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Religion, Populism, and the Politics of the Sustainable Development Goals

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Document pages: 14 pages

Abstract: This article examines the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework as a political project in tension with its universal and multilateral aspirations to serve as a counterbalance to narrow populist visions increasingly dominating global politics. Building upon Laclau and Mouffe’s theory of populism and their notion of ‘radical democracy’, we conceptualise the SDGs as a struggle for hegemony and in competition with other styles of politics, over what counts as ‘development’. This hegemonial struggle plays out in the attempts to form political constituencies behind developmental slogans, and it is here that religious actors come to the fore, given their already established role in organising communities, expressing values and aspirations, and articulating visions of the future. Examining how the SDG process has engaged with faith actors in India and Ethiopia, as well as how the Indian and Ethiopian states have engaged with religion in defining development, we argue that a ‘radical democracy’ of sustainable development requires a more intentional effort at integrating religious actors in the implementation of the SDGs.

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