Description: C:\Documents and Settings\lyn\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\53VZIKOP\asa1logo.jpgScience in Christian Perspective



Cultural Sustainable Development:
Concepts and Principles1

Harry Spaling*

Department of Geography and Environmental Studies
The King's University College
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6B 2H3
E-mail: hspaling"

Annette Dekker

All models of development result in cultural change, but culture has not been considered an integral component of mainstream development theory. This has resulted in the marginalization of culture and cultural disintegration. The multidimensional nature of sustainable development provides a framework within which to integrate the cultural dimension. Christian thought on development affirms the diversity of culture and advocates cultural contextualization. These constructs are used to formulate the idea of cultural sustainable development. This implies development that is shaped by - and takes into account its impact on - the shared ideas, beliefs, and values as well as the intellectual, moral, social, and aesthetic standards and practices of a community. Principles of diversity, change, holism, sovereignty, and relativism guide cultural sustainability.

The idea of sustainable development has challenged traditional approaches to development, particularly those based on growth economics. Besides the economic dimension, this idea incorporates environmental and, increasingly, social and political dimensions. Development theorists have embraced sustainable development as a means to collectively achieve the multiple goals of economic well-being, ecological sustainability, and social justice. Sustainable development has conceptual and popular appeal because it integrates various dimensions of development into a unified framework. It combines the notion of development as a process of directed change with the concept of sustaining the multidimensional conditions or forces which perpetuate this change.

Practitioners of development are, by virtue of their interaction with people of different cultures, involved in the transformation of those cultures. Seemingly innocuous technologies, or ideas, have changed cultures in momentous and unforeseen ways. Changes that have caused cultural disintegration, as well as those that have revitalized a rich cultural heritage, challenge those involved in the process of development to recognize the cultural dimension and to explicitly consider the sustainability of culture.

This paper develops the concept of cultural sustainable development and describes key principles for cultural sustainability. Culture is defined broadly to include every aspect of the day-to-day life of a group of human beings that is transmitted from one generation to another. Economic transactions, social customs and relationships, political ideologies, artistic expression, language, and religious practices reflect cultural values and behaviors. The focus is on nonwestern, traditional cultures common to people groups of the South, in particular the sustainability of these cultures as they experience intentional cultural intervention in some development effort by institutions of the North (e.g., government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, church mission boards). A basic premise is that development activities that do not respect, accord legitimacy to, or are not formed within the contextual reality of people groups are ultimately not sustainable. Cultural sustainable development implies development that is shaped by - and takes into account its impact on - the shared ideas, beliefs, and values as well as the intellectual, moral, and aesthetic standards of a community.2

Various theories of development (e.g., modernization, dependency, global reformism) and culture (e.g., functionalism, evolutionism, relativism) have been advanced. These have been reviewed elsewhere3 including criticism from a Christian perspective.4 Their further appraisal is beyond the scope of this paper. Here we propose the idea of cultural sustainable development. This idea builds on the multidimensional nature of sustainable development which provides a framework to integrate the cultural dimension. It also incorporates constructs from Christian thought on development, particularly notions of cultural diversity and preservation, and cultural contextualization.

This paper contributes to an ongoing dialogue on development and culture among church-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The discussion is aimed primarily at church agencies and other Christian organizations of the North engaged in development work.5 These institutions often have been accused of elitism and contributing to cultural disintegration, generally more so than their secular counterparts. In addition to acting as agents of western culture, the biblical beliefs that motivate, guide, and accompany their development practice frequently differ fundamentally from beliefs indigenous to many host cultures. While acknowledging these differences and their historical impact on culture, Christian thought on development has long recognized the dimension of culture, and the importance of cultural contextualization. Church development workers often have been at the forefront in acquiring cross-cultural knowledge and skills essential to carrying out and sustaining development work. Christian development thought can contribute to, and also be informed by, the concept of cultural sustainable development.

This paper begins with a brief overview of key forces which are contributing to an increasing awareness of culture in contemporary development theory. Next we outline cultural changes attributable to different models of development. Then from the perspective of culture, we critique sustainable development and Christian thought on development. The final section describes five principles that shape the concept of cultural sustainability.

Culture: An Emerging Awareness

An increased sensitivity to cultural aspects within mainstream development theory can be attributed to the decline and disintegration of those cultures subjected to the forces of "westernization." The shortcomings of past development efforts have challenged development practitioners to broaden their focus to include culture. Besides the lessons of history, two broad forces have influenced the emerging awareness of culture in development thinking: postmodernism and cultural pluralism.

In postmodern philosophy the focus is no longer on discovering absolutes, but on exploring the relationship between probabilities. Relativity rather than exclusive absolutism has become normative. Postmodern philosophy has pointed out that scientists (and others) are biased not only by their convictions about preferred theories and methods, but also by their metaphysical worldviews. This has led to greater understanding of the ways in which we "create our own realities." Since our interpretations, and the meanings which we attach to what we observe, are dependent on our worldview, it follows then that we cannot absolutize them as truth for all. Such a perspective legitimizes alternative perspectives and worldviews. It contributes directly to the notion of cultural relativity: "... the view that all cultures are of equal value and that its values and behaviors can only be judged using that culture as a frame of reference.6

There is much in postmodern relativism that challenges the Christian. Moral or ethical relativism argues that there is no final court of appeal that decides whether one basic moral perspective is better than any other. Christians agree that, humanly speaking, this may be the case, but point out that relativism ignores the absolute existence of God or God's perspective. This does not mean however that divine absolutes are to be identified with a particular cultural perspective or that they apply to every detail of moral life.7 Relativism has served to sensitize Christians to the subjective realities of people from other cultures. Belief in the existence of a divine perspective thus takes on a less strident, judgmental tone and becomes a matter of dialogue in the search for basic truths and transcultural norms.

The cultural plurality of our global community has not always been affirmed. History is full of examples of cultural elitism in which one group made exclusive claims for itself and condemned others. Recent history has shaped the demand for a recognition and acceptance of pluralism. The world wars in the first half of this century resulted in a greater consciousness of the right of differing cultures and people groups to exist. More recently the struggle for justice of aboriginal peoples everywhere has made us poignantly aware of the power of solidarity in language and spirituality, and of the resilience of culture. Formal recognition of aboriginal peoples and their right to self-determination has supported the notion of cultural plurality.

Increased communication and transportation technology have removed the insulation and isolation of cultures. The existence of "other" cultures can no longer be ignored; surreal images of them are communicated daily and a day's travel can land one in the reality of many cultures quite different from one's own. Due to large migrations of people, western cultures have become increasingly heterogeneous. The multicultural reality of cities and towns makes cultural isolation virtually impossible today. Technological progress, the movement of peoples, and greater global consciousness have compelled individuals and groups to reevaluate their ethnocentric and exclusive stance.

In summary, postmodernism contributes new perspectives of knowledge, and thus also of culture, whereas the acknowledgment of pluralism affirms the value of cultural preservation and cultural diversity. For those involved in the day-to-day reality of development, the challenge is to alter the exclusivity of past paradigms and to create alternative perspectives and approaches that contribute to cultural sustainability.

Models of Development and Cultural Change

Central to the concept of cultural sustainability is an understanding of the process of change. Cultures evolve; and change is inherent in the life process. Cultural change often results from an introduction of new ideas or technology or from ecological or economic change. Cultures, like other systems, tend to seek regularity and equilibrium, but also are faced with contradictions and conflicts.8 To resolve these, change takes place. Over the last five decades, the highly increased pace of change in most cultures around the world underscores the need to understand the change process.

Cultural change can result from many development approaches. Table 1 shows models of development that are invariably associated with some form of cultural change. These models represent a general historical progression, but all are evident to some degree in contemporary development practice. We will discuss three in detail: imperialism, charity, and institutional.Description: C:\Documents and Settings\lyn\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\53VZIKOP\PSCF12-96SpallingTable1.jpg

Imperialism imposes change on a culture (Table 1). The insidious nature of ethnocentrism and neocolonialism is far from outdated and continues to emerge in various forms today. Blatant examples include: a net dollar flow from countries of the South to those of the North, forced resettlement of indigenous people groups, commercial exploitation of rainforests upon which native peoples depend for livelihoods, and international marketing of substances banned in the country of origin (e.g., export of hazardous wastes). "Colonialism is not just a matter of economic exploitation. It is the organised repression of the cultural life of a people to make them accept other values as superior.9

"Charity" no longer enjoys the positive connotations it once did (Table 1). It is now associated with a disdainful paternalism. Change in a culture is assumed, even expected, because of things given. The emphasis is on help in overcoming a deficiency, rather than a genuine response to an immediate need, and thus presumes some arrogance by the giver and shame for the receiver. While contemporary forms of charity (i.e., relief and humanitarian assistance) are justified, such as the distribution of food, clothes, and medicine in disaster relief (e.g., flood, famine, war), the risk is in delayed transition to self-help forms of development. Too frequently, charity creates dependencies and no longer really helps.10 This cynicism about charity is based on the harsh realities created by misguided giving. For example, some North American churches and Christian agencies regularly collect and freely donate used clothing to the poor in countries of the South, where it is most often sold by importers, merchants, and market vendors. This intervention based on charity has altered the traditional styles and codes of dress in many cultures, and reorganized subsistence economies dependent on local cloth manufacture.

Institutional development refers to the building and strengthening of indigenous organizations to carry out the development process (Table 1). It recognizes that beneficiaries have a right of determination in the development process. This model is the modus-operandi of most church-based development NGOs, and is considered a necessary condition for achieving sustainable development. However, institutional development can contribute to unintended cultural transformation. Western models of institutional development include: organizational structures which are hierarchical and compartmentalized; management systems based on resource allocation, performance indicators, and results; and decision making characterized by authority of position. Development workers may also convey the agency culture or internal values of their employing institution: loyalty to the agency, codes of behavior, and relationships between individuals and units within the agency. This contrasts, for example, with indigenous structures in Africa that tend to be decentralized along tribal, village, and clan units; use communal and consensual approaches to decision making; and exhibit loyalty to clan/family relationships that often exceeds loyalty to nonindigenous institutions such as government, multinational corporations, and international NGOs.11

It is important to recognize that institutional development is not a value-free or neutral process. It could be considered another "Trojan horse" of development: a way of importing western culture into another without seeming to.12 However, if the values and worldviews of an agency engaged in institutional development are explicitly identified, these can be dealt with in the planning process and partnership strategies.

Whatever the model of development, interventions in another culture - whether or not they are accompanied by intentions to change the culture -  inevitably result in cultural change. A challenge is to recognize the impact of development on culture, and to incorporate cultural preservation and the conscious planning of cultural change into development practice.

The Concept of Cultural Sustainable Development

This section develops a conceptual framework of cultural sustainable development. The framework builds on the multidimensional paradigm of sustainable development and views of culture derived from Christian thought on development.

Sustainable Development and Culture

Multiple dimensions characterize the paradigm of sustainable development. Early theoretical frameworks focused on the integration of economic and environmental dimensions.13 More recently, development theorists have argued for the inclusion of other dimensions into the framework, particularly social and political.14 Daly and Cobb15 have made a notable contribution by integrating principles of economics, ecology, and community development.

Practitioners of sustainable development have generally focused on reconciling economic development with environmental conservation. The United Nations in particular has championed the cause of sustainable development through its World Commission on Environment and Development16 and the Earth Summit in 1992. Government aid agencies have adopted environmental sustainability as a key policy objective of foreign assistance17 Nongovernmental organizations have strived to implement community development strategies based on sustainable resource management.18 Church-based development agencies also have advocated environmental sustainability of development projects, usually within the context of environmental stewardship or earthkeeping.19

Given the inherent role of culture in defining, evaluating, and managing economic-environment interactions, the cultural dimension is notably absent from the paradigm of sustainable development. A plausible explanation is that contemporary, western views of sustainable development are still largely guided by modernization theory based on principles of neoclassical economics. This theory subscribes to preconceived western values of rationality, individualism, materialism, and social hierarchy.20 It emphasizes the secular instead of the religious, the individual in place of community, urban rather than rural, and democratic decision making as opposed to consensus or hierarchical decision making.21 Development approaches based on modernization frequently confront indigenous cultural values. The resulting degradation of cultures has been widely acknowledged:

"All over the planet, the cultural integrity and vitality of the different human groups find themselves threatened by development strategies which stress economic growth and institutional efficiency at all cost...Too often the values of the Third World are irredeemably damaged by models of social change based on consumption, competition, acquisition and on the manipulation of human aspirations."22

The focus on economic change overrides consideration of the cultural dimension so that culture is marginalized, or even considered an obstacle to development. For example, the concept of private ownership of economic factors of production (e.g., land, labor, capital) clashes with the notion of communal ownership of resources, pooled labor, and equitable sharing of production that is common to many indigenous societies. Modernization theory focuses on improvements to material well-being and relegates indigenous cultural values and beliefs to the periphery of the development process. The failures of this approach in preserving the cultural integrity of people groups have been well documented.23

In spite of almost twenty years of warnings from both indigenous people groups and development professionals, integrating the dimension of culture into the theory and practice of sustainable development is still a new concept. Writings on sustainable development give only fleeting recognition to cultural sustainability.24 The cultural dimension can be incorporated into the sustainable development framework by recognizing a tripartite relationship among economic, environmental, and cultural dimensions. Within this integrative framework, cultural sustainability means that all people groups have the collective choice to maintain their cultures and, equally important, the collective choice to determine the nature and means of culture change.

Culture interacts with other dimensions of the framework. For example, culture-specific views about human-environment interactions determine the acceptability of economic development of natural resources, define tolerable levels of environmental change associated with this development, and guide human responses and adaptations to these economic and environmental changes. Change to any one dimension, or all of the dimensions, may be necessary to achieve cultural sustainable development.

This expanded framework has conceptual appeal, but there is always the risk that one dimension, particularly the economic, becomes predominant. Perhaps a lesson can be learned from the environmental dimension. Pollution, resource depletion, and environmental changes attributable to economic development resulted in procedures for environmental impact assessment of development projects.25 Although these procedures have mitigated environmental concerns, they have not altered the dominant role of economics in development. Just as modern development responded procedurally to concerns about environmental impacts, it also responded to cultural issues by developing techniques for cultural appraisal.26 These techniques focus on methodological tools to assess the impact of development on culture, and to access culture to maximize development goals. Cultural appraisal techniques are thus designed to increase sensitivity to cultural change associated with development projects and to ensure "more effective development work," but they do not alter the basic framework or process of development. Cultural sustainable development calls for the full integration of all dimensions in the development process.

Churches, Development, and Culture

Christian thought on development has long recognized that the development worker is a bearer of culture.27 Views on the influence of church-based development on culture vary however. One view sees development work of church and para-church agencies as overt religious activity which imposes cultural change on indigenous peoples through transformation of their belief systems. This ethnocentric view, most prevalent among governments, international entrepreneurs, and mission agencies during the colonial era, results in the breakdown of indigenous culture and greater cultural homogeneity.28 We can learn from colonial history by asking how development imposes ethnocentric views today. Are they reflected in conditional or selective aid that ensures a beneficial return to the donor? Is ethnocentrism evident in models of institutional development that pattern organizational structure and authority after western design?

Another perspective recognizes church-sponsored development work as a direct contributor to local economic development, but also an unintentional contributor to social and cultural inequalities. For example, case studies have shown that development projects may contribute to an elitist class of income earners, an influx of outside migrants who depend on the project for necessities (e.g., relief dependency), and aspirations for consumer goods and western gadgetry beyond local purchasing power29 Like secular development agencies, church-related NGOs have not always been aware of inequities and indirect cultural changes resulting from well-intentioned development efforts.

Still another viewpoint attributes economic and social benefits of development to direct changes in cultural values, beliefs, and behavior which result from religious change. This viewpoint recognizes the often critical role of belief change which may be necessary for sustained change in other dimensions. For example, Christian medical practice may confront cultures with fatalistic beliefs about illness which hinder primary health care programs. Similarly, cultures damaged by colonialism, or other forms of exploitation (e.g., tribalism, war), may regenerate because of development work which emphasizes individual dignity and self-worth, and communal responsibility based on biblical principles of love for God and fellow humans30

Through these divergent views and practices, Christian thought on development has contributed several ideas which have important implications for cultural sustainable development. First, there exists, in the basic truths of Scripture, a set of supracultural or universal norms for development that transcends all cultures. These include life sustenance, equity, justice, dignity and self-worth, freedom, and participation.31Cultural transformation is subject to these norms.

Second, the diversity of cultures is affirmed:

"It seems that, just as our Creator delights in a vast variety of colors and smells, just as he has brought millions of unique personalities into being, so he has ordained an amazingly wide spectrum of cultures. God has programmed into (people) a capacity for cultural variation that enables us to explore our potential in all its complexity, to increase the richness of his world."32

This recognition of cultural diversity implies that different cultures are worthy of preservation because of their created potential.

Third, Christian thought on development has incorporated the notion of cultural contextualization. This means that the host culture is valued and takes precedence over the home culture of the development agency. Every effort is made to minimize the introduction of western culture and to preserve the indigenous culture. This does not imply that church-based development work readily accepts or succumbs to every cultural context, but that its interventions are culturally determined by the active participation of people affected by it. In their search to provide an authentically contextual approach, church development workers have long been vanguards in understanding and successfully living in other cultures.

Toward Cultural Sustainability

In moving toward cultural sustainability, it is crucial to be conscious of five key principles that shape it: diversity, change, holism, sovereignty, and relativity.

Cultural Diversity

Inherent in the promotion of cultural sustainable development is the value of cultural diversity and therefore of cultural preservation. This is an affirmation of both the commonality and the uniqueness of people groups. "The basis of cultural diversity as a value is simply that the human potential is too rich to be expressed adequately in a single form."33

In contrast to this affirmation of diversity is the notion of a "global homogeneous culture." Universality, as expressed through such concepts as "one world" or "global village," minimizes diversity for the sake of equality or efficiency. "Whichever way one looks at it, the homogenization of the world is in full swing. " global monoculture spreads like an oil slick over the entire planet."34

Evidence of this is the fact that some languages are dying out. When a language dies, an entire culture vanishes, for every language contains its own structure for perceiving and explaining the world. It has often been suggested that linguistic plurality impedes development -  "development" that requires linguistic uniformity or a standardized blueprint for "progress" results in extinct cultures.

Cultural diversity needs to be preserved to enhance the global quality of life. Extinction of cultures and languages diminishes the perspectives on the mystery of God and the forms of relating in community. The loss of any one culture robs all others of sources of knowledge and meaning. Cultural diversity provides a variety of worldviews and information often critical to resolving problems in another culture. For example, the knowledge of medicines and human-environment relationships apparent in nonwestern cultures has challenged western notions about treatment of disease and environmental management.

Cultural Change

Cultural change is inevitable. The dynamic nature of a culture means that it evolves over time. Change rises from within and also from exposure to the ideas and techniques of other groups. For most cultures around the world, the forces of modernization have increased the pace of change dramatically. The question becomes not whether change in a culture will occur, but how it occurs.

Cultural disintegration is a reality on this planet. All cultures, including our own, have been both enhanced and victimized by the ideas of progress and development. Disintegration, cultural identity crises, and spiritual alienation are as much a "western" phenomena as they are a "third world" one. The western mindset has confused "standard of living" with "quality of life35 Along with this debilitating confusion have been the economic injustices of western institutions. Alternatively, many cultures, especially aboriginal ones which are in the process of reclaiming their heritage and setting new directions and goals, are examples of the affirmative aspects of change.

Cultural sustainable development assumes that cultural change is not only inevitable, but also necessary and desirable. There are aspects of all cultures that are either destructive or oppressive, resulting in a lack of harmony between individuals and groups and the creation. Practices such as infanticide, slavery, pollution, and oppression are ultimately harmful and thus, from a universal standpoint, unethical. The recognition that some cultural values violate the integrity of people, groups, or the creation, and thus need to be changed, often provides the impetus for international governmental and nongovernmental action.

Cultural sustainable development recognizes that people groups, through collective choice, determine the nature and the means of cultural change. What is needed is a constructive process which identifies cultural change attributable to specific development models and activities before they are implemented, evaluates this change relative to the values and aspirations of the host culture, and preserves the collective choice of people groups to accept, adapt, or reject the interventions which stimulate the change.

Cultural Holism

Critical to understanding cultural sustainable development is the notion that cultures are holistic and have internal integrity. Cultures are "systems" made up of various parts or "subsystems": economic, political, language, religion, etc. These parts interact so that any change in one subsystem causes change in the others, and therefore alters the system as a whole.36

The western mindset has difficulty understanding holism. The tendency is to divide the whole into parts and to focus on them singularly. Modernization assumes that changes in the economic system can be neatly compartmentalized there and any further effect on any other part of the cultural system is negligible. The past focus on economic status of others prevents a recognition of the effects of development on a culture's integrity and vitality as a whole. The segmentation of reality, and the global diffusion of western culture, can result in resistance to narrowly focused development approaches by cultures determined to maintain their unique identity. Cultural holism rejects the singular focus of modernization theory.

Confronted with the consequences of having focused past development efforts almost exclusively along one dimension (i.e., economic), western culture is now faced with the challenge of integrating - and creating harmony among - the multiple dimensions which contribute to sustainable livelihoods among the poor.

Cultural Sovereignty

Cultural sustainable development requires a valuing of the sovereignty or the right to self-determination of people groups and individuals. "It is each people's own culture that must decide what, for them, is a `good life.' It is culture that instills its rhythm on the life of a community and gives it its direction."37

No people should have imposed on them a culture that is alien. Each people group has the collective choice to determine its own rate of cultural change and to control the process. It also has the right to decide what it wishes to preserve, to change, to adapt, or to transform. If stripped of the right and responsibility to do so, a culture resists in active or passive forms. When resistance is overrun by dominant forces, a culture becomes disoriented and alienated from itself. Still, the intergenerational resilience and survival mechanisms of cultures long oppressed, should arouse awe and respect for the phenomena of culture.

Cultural Relativity

The presence of cultural differences has often resulted in ethnocentrism which leads people to make judgments according to their own cultural standards. The tendency is to see one's own cultural ways and views as "right" and others as "wrong." Cultural relativism suggests that we can understand and evaluate the behavior of others only in the context of their own culture38

Cultural relativity is compared to universal and evolutionary views of culture in Table 2. A universal view holds that cultures are more similar than diverse. Although cultural groups express themselves differently, the commonality of human beings results in a basic homogeneity among cultures. Global community action (e.g., United Nations, Earth Summit, World Council of Churches) is possible under this view. An evolutionary view assumes that cultures evolve through successive stages of development. Cultural diversity is recognized but ranked according to its developmental stage. Ranking of nation states by their quality of life and differentiating stages of institutional development reflects evolutionary views. Cultural relativity holds that while cultures are different they are also equal. Therefore, cultures can be understood but not evaluated outside their own context. Cultural relativity presumes pluralism and contextualization which, for example, have produced multicultural policies, and self-government for aboriginal peoples.

It is important to distinguish between cultural relativity and ethical principles. The realities of life do not allow humans to live in a moral vacuum. Cultural relativity is grounded in the biblical tenets of justice, peace, compassion, freedom, and dignity, and their corresponding rights and responsibilities. These tenets provide a normative framework for each culture to pursue its right to self-determination, and to promote harmony among its people, and people of other cultures.


The concept of cultural sustainable development builds on theoretical constructs derived from the paradigm of sustainable development and Christian thought on development. The multidimensional nature of sustainable development provides a framework to integrate the cultural dimension. Culture is an integral component of human-environment interactions and, thus, also can support the achievement of economic and environmental sustainability. Christian development thought acknowledges a set of supracultural norms rooted in Scripture, affirms the diversity and preservation of cultures, and recognizes the importance of cultural contextualization. Collectively, these constructs constitute the essence of cultural sustainable development.

All models of development inevitably result in cultural change because development is ultimately perceived, defined, and carried out from a culturally-determined worldview. It is incumbent for development practitioners to understand the cultural viewpoint which characterizes their prevailing development model, and to be aware of the cultural changes associated with this model. The missionary tradition of gaining cross-cultural knowledge and skills can help to identify, analyze, and assess cultural changes attributable to various development models.Description: C:\Documents and Settings\lyn\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\53VZIKOP\PSCF12-96SpallingTable2.jpg

Development workers can strive for cultural sustainable development by fully integrating cultural sustainability into the goals and processes of development. Cultural sustainability needs to be steadfastly owned by, and explicitly stated as a goal of, Christian development institutions. Because the development process is a major determinant of cultural sustainability, relevant mechanisms of interaction among cultures must be found. These mechanisms must be based on equality of cultures, and the right of each to define and direct change within it. Cultural interaction must follow a model of reciprocity.40 This presupposes a mutual willingness to entrust one's own culture to the same process of change that one encourages in another.

Cultural sustainable development is guided by the principles of cultural diversity, cultural change, cultural holism, cultural sovereignty, and cultural relativism. These principles are more than simply a cultural appraisal technique focused on individual projects. They need to guide the selection of the development approach. Their implementation may lead to fundamental alterations of development practice to foster certain cultural changes, or to reject approaches associated with undesirable changes.

Tensions and paradoxes among the principles of cultural sustainable development confront the development practitioner. How can one hold that both the preservation of culture and cultural change are valuable? Can one respect the sovereignty of a culture and still be committed to biblical norms of equity and justice? Inevitably, a challenge exists in deciding which specific cultural values are changed to achieve a development goal. For example, it is generally assumed that altering culturally-defined roles of women is acceptable in promoting sustainable forms of economic development. Equality of women is a western value espoused by many development agencies, but it is not shared among all cultures. Similarly, participatory decision making at the grassroots level is presumed to result in sustainable institution building at the community and regional levels, though this type of decision making may be foreign to the host culture. A process is needed to identify cultural attributes and values subject to change and those essential to cultural preservation. This process must include the participation of host cultures and, preferably, final decision-making by that culture.

By incorporating cultural sustainability into development practice, Christian development agencies will learn from lessons of the past and refocus the future. They will also address the sometimes justified accusations of critics, and be in the forefront of development theory and practice. Most importantly, they will contribute to the vitality and integrity of other cultures, and their own.



1This paper is based on the authors' report Cultural Sustainable Development (April, 1993) prepared for the "Churches and Development Consultation," NGO Division, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Ottawa. We thank CIDA for permission to prepare this paper.

2The definition of culture is adapted from R. Schwader and R. Levine, eds., Culture Theory: Essays in Mind, Theory and Emotion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 67.

3See, e.g., D. Butz, S. Lonergan, & B. Smit, "Why International Development Neglects Indigenous Social Reality," Canadian Journal of Development Studies 12 (1991): 143-157; C. Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973); R. A. LeVine, "Properties of Culture: An Ethnographic View," in R. Schwader and R. Levine, eds., Culture Theory: Essays in Mind, Theory and Emotion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 67-87; and W. Sachs, The Development Dictionary: a Guide to Knowledge as Power (London: Zed Books, 1992).

4See, e.g., M. Adeney, "Culture and Planned Change," in V. Samuel & C. Sugden, eds., The Church in Response to Human Need (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 62-84; W. Bragg, "From Development to Transformation," in V. Samuel and C. Sugden, eds., The Church in Response to Human Need (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 20-51; and D. Kennard, "A Christian Critique of Development Perspectives: Modernization and Dependency," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 36 (1984): 162-168.

5The discussion is also relevant to church agencies and para-church NGOs of the South (i.e., less developed countries), but the emphasis is on Christian institutions of the North (i.e., more developed countries) because of the historical influence of western culture on and through these institutions.

6W. Gudykunst and Y. Kim, Communicating with Strangers: An Approach to Intercultural Communication (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1984), 97.

7R. Mouw, Distorted Truth: What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Battle for the Mind (New York: Harper and Row, 1989).

8C. Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973) and R. A. LeVine, "Properties of Culture: An Ethnographic View," in R. Schwader and R. Levine, eds., Culture Theory: Essays in Mind, Theory and Emotion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 67-87.

9Ashis Nandy in S. J. Samartha, One Christ - Many Religions: Toward a Revised Christology (New York: Orbis Books, 1991), 3.

10M. Gronemyer, "Helping," in W. Sachs, The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power (London: Zed Books, 1992), 63-69.

11D. Leonard, "The Political Realities of African Management," World Development 15 (1987): 899-910.

12W. Sachs, "Development: A Guide to the Ruins," The New Internationalist 232 (1992): 4-27.

13See, e.g., E. Barbier, "The Concept of Sustainable Economic Development," Environmental Conservation 14 (1987): 101-110 and P. Bartelmas, Environment and Development (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1986).

14See, e.g., S. LÈlÈ, "Sustainable Development: A Critical Review," World Development 19 (1991): 607-621 and M. Redclift, "The Multiple Dimensions of Sustainable Development," Geography 76 (1991): 36-42.

15H. Daly and J. Cobb, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).

16WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development), Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

17For example, CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), CIDA's Policy for Environmental Sustainability (Ottawa: CIDA, Department of External Affairs, 1992).

18For example, N. Yap, ANGOs and Sustainable Development," International Journal 45 (1989): 75-105.

19For example, G. Prance and C. DeWitt, Missionary Earthkeeping (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1992).

20D. Kennard, "A Christian Critique of Development Perspectives: Modernization and Dependency," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 36 (1984): 162-168.

21H. Daly and J. Cobb, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989); W. Sachs, The Development Dictionary: a Guide to Knowledge as Power (London: Zed Books, 1992); W. Sachs, "Development: A Guide to the Ruins," The New Internationalist 232 (1992): 4-27; and T. Verhelst, No Life Without Roots (London: Zed Books, 1987).

22T. Verhelst, No Life Without Roots (London: Zed Books, 1987), 19.

23For example, D. Butz, S. Lonergan, and B. Smit, "Why International Development Neglects Indigenous Social Reality," Canadian Journal of Development Studies 12 (1991): 143-157; D. Goulet, The Cruel Choice: a New Concept in the Theory of Development (New York: Atheneum, 1973); W. Sachs, "Development: A Guide to the Ruins," The New Internationalist 232 (1992): 4-27; and T. Verhelst, No Life Without Roots (London: Zed Books, 1987).

24For example, R. Norgaard, "Sustainable Development: A Co-Evolutionary View," Futures 20 (1988): 606-620 and S. LÈlÈ, "Sustainable Development: A Critical Review," World Development 19 (1991): 607-621.

25For example, A. K. Biswas and Q. Geping, Environmental Impact Assessment for Developing Countries (London: United Nations University (Tycooly International), 1987).

26For example, G. Cochrane, The Cultural Appraisal of Development Projects (New York: Praeger, 1979).

27J. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960) and V. Samuel and C. Sugden, eds., The Church in Response to Human Need (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).

28For example, A. Dachs, "Missionary Imperialism - The Case of Bechuanaland," Journal of African History 13 (1972): 647-658.

29L. Weissling, "The Effects of a Religious Mission on Rural Development: A Case Study in Lwawu, Northwest Province, Zambia," Canadian Journal of African Studies 24 (1990): 75-96.

30For example, L. Goldin and B. Metz, "An Expression of Cultural Change: Invisible Converts to Protestantism among Highland Guatemala Mayas," Ethnology 29 (1990): 325-338.

31For example, W. Bragg, "From Development to Transformation," in V. Samuel and C. Sugden, eds., The Church in Response to Human Need (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 20-51.

32M. Adeney, "Culture and Planned Change," in V. Samuel & C. Sugden, eds., The Church in Response to Human Need (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 92.

33D. Goulet, The Cruel Choice: a New Concept in the Theory of Development (New York: Atheneum, 1973), 264.

34W. Sachs, The Development Dictionary: a Guide to Knowledge as Power (London: Zed Books, 1992), 102.

35W. Sachs, "Development: A Guide to the Ruins," The New Internationalist 232 (1992): 4-27.

36D. Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973).

37T. Verhelst, No Life Without Roots (London: Zed Books, 1987), 161.

38C. Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973) and R. A. LeVine, "Properties of Culture: An Ethnographic View," in R. Schwader and R. Levine, eds., Culture Theory: Essays in Mind, Theory and Emotion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 67-87.

39D. Augsberger, Pastoral Counselling across Cultures (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986).

40This model of reciprocity is developed in a forthcoming paper.

* ASA Fellow

From PSCF 48 (December 1996): 230-240.