Religious Studies

AHRC/ESRC ‘Religion and Society’ Scheme Research Project

Religious Non-Governmental Organizations and the United Nations in New York and Geneva

December 2009 – November 2012



Core Research Team

Professor Jeremy Carrette (Religious Studies, University of Kent)
Professor Hugh Miall (Politics and International Relations, University of Kent)
Professor Evelyn Bush (Sociology, Fordham University, USA)

Dr Verena Beittinger-Lee (Research Associate, New York fieldwork)
Dr Sophie-Hélène Trigeaud (Research Associate, Geneva fieldwork)


Julia Berger, NGO Consultant, Bahai International Community UN Office, New York
Rachel Brett, NGO Consultant, Quaker UN Office, Geneva
Professor Jeff Haynes, Academic Consultant, London Metropolitan University, UK

Project Summary

The preoccupation with issues of religion and violence has often obscured how religious groups are involved in international institutions for peace. The United Nations (UN) and its interaction with religious non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are a focal point for innovative understanding and insight about how religious and political worlds interact. The UN, founded in 1945 to maintain international peace after the 2nd World War, is the only international organization that represents every country in the world. It works across areas of law, development, economy, rights and peace and from its foundation it aimed to work closely with NGOs (private, non-governmental groups, with specific concerns and interests, such as Amnesty International). In Article 71 of the UN Charter it stated that the UN would  "consult" with NGOs to carry out its work through one of its central committees, the Economic and Social Council.  Religious organizations have collaborated with the UN since its foundation and in 1972 there was the establishment of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the UN; with an annual report of activity and listing 108 different religious groups as its members from the American Baptist Church to the World YWCA. Since the 1990s there has been an increase in the role of 'religious' NGOs and their contributions to UN committees in New York and Geneva. Religious NGO representatives are now active on many UN Committees and UN Commissions, including, for example, the UN Commission for Social Development. They have also played important roles in bringing about UN resolutions on world debt, with the Jubilee Foundation, and restrictions on landmine use. The increasing presence of religious NGOs was given extra weight in recent years when the Secretary General of the UN supported grass root collaboration for UN activity. 

In a world of global organization and ever increasing involvement of - very diverse - religious NGOs influencing international political decisions and processes, we need to know not only about their type, density and number, but also about their own motivations, rationale and success in their involvement in UN decision-making.  What we need to know about these groups is how and why religious groups engage with high-level lobbying and diplomacy at the UN. We need to understand how the mission statements of religious NGOs direct them to commit resources to UN engagement, how  effective they are in delivering services according to their own mission statements and how they are perceived by UN  diplomats. This is important because we need to understand who these groups represent and the aims of their lobbying in shaping our world. There have been few independent studies examining these questions and the previous studies only mapped type and density. We are now at an important second, interdisciplinary, stage of inquiry and it requires a researcher at the main UN sites (New York and Geneva) to investigate these issues to work with an international team, including a specialist in International Relations and UN studies, a scholar of religion to understand the conceptual, theoretical and classificatory issues, a sociologist with specialist NGO knowledge and data gathering skills, NGO consultants (UN Office of the Bahai International Community and the Quaker UN Office) and  diplomatic support.

The researchers will provide new empirical data from a two-year snap-shot of religious NGO activity at the UN. This will be carried out by textual analysis, interviews with NGO leaders and members, surveys of NGO activity and resources, case studies of specific groups and questionnaires to evaluate the perceived status of such groups by UN diplomats. Through its rigorous empirical analysis, the research will offer innovative thinking about religion in global governance. It will be the first comprehensive study of religious NGOs at the UN and of important international interest.

JRC/AM/EB December 2009

Religious Studies, School of European Culture and Languages, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NF

Enquiries: +44 (0)1227 827159 or email Religious Studies

Last Updated: 20/12/2013