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What Matters?Ethnographies of Value in a Not So Secular Age$
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Courtney Bender and Ann Taves

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231156851

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231156851.001.0001

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Secular Humanitarianism and the Value of Life

Secular Humanitarianism and the Value of Life

Chapter:
(p.144) Secular Humanitarianism and the Value of Life
Source:
What Matters?
Author(s):

Peter Redfield

Publisher:
Columbia University Press
DOI:10.7312/columbia/9780231156851.003.0006

This chapter considers the degree to which secular organization finds a “sacred purpose” through seeking to preserve human existence. The key example for this study is the humanitarian association Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The MSF is a secular organization—a group operating without mandate, and maintains complete independence from all political, economic, or religious powers—that conducts emergency response operations and provides AIDS medication. Beyond regularly deploying calls to “save lives,” the group offers the nominal advantage of combining an assertive faith in medical care. The organization also reflects a biopolitical expectation that states should attend to the health of their populations. However, their vision exceeds questions of governance—whereas a state might display the capacity to “make live” or “let die,” MSF members can never legitimately reject a suffering person.

Keywords:   Médecins Sans Frontières, secular organization, humanitarian association, faith, human existence

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