Solutions to Violent Conflict

Advancing Integral Human Development: An Imperative for Peacebuilders

In Human Development, Peace, Peacebuilding on May 18, 2016 at 8:22 am

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Scott Appleby is Marilyn Keough Dean of the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. As a professor of history at Notre Dame, he specializes in the study of global religion.

How might peace research, peacebuilding practices and peace policies be situated within a holistic vision of global challenges to human flourishing? One potentially compelling way of situating the struggle for peace within a more comprehensive narrative is to frame our common goal as advancing Integral Human Development. Imagine a society in which the irreducible dignity of the human person and the cultural and spiritual as well as economic and material requirements of human flourishing are central to political and social life and upheld by the rule of law. Such a society could be said to score high on the scale of Integral Human Development.

The concept is of Catholic provenance, but the ideas and values underlying it find echo in many other religious, philosophical, and wisdom traditions. At its core is the conviction that the dignity of the human person is expressed in work and economic activity—but also in cultural richness, artistic creativity, religious belonging, and spiritual practice. Most profoundly, human dignity is expressed in our relationships with and obligations to family, community, and all of humanity.

In his encyclical “On the Development of Peoples” (Populorum Progressio, 1967) Pope Paul VI presented the concept of Integral Human Development as a good in itself and also as a critique of a narrowly empirical and secular understanding of the human person and human experience. Subsequent popes, including John Paul II and Benedict XVI, elaborated the concept. Catholic Relief Services takes the concept as its core framework and mission.

In his address to the United Nations on September 25, 2015 Pope Francis on seven occasions used the term as the comprehensive goal to be embraced by all people of good will who seek the common good of humankind. The Holy Father declared that, with respect to the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals:

. . . the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.

Moments later, acknowledging the central role of conflict prevention and peacebuilding, he added:

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

While observing that peace and development go hand in hand, Pope Francis also recognized that little progress in these arenas can be expected in the absence of effective governance and robust political institutions. Our world demands of all government leaders, he declared, “a will which is effective, practical and constant . . .” and which takes “concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences.” We need to ensure, he continued, “that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.”

Integral human development takes into account each individual person as well as the society at large. It privileges the whole person, who cannot be reduced to a function, number, social category, or imposed identity. Each person is understood as the nexus of all the complex, overlapping and co-imbricated dimensions of human life. The human person is an integral (interdependent, connected) being striving for wholeness, that is, for the integration of body, mind, spirit, and community.

This approach to development avoids an exclusive focus on narrowly technical solutions or material conditions. It recognizes that the concrete challenges confronting human dignity and flourishing (e.g., political oppression, deadly conflict, climate change, structural injustice, grinding poverty) are themselves inter-related and impervious to isolated solutions. The focus on economic and material conditions must not be isolated from related political and social contexts. This capacious understanding is required if development is to be “integral” and “fully human.”

People with whom we work in local communities are not clients, dependents, or recipients of development; for our efforts to be effective, they must be full partners. In devising solutions to the challenges of development and peacebuilding we must elicit cues, insights, proposals, and evaluations from the people most directly affected by interventions. The work of development and peacebuilding cannot be for external actors alone; it must be fully owned by the local population. This commitment to an elicitive method of partnership is crucial to advancing Integral Human Development. In his address to the U.N. Pope Francis made this point forcefully:

To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc.

Peacebuilders work in the field alongside colleagues in human rights, global health, institutional and legal reform, economic development and other inter-related professions of public service. All of these agents of human flourishing operate within a web of meanings that might usefully be framed and made explicit by an articulation of “the development of peoples” that is marked by fundamental respect for human dignity and the full range of human creativity and aspiration. That is, they all operate, it may be said, with a passion for integral human development.