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The case for—and challenges of—faith-sensitive psychosocial programming

1 Independent Consultant, Edinburgh, UK
2 Regional Program Coordinator, Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, Switzerland
3 Policy and Strategy Manager, Islamic Relief, Birmingham, UK
4 Institute for Global Health and Development, Edinburgh, U.K. and Professor of Population and Family Health, Columbia University, New York NY, USA

Correspondence Address:
Michael French,
Lutheran World Federation World Service, PO Box 2100, Route de Ferney 150, CH-1211 Geneva 2
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/INTV.INTV_20_18

Drawing upon evidence compiled in a recent literature review, we identify five arguments for seeking faith-sensitivity in psychosocial programming: it is indicated by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS); it is implied by humanitarian law and principles; religion is an active and effective source of coping in many contexts; local faith actors have a ‘comparative advantage’ in humanitarian settings; and engaging with religion is coherent with emerging policy and practice. However, we also identify three major challenges in implementing faith-sensitive programming: religion may be used as a basis for maladaptive coping; religious engagement is considered a threat to impartiality; and practices of engaging with religion are poorly documented, disseminated and developed. This suggests the value of guidance on faith-sensitive psychosocial programming—consistent with the existing IASC MHPSS guidelines—suitable for implementation by both faith-based and non-faith-based actors.

Key implications for practice
  • The role of faith in supporting well-being and recovery and the importance of engaging with local capacities and institutions both point to the relevance of faith-sensitive psychosocial programming
  • Humanitarian law and principles promote respect for religious practice and freedom of religion
  • Humanitarian agencies are potentially discouraged from engaging with religion by concerns about partiality, proselytism and the potential for religion to ferment conflict
  • There is a need to develop, document and disseminate appropriate faith-sensitive programming practices more effectively.

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