The Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity (ISGP) is a non-profit organization, dedicated to building capacity in individuals, groups and institutions to contribute to prevalent discourses concerned with the betterment of society.
Drawing on both science and religion as two complementary systems of knowledge and practice, learning environments are created where knowledge and experience can be shared and systematized. Principles, concepts and approaches that are relevant to the advancement of civilization are explored through a process of study, reflection and consultation.
Founded in 1999—and working in collaboration with the Bahá’í International Community—the Institute also engages in learning about the methods, approaches and instruments which can best be employed to contribute to the discourses of society.
The History of the Institute
Founded in 1999, the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity initially emerged from a dialogue that began a few years earlier between a number of non-governmental organizations and development agencies who sought to explore the constructive and complementary roles that both science and religion must play in processes of social and economic development.
For the previous five decades, international development theory had generally conceptualized religion as an anachronistic system of belief that was antithetical to science and was an obstacle to development. Such conceptions, however, were part of a development enterprise that had proven largely unsuccessful in its efforts to foster global prosperity and well-being. In the search for more effective approaches to development, many thoughtful voices were beginning to ask whether religion might, in fact, be an essential partner in the development enterprise. In this context, the International Development Research Center (IDRC) of Canada sponsored a dialogue among leading development practitioners whose work was motivated and shaped by religious insights and commitments. Key contributions to that dialogue were later published by the IDRC in a book titled The Lab, the Temple, and the Market.
In response to this initial dialogue, the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity was established as a non-profit organization in association with the Bahá'í International Community. One of the purposes of the Institute was to explore, with others, the complementary roles that science and religion – as co-evolving systems of knowledge and practice – must play in the advancement of civilization.
The Institute’s first initiative was to launch a year-long consultation with prominent development thinkers and organizations in India. Focusing on the present state of development thought and practice, this consultation identified the need for a fundamental reconception of both science and religion in the context of development. How can the masses of humanity be empowered as protagonists in the systematic generation, application, and diffusion of practical knowledge regarding the improvement of their own social and economic conditions? How can this process be motivated and guided by the application of spiritual principles and insights? How must science and religion both be reconceived in order to support these processes?
Some of the insights generated by these deliberations were incorporated into a concept paper entitled, Science, Religion and Development: Some Initial Considerations, which was then presented at a colloquium in New Delhi in 2000. There, participants explored the need to address both the spiritual and material dimensions of human existence in promoting social transformation and identified some areas for further inquiry and action. A secretariat for the
promotion of a discourse on science, religion, and development in India was also established. Since that time, it has coordinated the expanding activities of the participating organizations.
Building on the Indian experience, the discourse on science, religion, and development was extended to other countries. With the collaboration of a task force, the Institute organized a series of seminars in different regions of Uganda. At these seminars, academics, government officials, and representatives from nongovernmental organizations, gathered to discuss –within the context of Ugandan society – the issues raised in the Institute’s document. Participants later formed working groups to explore how the discourse can affect such areas of human activity as education, economic activity and environmental resources, technology, and governance. A series of documents was prepared to be presented to the government. A video entitled Opening a Space: The Discourse on Science, Religion, and Development, documenting the Ugandan experience, was produced in 2006.
In Brazil, eleven leaders of thought were invited to respond to the Institute’s concept paper. The outcome was a book, titled Ciência, Religião e Desenvolvimento: Perspectivas para o Brasil (Science Religion and Development: Perspectives for Brasil), which was used around the country to stimulate discussions in seminars. In 2005, in Malaysia, Social & Economic Development Services (SEDS) together with the Centre for Civilisational Dialogue organized two nation-wide colloquia on science, religion and development and published the results in a book. Activities of this nature are continuing in the two countries, as well as in several others in Latin America and Asia.
Based on these initial experiences, the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity learned that many people – including many university students and young professionals – are interested in exploring the concepts the Institute is working with, and are interested in developing the capacity to contribute to contemporary discourses through a framework that draws on insights from both science and religion. Therefore, the Institute initiated another line of action focused on raising capacity in university students and young adults to contribute to the discourse on science, religion and development, as well as to other discourses related to the betterment of society. The Institute now conducts a series of undergraduate and graduate seminars in a growing number of countries for this purpose.
At the same time, the Institute continues to explore methods, approaches, and instruments with which it can contribute directly to a growing range of contemporary discourses, such as discourses on the advancement of women and discourses on governance.
The Conceptual Framework
The Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity believes that the two-fold moral purpose of every human being is to develop their latent potentialities through efforts to contribute to the advancement of civilization. At this critical juncture in history, the advancement of civilization entails the construction of a global social order, based on a profound consciousness of the oneness of humanity, in which justice is the central organizing principle, and the wellbeing and prosperity of all peoples is pursued.
The Institute further believes that, in order to be effective, all efforts to promote the advancement of a just, sustainable, and prosperous global civilization will need to be informed by the best insights of both science and religion – which can be viewed as complementary systems of knowledge and practice that are each continually evolving. Only when the spiritual and material dimensions of reality are approached in a coherent manner will true progress be achieved. This, the Institute believes, can only be accomplished through the knowledge generated by both science and religion.
In this context, the systematic generation of knowledge and insight about the advancement of civilization ultimately requires the articulation of a coherent yet evolving conceptual framework that can guide and inform such efforts. Toward this end, the Institute is collaborating with individuals and groups from diverse cultures and backgrounds around the world in order to identify and refine core elements of such a framework. As it advances along this path, the Institute is beginning to explore the following questions, among others:
As an initial step toward the elaboration of this conceptual framework, the Institute is drafting five concept papers on core concepts that are relevant to a wide range of contemporary discourses. These core concepts are: oneness, justice, knowledge, power, and human nature.
Lines of Action
Beyond the Institute’s collaborative efforts to articulate an overarching conceptual framework for participating in discourses concerned with the advancement of civilization, the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity is engaged in the following additional lines of action:
Training young adults
The Institute conducts a series of seminars for university students and recent graduates in several countries around the world.
Participation in specific discourses related to social transformation