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Legitimacy of Faith-Based Humanitarian Organizations in Austria, Germany and Pakistan

The management of humanitarian action has become more and more important due to the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters and armed conflicts. Addressing humanitarian needs effectively requires the commitment and competence of all of the actors involved, including faith-based organizations whose roles and capacities are influenced by the level of their legitimacy. However, none of the existing studies on faith-based humanitarian organizations have systematically or empirically addressed the legitimacy of these organizations, and the public debate regarding these organizations continues to be anecdotal, and is driven by misconceptions and prejudices.

Given this gap in the literature, this research will first determine whether and to what extent these organizations are perceived as legitimate in the countries in which they are headquartered and the countries in which they provide humanitarian assistance. Second, it will examine how different types of faith-based humanitarian organizations attempt to gain or maintain legitimacy.

The main hypothesis of this research is that faith-based humanitarian organizations have a comparative advantage in gaining and maintaining legitimacy in the countries where the majority of the population are coreligionists. It also assumes that these organizations choose to comply with donor interests, while they avoid, defy or manipulate the contrasting interests of other actors in their environment.

In order to test these hypotheses, this research will apply the resource dependence approach, neoinstitutionalism, transnationalism, and associational theory. It will study and compare six faith-based organizations, which are headquartered in Austria or Germany and provide humanitarian assistance in Pakistan, namely a well-established Christian organization in Austria (Caritas Austria) and its German counterpart (Caritas Germany), a well-established Muslim organization in Austria (Muslims Help Austria) and its German counterpart (Muslims Help Germany), and a Muslim migrant organization in Austria (Islamic Federation Vienna) and its counterpart in Germany (Islamic Community Millî Görüş).

Together, Austria, Germany, and Pakistan provide a perfect opportunity to discuss whether Christian and Muslim humanitarian organizations are confronted with different expectations in a country mainly populated by Muslims and in a country mainly populated by Christians. In Austria and Germany, where Christianity is the dominant religion, the opportunity structures for Christian humanitarian organizations are very similar, whereas the government attitudes toward Muslim organizations vary considerably. In Pakistan, a Muslim country with ongoing humanitarian crises, Christian humanitarian organizations have experienced difficulties because they are perceived to be promoters of Western values, norms, and political agendas.

Data for this research will be collected from secondary sources and in-depth interviews with representatives and members of the organizations, governmental agencies in Austria, Germany, and Pakistan, traditional humanitarian NGOs, UN organizations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, local cooperation partners, and beneficiaries of humanitarian aid in Pakistan.

The project is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF: Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung) and directed by Dr. Zeynep Sezgin (Opens window for sending emailzeynep.sezgin@univie.ac.at) from the Department of Development Studies at University of Vienna.

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