Evidence 8: Differences in the most frequent terms used by faith-based and non-religious organizations

In Evidence 6, we explored the creation patterns of faith-based humanitarian organizations. Let’s now turn to the comparison between the “faith-based and non-religious humanitarian language”.

The graph below shows the co-occurrence matrix between the most frequent terms used by faith-based and non-religious organizations. To perform this analysis, we coded our corpus of documents as previously described. Contrary to the previous coding exercise where codes were applied only to WHS documents, the results are now based on an initial coding of the entire corpus (319 documents). Given that the number of codes was important (more than 150), we only compared terms referring to humanitarian activities, values and beneficiaries for this analysis (78 codes).


Two results stand out from this network diagram.

First, 64 % of the most frequently used terms have a similar appearance pattern for faith-based and non-religious organizations, which often refer to the same central terms. Among the most frequent terms we find references to:

  • “community”, a term strongly associated to “affected”, “live” and “people” ;
  •  humanitarian action as a “support” activity
  • the link with “development” approach
  •  “health”, as a specific area of intervention

Second, some specificities stand out for both groups of actors.
Faith-based actors emphasize nine terms which they use in a specific way. However, among them, only the term “church” is directly related to faith in our corpus. Other terms have specific appearance patterns for faith-based actors but are used with no reference to religious values. These terms are:

  • references to shared core values and principles such as : “justice”, “dignity”, “equality”;
  • specific relations to affected communities with an emphasis on “empowerment” and numerous references to “culture” and cultural traditions;
  • a contradictory cluster of terms “peace”/”violence” used in association and referring to conflict settings as specific contexts of intervention
  • “mission” strongly associated with “vision”

Specific central terms shared by non-religious groups are less numerous (5). This is due to the fact that non-religious groups form a bigger and more heterogeneous group. They refer to three distinct activities (“protection”, “nutrition” and “education”) as well as an emphasis on the use of evidence in humanitarian practice. Lastly, non-religious organizations put an emphasis on the role of volunteers and voluntary action in humanitarianism.

These results shall be interpreted with caution.

First, they only reflect the specific appearance patterns of some frequently used terms and provide no evidence on the relative importance of these terms for both groups of organizations. Second, both groups include very diverse organizations in terms of organizational structures and geographical origins. Hence, the observed differences may reflect a combination of regional, organizational as well as religious dimensions.

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