From Religious Relief to Development Aid: The Near East Relief and the Emergence of International Humanitarianism, 1915-1930


  • Hans Magne Jaatun University of Oslo



The emergence of a sustained scholarly interest in the origins of humanitarian organisations is a relatively new phenomenon, which has – in part – led to an overly positivistic and uncritical understanding of humanitarianism, in both its current and past iterations. This article is an examination of one of the earliest, and perhaps most influential humanitarian organisations of its time: the Near East Relief – and details the organisation’s transformation from a coalition of religiously selective relief committees into a secular, permanent, and development-focused humanitarian institution. Through exploring the setting, birth, and early history of the NER, it is possible to create an image of the general development of international humanitarianism in the interwar years. Factors such as field experience, donor pressure, internal organisational disputes, paternalistic attitudes, a growing academic presence within the NER, and the influence and changing character of religious doctrine and thought, all combine to form a more nuanced image of the origins and evolution of modern humanitarianism.

Author Biography

Hans Magne Jaatun, University of Oslo

Hans Magne Jaatun received his BA in Modern Middle Eastern History from the University of Manchester, and is currently an MA candidate in Modern International and Transnational History at the University of Oslo. His research interests include the establishment and end of Empire in the Middle East, the history of humanitarianism, and the development of historical memory.