For too long, the academic field of international development has been characterized by disciplinary claims to exclusive truths frequently resulting in petty academic battles and sophomoric snubbings. Disciplinary silos erected and maintained by the academy have always struggled to see past their own specialized view of the world. Unfortunately, BYU has all too often mirrored these academic turf wars—too many people too entrenched in unyielding dogma.
Indeed, the disciplinary doctrines of international development are commonly preached with a missionary zeal of uncompromising truth. It is my opinion that our close adherence to this approach has greatly stymied our potential in this arena, a potential that few other institutions can match in terms of our available natural resources: languages, connections, wealth, well trained and intelligent students, and, yes, missionary zeal. We have consistently fallen short of our potential. With the revamping of the international development minor, that uncompromising adherence to disciplinary doctrine is beginning to give way to an actual “big tent” approach, one that overtly recognizes that development is multifaceted and, thus, multidisciplinary.
The new minor is overtly attempting to forge alliances with NGOs and agencies who are generally far more interested in the practical application of skills (including theories and methodological techniques) to solve identified problems versus re-fighting dogmatic academic turf wars. To this end, the new minor stresses the INTRA-disciplinary nature of development. It envisions international development not as a melting pot but as a salad bowl with each discipline and/or approach representing a different entity of the same reality—no one entity being any more “true” or “accurate” than another. It is important to stress here that this is not an INTER-disciplinary approach, where all the disciplines blend together into one imperceptible blob. Students will recognize the unique, and necessary, contributions of each discipline and approach to the larger salad of development. To extend the metaphor, sure, one can simply have a bowl of lettuce, but it becomes an interesting salad only with the addition of croutons, vegetables, cheese, olives, fruit, and salad dressing.
While Americans struggle with their national identity as melting pot or salad bowl, it is equivocally expressed by our national motto: E Pluribus Unum—Latin for “Out of Many, One.” A similar, more applicable national motto to the issue of international development at BYU may be found in Indonesia: “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”—ancient Javanese for “Unity in Diversity.” The Indonesian national motto is derived from an ancient poem of the 1400s. Discussing the coexistence in the Mojopahit Kingdom of both Buddhism and Hinduism, the poem states that the two “. . . are indeed different, but they are of the same kind, as there is no duality in Truth.”1 The study and application of international development at BYU must incorporate ALL the disciplines and their methodological approaches. In short, to succeed and reach our potential, international development at BYU must be academically ecumenical.
Over the past 20 years the proportion of people living in poverty in the developing world fell by half—from 40 percent to 21 percent. Meanwhile, in the past few decades, life expectancy in developing countries has increased by 20 years, the number of children dying before the age of five has been reduced 50 percent, and adult illiteracy has been halved to 25 percent. And yet, over a billion people still struggle to survive on a dollar a day.
We can get by with a simple bowl of lettuce, but who would want to buy it? Who would want to eat it? It’s all the other stuff that makes the lettuce into a delicious salad. With the advent of the newly remodeled international development minor, BYU faculty, administrators, and students have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the field, but it will only happen if we ditch old dogmas of disciplinary exclusiveness and pitch an ecumenical big tent of development. Clearly, this can be done without losing sight and appreciation for the unique identities and insights of the disciplines and their approaches. However, I am convinced that unless we do so, dogmatic purity will always cloud practical solutions to real problems, and we will continue to fall short of our incredible potential in this field.
1. http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhinneka_Tunggal_Ika (extracted 3/10/2008)