Humanitarian Action

Kabul refugee children stand in line to receive aid

Humanitarian organizations frequently engage with religious actors and institutions, and many humanitarian action organizations are themselves religious. Despite this, the field as a whole pays insufficient attention to how religion functions in the diverse contexts where action is needed to prevent and respond to humanitarian crises. What knowledge and assumptions about religion do faith-based and secular international humanitarian agencies have? How do these assumptions impact their work? When the focus is on supporting the implementation of the local humanitarian leadership agenda, what kind of knowledge about religion is most useful? We seek to partner with humanitarian aid professionals to enhance the religious literacy of both secular and faith-based organizations in order to facilitate their delivery of high quality, principled humanitarian assistance to those in need.

Case studies

In any humanitarian crisis, it is possible to ask the “religion question”: how is religion embedded in this situation? Our case studies ask this question in a range of examples, each representing a different type of humanitarian challenge as an entry point for consideration: conflict, resource distribution, a crisis caused by a natural hazard, and disease. They include discussions of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar; the ongoing conflict and refugee crisis in Syria; resource distribution in Sudan; and responses to HIV-AIDS and Ebola, particularly in West Africa.

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In a joint publication from Oxfam and Harvard Divinity School, Religious Literacy Project director Diane L. Moore joined a conversation on the role of religious literacy in humanitarian aid. Access the full publication for free here.


The Symposium on Religious Literacy and Humanitarian Action was held at Harvard Divinity School on January 19-20, 2017. It featured a plenary panel with leading humanitarian scholars Alastair Ager, Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, and Azza Karam.

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