This article reports back on the key preliminary findings and developing arguments of research which has been funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council in four politically and culturally significant countries of the Middle East: Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and Egypt (more limited research in this country). Focusing primarily on Islam and Christianity, the article critically examines what it denotes as an old-new partnership between religious actors or institutions and social policy, understood broadly as both state and non-state interventions in the public sphere aimed at influencing social welfare and development. At a time of increasing interest in Middle Eastern social policy, driven in great part by multilateral aid agencies such as the UN and World Bank, the article offers a descriptive overview of the key dynamics of social policy in the Muslim-populated countries of the region. It then engages in discussion of how religion provides an impetus for social action by introducing a typology of religious welfare. The article thus makes a contribution to the theoretical literature in this area by departing from the conventional model of social policy in the Middle East known as the ‘rentier state’. However, in recognizing that social policy in the Middle East remains subsidiary to concerns with economic development, the article (1) critically examines the contemporary make-up of the relationship between religion and social welfare action in the region, and (2) presents a preliminary argument for reconstituting future social policy in the region by taking better account of how religious values and ideals influence social welfare.
- Global political economy