The Psychology and Theology of Global Humanitarian Issues (College Course)

This course (currently offered at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho) will explore major humanitarian crises from around the world with special attention to the related psychological and theological issues.  The class format will be brief lecture with class discussion. Discussion will include the implications for the practice of psychology and for the role of local faith communities and faith-based organizations.

The issues discussed in the class may change depending on current events, but will likely include the following:

  1. Displaced People. People displaced by civil conflict or natural disasters face a series of disruptive and potentially traumatizing events that can lead to chronic trauma.  Recent work on community care models and the role of the church offer insights and hope for these vulnerable people.
  2. Corrupt governments and civil society groups are seen by some as the leading threat to development, compromising justice, retarding development, and perpetuating poor health.  Others argue it bypasses unnecessary bureaucracy and creates efficiency.  We will ask who is right and what works to improve the situation.
  3. Violence Against Children. From human trafficking to child slavery to early marriage and more, violence against children takes many forms.  The UN has launched a global program to end violence, and Christian NGO World Vision is a leading a coalition to engage communities in ending violence.  We will look at some model programs and explore how they work.
  4. Extreme poverty. The World Bank has called extreme poverty a moral challenge for society and a spiritual challenge for the church.  Extreme poverty has been cut by half since 2000, but can we eliminate it altogether?  Three pilot programs are planned for 2018 to test this idea.
  5. Climate Change and Mental Health. Health and public health have received much attention in research on the impact of our changing environment, but mental health has received much less attention.  In 2017 the APA released a compendium of research on mental health and climate change and called for more study.
  6. Sustainable Development. In 2016 the United Nations released the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next ten years.  These goals are meant to guide the work of governments and civil society organizations.  For the first-time faith-based organizations made direct contributions to the definition and implementation of the SDGs.

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  1. Describe the role and contributions of psychology to the major humanitarian issues in the world.
  2. Describe examples of the integration of psychology and theology in humanitarian programs, with special attention to the role of the church.
  3. Identify methods in community psychology that are used in international development and humanitarian crises.
  4. Describe issues within selected humanitarian issues and articulate their personal position on these issues.


There are three parts to the assessment, each counting equally:

Students will write brief (1-2 pages) personal statements on each issue that describe what they have learned and any implications for their world view, beliefs or future profession.

Each student will write one term paper focusing on an issue discussed in class, or another issue (with approval).  An outline and set of key questions will be provided at the start of the class, along with scoring criteria.

Attendance and participation in class and online discussion will be the third part of the assessment.


The issues listed for this course are ones that the instructor is personally involved in as a representative of the WEA.  Examples from the field are presented, and when possible, speakers from other participating organizations will supplement class presentations.

David Boan, PhD
Director, Humanitarian Advocacy
World Evangelical Alliance
[email protected]

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