The new Scottish Religious Cultures Network (SRCN) has launched a website. SRCN is based at the University of Glasgow, but includes collaborators from across the UK and Ireland. It is funded by the Royals Society of Edinburgh’s research networking scheme.
Although Scotland has never been the primary focus of my own research, I am part of the network through my work on religion in Northern Ireland. I was previously part of the Edinburgh Politics Festival’s Scottish-Irish Conversations on Sectarianism.
Northern Ireland, of course, has particularly strong links with Scotland, including a shared religious history in which Calvinism and Presbyterianism have been significant and influential.
The project focuses on the legacy of religion in Scotland. Despite the persisting secularisation of Scottish society, represented by decreasing church attendance, understanding Scotland’s religious past is a sine qua non for understanding Scotland’s social present.
Religion has served as a principal factor in the formation of Scottish culture by shaping cultural norms, delineating individual and corporate identities, and profoundly influencing the nation’s legal and political institutions. Due to its fundamental role in shaping Scottish culture, religion has, moreover, left a lingering legacy that continues to affect the nation on a day-to-day basis. It cannot be ignored.
While the most high profile aspect of this heritage is the blight of sectarianism, something that is a prominent concern of policy makers within the Scottish Government, the fact is that the historical legacy of religion in Scotland continues to be understudied. This in turn has allowed popular myths to persist unchallenged and perpetuated social divisions, mistrust, discrimination and sectarian violence.
The SRCN launched on 5 March 2014 with a high-profile lecture by Prof Tom Devine, Personal Senior Research Chair of History; Scottish History, University of Edinburgh, on: ‘Sectarianism in Scotland: Is it really a problem?’ at the University of Glasgow.
The problem with the current debate around sectarianism is that there is a lack of evidence and an over-emphasis on rhetoric, sound bites and the hysterical media reaction. Devine was disappointed by the recent Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland which failed to provide any further evidence for the phenomenon or even to properly define the concept (read their report here).
I look forward to many useful exchanges around common issues and themes in the study of religion – historical and contemporary – in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.