Great strides have been made through religious influence in such components, but more is required, especially to overcome religious extremism, and the best way to harness the power of the global faith community is to engage it in the ongoing battle for progress, equality and humanity. As the Summit’s introductory paper concluded:
“The world’s faith communities not only promote values that help address global systemic challenges but also carry out millions of social and economic projects that put to practice those values. Indeed, faith groups not only have massive poverty alleviation projects worldwide, but they also have sophisticated think tanks and advocacy arms that take up causes related in one way or another to each of the global challenges.”
The burgeoning faith numbers on the global stage today must be harnessed, managed and empowered for the good of all. Much of that is already being accomplished by religious adherent and Davos has now recognized its potential for human transformation.