Religious non-government organisations and the united nations.

This paper is ultimately regarding two very important sectors of today’s society. As the United Nations is so influential, and the number of religious non-government organizations are increasing, it deserves some investigation. For this paper i will examine two religious non-government organizations, (RNGO) to assess two aspects of their religiosity. By investigating two RNGO’s the purpose of this paper is to; Firstly address how integral religion or faith is as part of an organization identity and secondly, to what extent do their faith or beliefs drives their actions as an organization. From the beginning of this topic it was noticed that there is little previous information or research done on RNGO. As mentioned, due to the increase in number of RNGO’s, and the long standing debate of religion within the secular sphere, this research can be seen to be imperative for today’s society. Therefore, I am not alone in thinking some serious time and research should be dedicated to trying to gain some essential knowledge on RNGO’s, to further our understanding.
Religion within society has always been a widely debated issue, from early scholars such as Durkheim interests in the functions of society to more known contemporary secularist theories. Throughout history there has been a debate on how much influence religion should play within the state of a society and with today’s modernization and secularist theories one expects religion to be in a decline. This may be true in many western societies, especially with France being a prime example of a complete separation of state and religion. However, within many developing countries religion plays a huge role in all aspects of life. It is difficult to argue that within today’s society religion does not proceed to play a role. “Virtually on a daily basis, the media provide instances demonstrating that the people, institutions, and ideas that make up the religious sphere have a continuing and important relevance to the political realm.[i]” As the rate of RNGO’s being accredited to the UN has increased throughout the years it challenges the idea that the modern world is becoming a secular anti-religious one. As I will show in this paper, researching RNGO’s is a difficult task due to their vast number of diverse types and often the lack of information regarding the interactions between RNGO’s and the UN. However researching RNGO’s is an extremely important issue as they are having a bigger impact on the political world than before, in regards to the “enlightenment” era. Showing how they work on an international level is increasingly crucial as it will also be opening up the closed doors of the UN. Access to all sources and documents from the UN is of course not possible and therefore a basic understanding on how the UN interacts with RNGO’s is also available from a research of this sort. As countries interact more with each other, international organisations such as the UN are becoming more important.

To successfully research how religious RNGO’s are and observe hoe religious their work is within the UN one will have to start by observing the UN’s departments to see how the two organisation’s interact. As the UN deals with an enormous amount of issues this research has been contained to the assessment of projects regarding development issues. I will present the UN’s work towards development and analyse meetings and conferences where the interaction between the two sectors takes place. Most information gathered on the UN and RNGO’s originates from their own primary sources, in forms such as official documents and publications. The chosen two RNGO’s have been selected based on certain criteria, therefore making them comparable to avoid problems such as different types of work and resulting in different or obscured results. Before I disclose who the RNGO’s are it is important to investigate the theoretical problems in defining a RNGO, illustrating the broadness in types of organisations. Obviously, making clear cut distinctions of this kind is difficult. I will draw on five typologies of RNGO’s as to be able to apply one of these typologies to my chosen RNGOs. With all background knowledge attained I will then explore the first of my case studies, The Brahma Kumaris, (BK’s). I will explore their history, their religious views and how they have interacted with the UN. The results will then help assess how religious they are as an organisation and how religiously influenced their work has been with the UN. The second of the two RNGO’s is Christian Aid, (CA). I will present CA using the same assessment techniques as in the case of Brahma Kumaris, although throughout the second case study I will acknowledge their differences. As a limited study, this paper will not give a representational view of all RNGO’s. This study can only help build a data base of RNGO’s and add to a larger scale study, such as the research currently being done at The University of Kent. This paper will highlight how two RNGO’s participate and interact with the UN on issues within the field of development. Moreover, this piece will assess how religious these two RNGO’s are and how this effects their work. This way of assessing RNGO’s has been used by Tasmin Bradley, a scholar from the London Metropolitan University, in her the article, “A call for classification and critical analysis into the work of faith based development organisations”[ii]. Research of this type also brings into question whether RNGO’s play an influential role in the UN decision making process and if this influence should be present. However, these are issues for one to discuss at another time as it is not the main issue in focus.
The United Nations and its main bodies in development.
The United Nations has a colourful history which has departments dedicated to its history, steaming back from the world wars; however I will avoid such an elaborate view and portray only background facts and how the UN is seen in the modern world, working with NGO’s and RNGO’s. The UN can be seen as officially set in place in October 1945 when the charter, which was signed on June 1945, came into action. The UN was set up by Fifty-one starting countries which has led to a hundred and ninety-two member states today[iii]. The UN can be seen to have four general purposes. These are; To keep world peace; Develop friendly relations between all Nations; To help nations to work together to improve the lives of the poor, to conquer hungry, disease and illiteracy; And finally to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations to achieve these goals[iv]. Generally it can be seen to be fighting for a better and more equal life for everyone. The UN is a highly unique international organisation containing many main bodies such as the firstly the General Assembly and secondly the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is these two large bodies which encompasses the interaction with NGO’s and RNGO’s and also these UN bodies which mainly work for the progress towards development.
The two RNGO’s selected both have consultative status with ECOSOC, however their classifications are different. NGO’s and RNGO’s of all kinds may attain one of three types of consultative status which are; general, special and roster. General contains NGO’s which work covers most of the issues on the ECOSOC agenda and subsidiary bodies. They tend to be large in size and have a broad geographical spectrum. Special consultative statuses are given to NGO’s or RNGO’s who are more specialised or only work with a few of the activities covered by ECOSOC. All others that apply and meet requirements are certified roster[v]. ECOSOC contains functional committees which have carried out commissions on varied forms of development from sustainable development to social development.
The General Assembly, the second largest body working with NGO’s and RNGO’s, contains fundamental programmes and funds for development such as The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD and The United Nations Development Programme or UNDP. As the UNDP is a programme dedicated to the issue of development, reviewing their areas of work to compare this to the areas of work done by the RNGO’s is necessary. The “UNDP describes itself as the UN’s global development network…advocating for change, knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life.[vi]”The UNDP has been a significant player on the international level for achieving development and is therefore why i will be viewing the work they do. Today the UNDP has offices in over 150 countries and many of the representatives of the UNDP have been charged with coordinating all of the development work of the UN on a national level[vii], reiterating its importance within the UN on development issues. To strive for development the UNDP works with and in support of the Millennium Development Goals, MDG’s, which was adopted by world leaders in 2000. The eight MDG’s are; to end poverty and hunger, universal education, gender equality, child health, maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability and global partnership. These issues are often the areas of work for NGO’s and RNGO’s. These 8 MDG’s which, if addressed, will cut poverty by half in 2015 and increase development, is therefore a fundamental issue within the UN. The MDGs are a common goal to an end which all countries, people and organisations will benefit from.
From previous studies there has been some correlations drawn between the values held by RNGO’s and the values of the MDG’s, concluding that these similar values is reason why RNGO’s work with the UN. However as Joe Devine and Se?verine Deneulin show in their paper, “Negotiating religion in everyday life; A critical exploration of the relationships between religion, choices and behaviour”, there can be no clear conclusion regarding the issue of values, religion and behaviour. However, it is not uncommon for scholars to believe that religion reflects the views and norms within a society. Hence, an explanation as to why religious groups are integral in politics and should have access to political issues. The success of these MDG’s can be seen as essential to the development process by the UNDP’s work and to many RNGO’s, which are involved with them. The chosen two RNGO’s are no exception to the masses of NGO’s working within development and towards the MDG’s. As well as the MDG’s the UNDP highlights five areas of their work, all aiming towards future development and the achievement of the MDG’s. These areas are; Democratic governance, Poverty reduction, Crisis prevention and Recovery, Environment and energy and HIV/AIDS. One will clearly be able to see similar work done by the RNGO and that of the UNDP.
Problems defining and classifying an RNGO
The term NGO in itself a complex definition thus leaving an even bigger problem for the definition of a RNGO. The term NGO is used over any other term in this, and other papers, as this is the terminology used in article 71 of the UN charter[viii], however the definition of an NGO seems to be varied. There can be many characteristics of an NGO such as being for non profit, performing humanitarian functions, providing a voice between citizens and the state and monitoring policy. However, not all NGO’s do all of these therefore just being/exercising one of these criterion would possibly be enough to label them an NGO. One of the reasons which makes it hard to define NGO’s is that there are other terms being used referring to the same types of organisations. Many people have tried to define NGO’s in terms of being sovereign bound or sovereign free, such as James Rosenau, however this type of definition has been highly scrutinised. Some NGO’s have close contacts and relationships with national and international governments and work with them or alongside them, but this does not tell as to whether they have any kind of sovereignty or even any influential power at all.
Julia Berger, as well as many other scholars point out the when making distinctions between certain groups such as NGO’s, RNGO’s were in the past highly ignored. This may be due to lack of knowledge of what actually constitutes an NGO, let alone a religious one. “Both the terms “NGO” and “religious” lend themselves to just as much conceptual ambiguity and, as such, need to be defined at the outset.[ix]” This is why, when observing the two NGO’s we will see them call themselves differently. In some cases RNGO’s and in other cases Spiritual NGO’s or Faith based NGO’s. However, all leave us with the same ambiguity. Either way, many academics believe RNGO’s should be viewed as a “new breed of religious actors shaping global policy”[x]. When stating “religious actors shaping global policy” it begs the question as to whether or not all societies would approve of it, or if given a choice would opt for a separation between religion and politics. However, contrasting to secularisation arguments, the growth of RNGO’s does challenge views about religion in society. Also many people forget about the vast amounts of NGO’s which are religiously based and working alongside governments. In many western societies today religious groups of all kinds can be and have been portrayed unkindly by the world presses. Some scholars such as Berger argue that some NGO’s are reluctant to classify themselves as religious, which causes problems when trying to analysis them. One can imagine why they may be reluctant to call themselves religious as they may not want to restrict their members or opportunities to work, as many RNGO’s do not wish to spread their religion or teaching in a missionary manner, rather they want to act in a humanitarian approach regardless of personal religion.
Some RNGO’s have been described as formal organisations whose identities and missions are self-consciously derived from the teachings of one or more religious/spiritual tradition”[xi]. This seems a logical description of a RNGO however this is without considering the problems mentioned before when defining words such as religion. As this incorporates such terms as religious, spiritual and faith we appear to have some flexibility in which NGO’s we could include. However how strong do these foundations of religious belief have to beMany would argue that NGO’s are morally guided in some sense and that RNGO’s should be religiously guided, but to what extent do social norms which influence NGO’s contain their foundations in religious contextMany NGO’s represent their local societal norms which can also be seen as a reflection of historical religious beliefs. Some RNGO’s were founded on religious belief however they do not participate in practising religion today. Should these NGO’s be classified as a RNGO or just an NGO At the World conference on religion and peace it was stated that religious communities are without question the largest and best organised civil institutions in the world. Bridging a divide of race, class and nationality, they are equipped to meet challenges regarding conflict and peace.[xii] Illustrating that although their definition cannot be set in stone RNGO’s have been seen as useful to the domain of politics. The two chosen RNGO’s adhere to the definition above for RNGO’s, “A formal organisation whose identity and mission are self-consciously derived from the teachings of one or more religious/spiritual tradition”, however the criteria for choosing the RNGO’s are as follows; Both organisations must be international, having worked on projects around the world; Both must have consultative status from the UN; Both must be pursuing work regarding development issues, such as those outlined in the MDG’s and UNDP; And finally both must have been created by or founded on a religious or spiritual leader, text or institution. Both the BK’s and CA fit within this criteria.
As well as using this Criteria to select the RNGO’s I will also highlight the different typologies of RNGO’s as given by Clarke as he cites the typologies given in a study held by Green and Sherman.[xiii] Here Clarke distinguishes between five types of RNGO’s, or as he refers to them, Faith based NGO’s, FBNGO’s. These are; 1) Faith based representative organisations or apex body, 2) faith based charitable or development organisation. 3) Faith based radical, illegal or terrorist organisation, 4) faith based missionary organisations and finally 5) faith based socio-political organisations[xiv]. The BK’s and CA could be easily placed within the second of these catergories however they may also not look unfamiliar within the first and fifth catergories. Neither RNGO holds extremist views or are illegal thus ruling out catergory three and also both RNGO clearly state on their website that they work with all religions races and faiths and therefore hint that they are not to evangalise. However, some unofficial sources have claimed many controversial points about the BK’s, however these claims are unsupported. Classification number five is a difficult classification to apply. In some ways they are socio-political as they are a member of the UN, a legal body which is able to consult with the international political community and political aims may vary between the two RNGO’s. A way to explore these classifications further is to as mentioned before; First assess how integral faith is to the organisations identity and secondly, to assess how much their faith drives them to act as an organisation.
The Brahma Kumaris history and religious foundations.
The Brahma Kumaris call themselves a spiritual group which belongs to the wider religion of Hinduism. Brahma Kumari literally means daughters of Brahma. Brahma is most often seen as being the supreme overall god within Hinduism, the creator, and is usually bracketed to contain Shiva, Vishnu and the Great Goddess, however certain sects emphasise certain Gods. The BK’s were previously known as the OM Mandali group, OM being the sacred word in Hinduism, however the group was renamed in the sixties as The Brahma Kumaris, or in the official Hindi name as “Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya”, meaning the Brahma Kumairs world spiritual university[xv]. The founding of the Bks can be traced back to a man named Dada Lekhraj when he experienced visions in 1936. Lekhraj Kripalani was previously a follower of the Vallabacharya sect of Hinduism until he founded the BK’s. The official website of the Brahma Kumaris clearly express that they are a spiritual group and explain that due to Dada Lekhraj’s religious experience the group was founded. This organisation can clearly be seen to be befitting to our definition of RNGO as it was based on, and still practises, religious belief. The BK’s believe these visions gave him “an insight into the innate qualities of the human souls”[xvi]. It is said that his first vision included that of Vishnu and in other visions he saw nothing but devastation and suffering. These visions were so strong and impelling that Dada Lekhraj, a previous jewellery business man, packed up his belongings and devoted himself to understanding and knowledge.
Many who view the BK’s from the outside could get the appearance that it is a woman’s organisation, due to the fact that the majority, if not all of the spiritual leaders are women. However, this does not apply to its individual members which contains many males. In the early years the BK’s were seen as revolutionary or disruptive to the Hindu society because of this female orientated belief. In Hinduism as in many other religions, a woman’s “duty” or “dharma” is traditionally seen to be the family, however the women of the BKs were being invited to stay and live a celibate life. This obviously caused societal issues at that time. Dada Lekhraj formed a managing committee constituting of eight women in 1937 and a year later he gave all his property and assets to this committee which they had set up. Dada Lekhraj is also said to have foresaw that core values based on traditionally feminine qualities – patience, tolerance, sacrifice, kindness and love – would increasingly become the foundation of progress in personal growth, human relations, and the development of a caring community.[xvii] Many forms of Hinduism contain a strong female aspect due to the MahaDevi aspect of the religion. This is the Hindu name for the Great Goddess, which takes many forms. Not only does the Mahadevi correspond with Dada Lekhraj ideas of feminine quality, i.e. – patience, tolerance, sacrifice, kindness and love – but she also embodies great evil such as the Goddess Kali. Kali, a form of the Great Goddess can be seen as the most devilish, gruesome, evil God within Hinduism, although in-depth knowledge about which deities the BK’s worship is not openly mentioned by them on their websites. The main women, which appears to have direct interaction with the communities and the UN, is Dadi Janki. She joined as a founding member in 1937 and has devoted her life to the organisation. She was the first person of the BK’s to set up a centre outside of India, turning the organisation into a more international organisation. In 1974 that new centre was created here in the UK. The figure head of the BK’s is Dadi Janki as it is her who attends most meetings and presents most statements to the UN.
As the BK’s state on their official website, their main objective as an organisation is to help achieve personal development. “To re-discover and strengthen inherent worth by encouraging spiritual awakening.”[xviii] One can see that the BK’s openly uncover the personal religious side of the organisation, in no way trying to disguise the group’s religious beliefs. One interpretation of this personal spiritual awakening is that the personal reflects nature or the outside world and vice versa. This would not be uncommon in forms of Hinduism, were the body itself can be seen to represent many objects and forms, even the outside world. This is why meditation is popular within Hindu countries as it can bind the mind, body and the world together. Meditation is also of great importance to the BK’s who openly disclose their practice of Raja Yoga. Personal development and international development may just be an extension of one and other. “An understanding of the spiritual human context is offered to help understanding on contemporary issues.”[xix] We can see that they believe personal development to have an effect on international/national development with such statements as “The commitment to self transformation will create peace and a better world for everyone”.[xx]
They achieve their aims by holding lectures and courses, outreach programmes and international networks. On a local level they use outreach programmes to help their own community. These are imperative to improve the quality of life for the people which live among them. These programmes can impact people’s lives drastically as they work with people in hospitals, prisons, interfaith groups or even a local family who just needs support to feed their children. These outreach programmes are also to support the aims of the UN, even if they are not officially affiliated with each other. They hold retreat courses where people can visit a relaxing environment to try and get back in touch with oneself. People can explore Raja meditation and experience spiritual values in a daily sense. It is meditation which connects the inner self to the outside world,[xxi] and this appears to be their core religious belief. For the BK’s, as an individual group, their religious beliefs are integral to who they are as an organisation, their identity as a group. However is this reflected in the work they do with regards to the UN. I will follow this by showing which conferences they attended and how they participated within them. For most, if not all of the issues raised, their focus is on the spiritual learning process and how this is vital for individual development and for world development[xxii].
Brahma Kumaris participation with the United Nations.
The BK’s and UN have been working together since 1980’s when the BK’s were affiliated with the department of public information or DPI. However this is not the same as consultative status which was granted in 1998 with the ECOSOC and UNICEF, (United Nations international children’s emergency fund)[xxiii]. Although they were not granted consultative status until 1998 they have been active with the UN since the 80’s. A general consultative status from the UN confirms that this NGO in particular, the BK’s, are interested in most of the activities at the UN. The BK’s clearly promote on their website the Millennium Development Goals, MDG’s, set out by the UN. The idea behind of the MDG’s is to provide a framework for all countries to reach a common end, human development[xxiv] and this may be as to why so many NGO’s and RNGO’s are participating in the MDG’s, as they see it as a moral duty. The BK’s can be seen through its outreach programmes to support all of the MDG’s.
The BKs attended the 57th NGO/DPI annual conference on September 2004, held in New York. Here they wrote a paper with the purpose of showing how spiritual civil societies such as themselves could help advance the MDG’s. Notice on this paper they have named themselves a spiritual civil society and not a RNGO, however I am using the most common term used by the UN. As far as finding a key distinction between spiritual and religious one would have to spark a whole new debate which could be as long as this paper itself. At this conference in 2004 the BK’s pointed out that such problems such as terrorism, war, man-made and natural disasters where holding back the achievement of the MDG’s. The main point emphasised here by the BK’s was that the world needs a higher level of understanding, one which lies in understanding the spiritual being, the spiritual self. This is the key topic for discussion regarding all issues within development. It is something which can be seen to derive directly from the BK’s faith.
When discussing development works in terms of the environment one can see the BK’s playing an extremely active role. In 2009 the BK’s attended the Copenhagen Conference on climate change. Here they submitted a statement to the UN. From the beginning of this statement the BK’s show that their purpose is ultimately a spiritual/religious one. The BK’s “contributes to the UN community by reframing issues, such as climate change, in spiritual terms, by highlighting the inner dimension of the decisions facing the UN member states.[xxv]” Again, here there can be seen to be a direct impact from their religious beliefs of a personal spiritual development impacting their work at the UN. Sister Jayanti expressed how inner thoughts and consciousness can impact the world. This type of interaction, a religiously based active interaction, is seen throughout the BK’s work, being emphasised in all statements. At the Copenhagen summit the BK’s also held a side show which would be interacting with the individual members of the UN inside the conference.
In 2000 the BK’s attended the general assembly world summit for social development and beyond. Here their interaction was again very religiously active. The BK’s were also at the original summit for social develop, held in Copenhagen in 1995. At the recent 2000 summit the BK’s participated in many forms. “The BKWSU’s contribution at the Forum consisted of a series of panel discussions, an exhibition, a stand promoting Manifesto 2000 as part of the International Year for the Culture of Peace Project, and a lunch-time meditation room, under the overall title: “The Human Aspects of Social Integration”.[xxvi]” As we can see they are actively involved in all parts of the summit and even display their religion through events such as the meditation room. Bringing a direct line between their work as a RNGO and their religious practices. They submitted a paper to the UN titled “Searching for the human face of social integration”[xxvii]. This paper covers many issues of development regarding education, good governance and the family. However again, still claiming the spiritual understanding is key in changing the world for the better.
As the BK’s are also a member of the value caucus, an open forum for all affiliated organisations where they are able to discuss values in context of the UN. They started to review concepts such as love, tolerance, peace etc. All of these qualities match the previously mentioned qualities which the BK’s were foundered on. The BK’s write on their official UN blog, they felt as though people wanted to attain these values and valued spirituality, not as though they were having to convince people the importance of spirituality. Here we find that the BKs believe that they are making a difference, influencing the individual people who attend these conferences, albeit individual UN workers. This in some ways would also have an effect on the UN process as a whole, as the BK’s show, personal beliefs can help to shape the world, thus having better beliefs and values the individuals will work together to create a better world.
An issue which I believe to be on a high agenda for the UN is poverty eradication. This issue can be seen in the MDG’s and in the UNDP’s own areas of interest and action. In 1996, the international year of poverty eradication, the BK’s submitted another statement to the UN, “A better quality of life for all people”. In this paper they give direct attention to governments and show how NGO’s and the governments will need to work together to get results. “The programme of action mainly concerns governments. However, NGOs can collaborate with governments and give invaluable assistance in keeping with their particular specialties towards the success of their programmes.”[xxviii]They cover many intelligent points in which all types of NGO’s can assist in. However this paper is no exception for the BK’s as it again highlights the ongoing theme of personal/ spiritual development. They say the poverty is not only a material concept. Poverty can become entrenched in our own attitudes[xxix]. They conclude this paper with a part titled the spiritual response to poverty. This shows that they do not leave their religious beliefs out of any issue. This is most probably due to that they believe their beliefs to be useful on all levels, as they have demonstrated.
A large development summit was pursued on 2002, “The World Summit on Sustainable Development”, also known as WSSD, held in Johannesburg, South Africa. This was a highly published summit where the BK’s also attracted a lot of media attention. Here the BK’s showed vast ways of participating within the summit from holding workshops and meditation centres to having interactive games and submitting statements. The theme or emphasise of the BK’s was again on how the inner state of humans can reflect the outer world, naming their stalls “The Inner state and Outer state of Sustainable Development”.[xxx] They claim the essence of their message was given in three words, which were later developed into workshops. These were; Choice, Care and Cooperation. The three workshops were named “Choice with education, care with Ubuntu and cooperation with renewable energy.”[xxxi] Ubuntu is an African code of ethics or a philosophy regarding the relations between people, embracing hospitality, generosity, respect for your elders, youths and women and a sense of belonging to a community.[xxxii]Ubuntu can be seen as a similar concept to what the BK’s are suggesting, although obviously having differences and different methods of achieving. However, we can see here, that the BK’s in Africa are immersing themselves in the local culture and embraces other religious idea’s, as Ubuntu is also preached by the archbishop Desomond tutu[xxxiii]. This reinforces the idea that the BK’s are not a faith based missionary group as they are engaging in other ideas, which are not specifically Hindu.
In 2010 they attended the informal interactive hearings of the General Assembly for NGO’s, CSO’s and the private sector. The presentations and dialogues from these hearings will be issued as an Assembly document, constituting a formal input into the political process leading to the Summit. Therefore, in examples such as this, the bks can be seen to have a real input into cases and possible to make an influence on decision making within the UN. On the BK’s UN official blog they have commented about the lack of commitment seen by member states at this meeting, as the representative of the BK’s from New York writes that they counted “maybe 20 seats taken out of a great 192 countries[xxxiv].” Here they appear to be critical of the member states of the UN, something which is rarely seen elsewhere within the BK organisation, although useful to show that they will give critical feedback when felt necessary. Also, in 2010 the BK’s were still active attending the 2009/10 conferences on climate change. For both of these conferences titled “consciousness and climate change” the BK’s submitted statements to the UN. As further research shows a RNGO submitting papers and statements to the UN can be seen as an active commitment taken seriously. All documents given to the UN need to be organised before hand and also notifying UN members if you want to vocalise your opinion.
From all of these conferences and statements given by the BK’s it can be shown that the BKs and the UN have a healthy interactive relationship. The attitude from the BK’s towards to UN and vice versa appears to be that of a good one. The BK’s seem to truly believe in what the UN does and as shown above, can get critical of the UN when they are seen to be “unfocused”. This is the only negative attitude from the BK’s which I have come across and as we will see, this differs greatly between the two RNGO’s. The work that the BKs do at the UN coincides with their mission statement at the UN. Their participation is based on “unifying, universal, spiritual principles, as a platform for building a better future… providing spiritual solutions to the world’s problems.”[xxxv]This appears to be an accurate description of what the BKs aim to do and is what they are calling for in their statements. The BKs also meet their aims and objectives which have been set out by the official website and the BK’s work as a spiritual University. They claim to “help individuals re-discover and strengthen their inherent worth by encouraging and facilitating a process of spiritual awakening. This leads to an awareness of the importance of thoughts and feelings as the seeds of actions. The development of virtues and values-based attitudes creates a practical spirituality which enhances personal effectiveness in[xxxvi] a community”. One cannot say that the BK’s spiritually awaken people at the conferences that they attend, however they do emphasis an importance on thoughts and feelings. This is difficult to highlight their effectiveness in influencing UN decisions as much of the BK’s statements and work are all extremely personal. How much can the UN impact society on a personal levelTrying to change people’s perceptions and views.
Can the BK’s statements and religious values be taken and applied to a contemporary issue or is it something which we all, personally need to work on. “An understanding of the spiritual context of human existence is offered, helping to make sense of contemporary issues.”[xxxvii] Here they do not claim to have any direct affect on these issues but only help to understand them. Some of the work the BK’s do have a great deal of impact on society and if we were assessing their own success rate one could record a huge successful impact, however this is not the purpose of this paper. Their outreach programs such as the development of a community cooking systems can be seen to have a direct impact. On this occasion they provided various cookers to provide 40,000 meals a day, something which has helped the whole community, however these private projects are not usually officially associated with the UN. Although they do work towards similar ends to the UN, for example the MDG’s.
Firstly, the religious/spiritual essence one finds in the BK’s documents and statements are rife. It appears to be crucial to who they are as an organisation. Their interaction all highlights the spiritual, meditative influence of Hinduism. The BK’s, as any religious group, are sometimes difficult to contact directly and certain things are undisclosed to non members, one of these being that they are a millenarian group[xxxviii]. Knowing this, one could therefore suggest that maybe they are a missionary organisation, trying to gain members to save them. There are many unofficial web pages dedicated to warn people about the BK’s, therefore, not everyone has had a pleasent experience and some even go as far as to say it is a cult. However, these are included here as their reliablilty is at question. Secondly, the religious beliefs of the BK’s definitely drives and in some sense defines the work in which they do. The BK’s focus on personal development can be seen to trace back to the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, this is where Raja Yoga is found. (Patanjali Brahma Kumaris has also been used as their full name in certain areas.) The practice of yoga, within Hinduism, is outlined under eight headings; “abstentions, obligations, postures, breathe control, abstractions, concentrations, meditation and absorption.[xxxix]” If everyone practices these the world, in the BK’s eyes, would be a better place. People understanding that abstaining from violence and inequality would lead to a better world.
This yoga is meant to be followed only by a guru or teacher as it is advanced however within the BK’s work we can see them passing along information in a more accessible way to link with contemporary issues. Yoga, in Hinduism helps one to concentrate the mind and to avoid such afflictions such as egoism, dislike, desire and attachment. These cultivate into selfish actions which, in turn, causes problems in the world such as capitalist greed. We can clearly see from the examples of conferences attended and types of participation that the BK’s are definitely a RNGO, with religion being vital to their identity. Also that it is their faith which drives their actions within the UN, their statements and work with the UN it is influenced by their faith. But again, this only influences the UN so far, as mentioned before “Hinduism, Hindu worship, is an individual experience.[xl]”Therefore their influence may be restricted.
Christian Aids history and religious practice.
I will now move on to the second of the two RNGO, Christian aid. Christian aid, CA, is seen by the UN as an NGO and has had ECOSOC special consultative status since 1998. Here we notice a difference between the types of consultative status given to each NGO. CA has attained a special consultative status with the UN meaning they are only concerned with a few areas of activity. However it is the CA foundations and historical context which is extremely important for it being defined as a RNGO. CA was set up the 1940’s after World War One. On their official website they clearly state that they were founded by English and Irish churches, however they do not disclose as to which denomination they belong to. Other resources have claimed them to be protestant however this is not emphasised by CA themselves. What they do clearly state is that “they were not to evangelise, but to alleviate suffering, no matter of their faith.[xli]” They clearly highlight that they are definitely not a faith based missionary organisation, and as we continue this becomes clearer. CA is an interesting NGO to study as its status of being religious can be bought into question. It was obviously set up by religious institutions and even though they may not want to “evangelise”, their foundations were predominately religious. In the 1950s they say that the appointment of the new CA president, Janet Lacey, caused different opinions between the clergy, claiming her views were too radical, although there was no mention as to whether these views were religiously based or not.
There is a lack of readily available information about their religious beliefs and background, unlike the BK’s. However, throughout the years of CA they still remained to have men of the clergy working in high positions within the organisation. If one is to glimpse at the CA membership then one would find the majority of members are also members of the Church, however it is important to say here that not all members, directors or board members admit to or publish their religious beliefs. Within the 1980’s we can still witness the clergy involved in the organisation however there is little evidence of the organisation being actively religious or practising religion. However one can still find religious discussions about religious values being held within the organisation and some religious churches actively participate in projects with CA, although, like the BK’s outreach programmes, not all of these are officially affiliated with the UN.
From the official webpage, CA clearly state that, “We are not afraid to confront governments and challenge the rules of the day that said charities should be apolitical.[xlii]” This highlights that CA is all about influencing decisions with regards to their specific areas of work. Advocating is not uncommon within the protestant faith as the protestant faith encouraged many people to read and explore different interpretations of the bible. Although they make claims about working closely with the governments they do not mention the UN on their official webpage. The information regarding their history goes into the millennium without even briefly mentioning their newly attained status with the UN in 1998. However one can find many papers and reports where CA discuss the actions of the UN, usually drawing on a positive or negative outcome. They openly voice their opinions on governments and the UN’s actions and decision. This is an extremely different approach than that of the Bks. The relationship between the UN and CA appears to be a more reserved one, which less ‘face to face’ interaction. Even on official UN websites, such as the Civil Society Network, which contains most information on all NGO’s, contained little details of interaction as they lack documents such as statements made or active participation.
“Christian Aid has a vision – an end to poverty – and we believe that visions can become a reality.”[xliii] This is as to why they have different consultative status, as CA is specifically working towards ending poverty. Although this may be true the CA website contains many more issues such as gender equality, water aid and HIV and AIDS for example. These are a major part of development as to end poverty one needs to address issues such as education, the environment, gender equality. These are all issues concerned with development. CA set down some essential values which are; “to expose the scandal of poverty, to help in practical ways to root it out from the world, to challenge and change structures and systems that favour the rich and powerful over the poor and marginalised.”[xliv] In their essential values they claim to help in practical ways to root out poverty. This may be true in the sense that they are very active in many parts of the world with a variety of partners however most of this practical work is done alone as an organisation or with partners, all which are separate from the UN.
Although we can find some religious views held by the CA the extent of their religiosity is not certain or explicitly made clear. This could illustrate an example of an organisation whose identity is less attached to faith. This may appear to be a controversial statement as the name of the organisation is Christian Aid, however I believe CA to be less in touch with its religious side and possibly has a more humanistic approach. As Berger mentions, some RNGO may not want to attach themselves to religion[xlv]. This may be due to the fact CA works with many partners who share similar values although the partners are not all religiously based. It begs the question put across before of how much is CA simply reflecting social norms of a predominately Christian based society. Or, the possibility arises that they do not want to associate themselves drastically to the church. CA may have been founded by religious institutes however how religious have they continued to be is a difficult assessment. The lack of directly religious statements, mission or quotes from scripture could be due to, as many scholars have written about, the organisation not wanting to restrict itself. CA is a western based organisation and western states are more secular. This could have an impact on CA and may be why they a reluctant to display their religious beliefs. The lack of religious reference can show that CA may not be integrally attached to its religious identity. This mentioned, there are still a few publications found on the official CA site with regards to issues of theology and their beliefs. And although they may not publicise their organisation as religious, easily, when deep research is done into their publications one can see that is in fact, an important reason for their work.
Reverent Michael Taylor, the director of CA at the time, was working on renewing CA’s aims with the more modern times. However this was done by “drawing on liberation and other theology”.[xlvi] Liberation theory has been seen as a political and religious movement as it’s an interpretation of the bible and the teachings of Jesus in terms of liberation from unjust economic and political societies. Liberation theology is “an interpretation of Christian faith out of the experience of the poor. It is an attempt to read the Bible and key Christian doctrines with the eyes of the poor.[xlvii]” This, as we have seen, is what CA are advocating for. Although it appears different in religious values to the BK’s, CA are still drawing their actions from what they believe. Some publications such as “Theology and international development[xlviii]” highlight how this is done. This paper, written by Dr Paula Clifford, the head of theology at CA, shows how CA’s theology is interchangeable, same as international development. She expresses that a final more concrete paper will follow this between 2010 and 2012 and unfortunately it’s not available yet. In this paper CA say “The United Nations universal declaration of Human rights (1948) sets out values which are essentially religious[xlix].” This is where again a clear distinction between social norms and religion would be useful however the two concepts inevitably overlap. I would argue that the UN did not intend to incorporate any religious beliefs into the charter as this may be discriminatory to other religions. However, this is only a personal opinion.
The main emphasise within the theology paper is that of helping people. Giving reference to a fourteenth century theologian, William of Ockham, they believe that promoting the idea that people possess a natural right and emphasising the dignity of human beings as being created in the image of God. An example of this logic is “If you are sick, because I see in you the image of God it is my duty to care for you or ensure that you receive treatment.[l]” Everyone has the right to be treated and cared for, everyone has the most simple basic human rights. This is the main CA belief which can be seen to directly impact the work they do as an organisation. The organisation is essentially to help the poor and this is what drives them. However, religiously it appears on a different scale than the BK’s. A person does not necessarily have to believe in God to share a belief in their work. One might share exactly the same values just without the aspect of a Divine Grace.
CA, like all Christian religions draw upon the Ten Commandments as their basic Christian principles. Not only do CA emphasise their belief of human natural rights they also see this reflecting communities. The Ten Commandments are divided by CA showing that the bulk of the commandments deal with issues of the community. The first of the three deals with Gods demands which directly involve him. The fourth and fifth commandments deal with Gods institutions, the Sabbath and the family. Finally the remaining five deal with issues in the community[li][lii]. This again reflects the work which they do with all types of communities around the world. As CA are such a large organisation they have many partners situated around the world, thus helping them to move around the world helping others. However, this is separate to the UN interaction, although aiming for similar results. Just some of these partners are “The Middle East Council of Churches and the Christian commission for Development, Bangladesh. Other Faith Based Organisations such as Sanayee Development foundations in Afghanistan. Or secular institutions such as the Institute for Social Development in Sri Lanka[liii].” Again, they do not openly publise all of their partners and this information was gathered directly from an employee of CA who kindly sent me some resources. From this one can see their wide range of partners, all of which are not religious.
The language within the paper of “theology and international development” may be viewed as not being as colourful as the BK’s statements however they draw upon similar concepts. They refer back to Amartya Sen, an Indian economist who was the 1998 Nobel Prize for Economic Science.[liv] He makes claims such as “Absolute poverty is seen as having both material and social dimensions and, arguably, a spiritual dimension as well.[lv]” The paper on theology contains a sub chapter titled economically speaking which drew upon the way in which we classify the poor, in terms of something in which they don’t have, money. CA argued against this position of classifying poverty and can see that CA are also promoting a “spiritual approach” to the idea of development and poverty, albeit less intensely expressed. This is an un-doubtable reason as to why they do the work in the ways which they do. Not only do CA talk about theological issues, they also participate in prayers, which is a typical Christian practice. On their website they have prayers which are for certain issues, such as poverty. One can see here that CA are being active within their religious views and praying to a God to help them complete their aims and missions. The more one researches the more religious CA appear to become. They do not openly publicise themselves as religious.
Christians aids work with the UN
CA’s work with the UN is fairly new and, although CA joined at the same time as the BK’s in 1998, their participation has only been actively recorded since 2002[lvi]. Prior documents regarding participation of any kind is not acknowledged by the Civil Society Network, CSO, which is the main official website for information about NGO’s and the UN. The UN also does not have any joint pages with CA unlike standing for “the Brahma Kumaris at the United Nations”. CA refers to little, if any of the UN meetings they have attended with the UN. Also the CSO Network website merely lists a few of the meetings that they attended. They do not contain any papers or statements which have been submitted by CA to the meetings. This makes assessing how CA participates and interacts with the UN difficult however there is evidence of some interaction which we can refer back to.
As with the BK’s, CA is concerned with the MDG’s. A large part of CA’s work is that of gender equality. Not only does CA deal with poverty reduction as their main aim, they have also been known to deal with gender equality. This brings into call as to whether the special consultative status is too harsh and whether CA, given the chance, could effectively participate in a number of the UN activities. CA are a very successful organisation and have large societal impact with events such as Christian Aid week, in the UK. In the years 2003/04 and 2007 CA attended the 47th/48th and 51st session of commission on the status of women.[lvii]From viewing a guideline NGO participation information memo for the 47th commission, one can see that statements given by NGO’s need to be planned well in advance. “NGO representatives wishing to speak in the general debate should notify Ms. Tsu-Wei Chang well in advance…. NGO representatives are therefore encouraged to prepare joint statements whenever possible.[lviii]” This is true for all NGO’s that attend however as we saw before, the BK’s make many statements and therefore show a great sign of commitment. As CA are involved with a large number of partners it possible that other organisations speak on behalf of them and therefore this may be as to why we don’t have records of them making statements specifically at the UN meetings, however this is only speculation. The lack of information from these commission is however not surprising. The UN claims over 900 NGO’s participated in the commission however only a total of 16 regional and international NGO’s made any sort of oral presentations.[lix]
Although the UN has not listed CA as attending the MDG summit in 2010, the CA website claims that a representative from CA attended. Not only had CA attended but the outcome of the summit for CA has been seen as a success. From one of the articles on CA’s webpage which discuss decisions of the UN, we see that the CA representative believes that CA’s mission or goal has finally been accepted by the UN and governments. “Governments taking Christian Aid’s proposals seriously. the head of the OECD, (Organisation for economic co-operation and development), said this: ‘Country by Country reporting and Automatic Information Exchange are anathema to those wishing to avoid or evade tax and we should pursue them[lx]”. CA said this in response to this apparent success “It is also a clear signal that Christian Aid and our partners have been successful in putting this issue firmly on the agenda of those in power.[lxi]” CA see this as a success as in 2008 as they published “tax and death” which highlighted the importance of tax money in relation to the MDG’s. Within this report CA do not mention anything surrounding their religious beliefs. One just has to remember their Christian beliefs set down in their theology paper.
The reports which CA have given regarding the MDGs are very technical and economic. If one was read the CA report without any knowledge of their religious foundations it would be difficult to relate it to any religion. The CA representative may have attended the MDG summit however there is no evidence of papers being submitted to the UN or any statements made to the UN to clearly show them what CA call for. Although CA publish many documents regarding development they do not mention if these are submitted to the UN for discussion or appraisal therefore one cannot assume that they made any impact on this summit at all, thus causing more difficulties in assessment. CA mention the purpose of their occasional papers (OP’s), “OPs are addressed to an audience including policy-makers, academics, the media, other non-governmental organisations and the general public”, however this doesn’t clarify the problem sufficiently. If these documents had been submitted to the UN then it is likely that they have taken into account CAs views and CA has had some part to play in influencing decision making. However, even if CA do not submit papers or documents to the UN many other organisations may do on their behalf. AS they have many partners, some of which may be an NGO or RNGO in the UN can speak on their behalf. Thus it does not render CA as “uncommitted” as once thought.
With regards to the environment and development CA attended the same Climate change summit in Copenhagen as the BK’s. On the CA website they display a lot of preparation done for this specific summit. Although environment development has not been overtly promoted on their website one can still see the significance it plays in eradicating poverty. Unlike other participation seen by CA, here they are seen being actively involved. For two years prior the Copenhagen summit CA campaigned to raise funds. “In the two years leading up to this, we ran our ‘Countdown to Copenhagen’ campaign. The resources committed to this campaign were significant and it involved a substantial level of joint working with other agencies.”[lxii] Again, we hear CA working with other partners to work collectively to achieve success. At the Copenhagen summit the UN have listed CA as being one of the NGO’s which participated with a side event. The exact same interaction that the BK’s themselves participated in. A side event which took show was CA declaring it was a crime to be leaving countries such as Africa to defend for themselves, when they contributed nothing in comparison to the west on climate change.[lxiii] Also, CA had gained a lot of media attention for protesting and marching through the Cities of Denmark. This is an extremely different approach than taken by the BK’s. CA appear to focus its attention on criticising the UN, maybe not in a negative sense, more in a way to motivate or to highlight other concerns. Either way, they did it with impact at the Copenhagen summit.
However, again, at this particular summit the CA were reluctant to submit papers or give speeches. Again there is no evidence of CA making any type of formal statement. However this was not the only interaction CA appeared to have at this conference. They also used this time to publicize themselves and the causes of CA. They held a fundraiser where cyclist cycled from Stansted UK, to Copenhagen, Denmark. Here they raised, “40,000 pounds for Christian Aid”[lxiv]. The wording here is very specific that the raised money for their own organisation. This is something which has gone unseen when viewing the BK’s. Altthough, obviously, fundraising takes place in all RNGO’s the BK’s have not been seen to publise its own group, without relation to the UN. If anything CA are very open in their missions and aims. One can see CA working with the UN to reach its goals however I feel the interaction between CA and the UN to be not as strong as the relationship between the BK’s and the UN. It appears as the BK’s take more of a commitment to the UNs work and role.
The first major summit attended by CA was that of the world summit for sustainable development, WSSD in 2002. Also attended by the Bks, CA attended the two preparations for the summit held between January and April 2002, with the summit taking place between August and September 2002. The UN clearly states that previous summits have been largely unsuccessful, “that progress in implementing sustainable development has been extremely disappointing since the 1992 Earth Summit, with poverty deepening and environmental degradation worsening.[lxv]” This is echoed in statements given by CA, after the WSSD. Their statement “forgotten farmers at the WSSD” highlights their concerns with the UN. “The criticism from those of us who are pressing for truly sustainable development – both in terms of the environment and of social justice or equity – must be that the WSSD failed to achieve what was needed.[lxvi]” Within this review of the WSSD, CA delve into their duties at the summit, which “was to lobby on agriculture issues, including agricultural trade, food security and the needs of small farmers in developing countries, armed with our recent report[lxvii]” However again CA appear critical of the UN and of the summit arguing that “It was therefore frustrating to find that, other than on the issue of subsidies, there was little argument about agriculture and the talks move swiftly on to other topics…. issue were therefore effectively blocked.[lxviii]” This shows a negative attitude from CA towards the UN. CA does not appear to agree with their actions and procedures taken by the UN. It also shows that CA, although they do attend meetings with the UN, they tend to voice their opinions afterwards or publicly elsewhere. Within this paper not only does CA take a negative stance against the work of the UN but also at other government agencies such as DIFD, explaining that their views are contradictory. This emphasises their earlier statements about them trying to bring about change within governments. Ultimately it holds a negative view of the UN’s and other governments work towards sustainable development.
From using these conferences as examples of interaction, one can see that it is extremely different to the former RNGO. CA have masses of publications and public statements regarding the works of the UN and as it has shown CA are not always expressing praise for the work done by the UN. Their interaction within the UN also appears to be limited as no submitted documents or statements to the UN from CA have been found. As mentioned, this could be due to a number of reasons such as working with other organisations, lack of commitment or lack of authority as they have a different consultative status. All that is evident is that there is a difference in how CA engage with the UN. CA appear to be fighting and advocating for their own goals, which is mainly to end poverty. These goals are important to the UN and CA do support all work in this area, however the group seriously campaign for CAs work, whereas the BK’s work involves the UN to the highest degree as well as their own organisations goals.
Due to CA’s foundation being religious, its identity can still be viewed as religious. However, at the same time one can see a lack of religiousity. There is little material based on their religion available on their website however again, there may be reason for this, such as CA not wanting to limit their campaigners, workers or its influence in the political world. The papers CA have written have been very useful and extremely technical, usually involving economics and finance and no reference of religion is given in their works of this sort. On the other hand however CA did lie down their theology which is central and can be argued the reason as to why they are this type of organisation. Therefore to assess whether Christianity is integral to CA as an identity is extremely difficult and one would need a lot more research than this paper can do justice. One interpretation could be that CA are not overtly religious due to the public opinion or the secular essence of our society, however, inside the organisation, among its members Christianity is integral. However, this is only an interpretation. Highly religious or not CA still do not draw direct correlation between the two, religion and development works and discussion. The other criterion for assessing RNGO’s as given by Bradley is how far does their faith drive them to their actions. From the theology paper again one can see all aspects of their work being driven by their beliefs. A belief that a community is helpful and that one should “Love thy neighbour”[lxix]. Helping all types of people, regardless of faith, is directly taken from their beliefs.
Before i conclude the two RNGO’s i would like to make known their ever so large difference, which have resulted in such different organisations, albeit them both being classified as a RNGO. From the research above we can observe that the BKs appear, on the whole, more religious. This may because of societal and cultural difference. The difference between their interaction, such as the BKs being fully involved with the UN and the CA being on the sidelines, could stem from their difference in consultative status. CA may not be involved in all aspects, unlike that of the BKs which may therefore drive CA to publicly display their opinion somewhere else, such as the media. This has been observed throughout the research. This also could be as to why the CA appears to have a more negative relationship with the UN compared to that of the BKs. All these difference being so, both the BKs and CA still fit into the earlier given typologies. 1) Faith based representative organisations or apex body, 2) faith based charitable or development organisation. 3) Faith based radical, illegal or terrorist organisation, 4) faith based missionary organisations and finally 5) faith based socio-political organisations.[lxx] Both the BKs and CA could stil be arguably placed into the first, second or the fifth catergory. Hopefully this shows the diverseness and the need for a better definition of RNGO.
As this paper has shown, RNGO’s interactions with the UN can be extremely different. This may be due to their different beliefs, teaching and values or due to their different types of organisations. As a Hindu organisation the BK’s expressed their views on personal spiritual development. Hinduism can be viewed as a very personal religion, and within India and Asia, meditation and yoga are practically a social norm. Within many Indian traditions there is a focus on the mind and its powers. This can be seen everywhere within the BK’s involvement within the UN. Every statement, every event is related somehow to personal development, which will lead the world into development. Religion is key to their identity as an organisation. Not only are they religious themselves but they believe that the practices within their religion, the practising of personal development, meditation and raja yoga will create a better world. Therefore i believe it obvious to conclude that the BKs are most definitely a RNGO and their religious beliefs is what motivates their actions.
CA on the other hand are not as openly religious as the BK’s. Only a few publications could be found regarding their religious beliefs and their membership is not strictly for church attendees. Thus, can one say that religion is vital to CA’s identityPossibly not, however when one observes why they are working on issues such as development then one can see that it derives from their scripture and theology. When comparing to different RNGO’s one has to also accept the two come from different types of cultures. As mentioned throughout the paper, the west is much more of a secular place and therefore this may be a reason as to why they are not openly religious. Religious references and publications can be found on their website, however these are brief and never extremely detailed. They do state, however, that their theology is about community and helping fellow man, therefore due to this essential point, one can see their actions to be motivated by religion. CA is a difficult RNGO to interpret, unlike the BK’s who openly admit their religious beliefs. To gain a definite answer regarding CA i would be inclined to do more research and gain access to their organisation as a member.
Primary Sources
Brahma Kumaris and the United Nations
Brahma Kumaris at the United Nations – climate change paper
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Brahma Kumaris World spiritual University
Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University – Leaders
Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University – Geneva
Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University – Published papers
Civil Society Network (19/10/2010)
Christian Aid
Christian Aid – Act now
Christian Aid – aims
Christian Air Press Release
Christian Aid – Published Papers on forgotten farmers
Christian Aid Report
P. Clifford, Theology and international development, A Christian aid report, April 2010
Christian Aid report
Clarke. G, ‘Faith Matters: Faith based organisations, civil societies and international development’, Journal of International Development, Vol18, 835–848, 2006
Desmond Tutu foundation
McNeile. A, H. The Book of Exodus, London, Methuen and Co, 1908: chapter 20
Morgan. K, W The Religion of the Hindus; New York ,The Ronald Press Company, 1953
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Secondary and theoretical Sources

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