The Politics of Clean Water

Basic information

  • Dates: 2016-2018
  • Student researcher(s):
    • Jonathan Winkle
  • Faculty researcher(s):

Christians have devoted considerable thought and practical effort to addressing gaps in access to clean water. Countless individuals and faith¬based organizations have leveraged technical expertise in engineering, agriculture, urban infrastructure, ecological restoration, and other disciplines to develop and secure water systems for human use, especially in impoverished regions around the globe. Their work is a matter of justice, that is, a response to inequities in the distribution of a basic good. But what is the role of government in addressing this problem of distributive justice? We might suppose that serious efforts to meet the human need for water would take politics into account. After all, given water’s various uses, the nature of the “good” is contestable, and the availability of the good is often scarce. It is difficult to imagine peaceably settling questions of value and allocation without the intervention of government and the political process. Despite the high stakes, however, Christians have not adequately wrestled with the politics of water, and especially the competing values that shape policy¬making about this basic good. The overall purpose of this project is to begin to fill this gap by clearly framing key policy values and spurring deeper Christian reflection about water and public justice. More specifically, the goals of the project are twofold: (1) to apply the rich traditions of Christian thought on public justice to the ways societies distribute water; and (2) to explore how political development can sustain efforts by Christians to broaden human access to clean water.

Project Outcome:

The goals of the project are (1) to apply Christian understandings of distributive justice to the problem of water, and (2) to explore ways that political development can help sustain efforts to get clean water into impoverished regions.

I imagine several outcomes: (1) a solid preparation for the faculty mentor's sabbatical project (2016-17) on water policy; (2) at least one or two occasional pieces for Christian think tanks on water policy, which the student will co-author; (3) the likelihood of faculty-student co-presentation in a panel at the 2017 Henry Symposium that explores Christian approaches to the politics of water; (4) first-steps to preparing a team-taught course that focuses on how the politics of a region shapes the development of water systems, which will benefit the college as a whole; and (5) possibly a seminar on Christianity, environmental justice, and approaches to water in the summer of 2017 or 2018.  The Henry Symposium panel and the course would be opportunities for Calvin colleagues and students to learn more about water policy and its connections to other work on development and the sustainability.

This is part of the Civitas Lab, which you can find out more about at:


Kevin Den Dulk

Kevin den Dulk

Associate Provost, Global Campus
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