Last week I presented a paper at the European Sociological Association conference in Geneva, titled: ‘The End of Irish Catholicism?: Exploring Extra-Institutional Spaces for Faith.’ I’ll be speaking again on the same topic on Thursday 20 October at 5.15 pm at the Peter Froggart Centre at Queen’s University Belfast.
My talk is one in a series organised by Queen’s new Religious Studies Research Forum, launched in June of this year.
My talk draws on research conducted for my School’s Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism project, where I’ll be presenting results from two of our eight cases studies of ‘expressions of faith’ on the island of Ireland.
The series continues through the autumn and spring terms. Except for my presentation, all others will be at Edgehill College. All begin at 5.15 pm:
- 20 October Gladys Ganiel (Irish School of Ecumenics, TCD) ‘The End of Irish Catholicism?’ Peter Froggart Centre, 02/008
- 3 November Paul Shore (Education, Brandon University) ‘Equivalencies and Holy Alchemy: Towards an Understanding of the Interior World of Baroque Jesuits.’
- 1 December Crawford Gribben (English, TCD) ‘John Owen and the British civil wars’
- 9 February Peter Bowler (History, QUB) The Legacy of Darwin
To give you a taste for my paper, these are the first three paragraphs from the draft I prepared for Geneva:
The Catholic Church occupies an increasingly weak and peripheral position in Irish life. With their church damaged by the clerical child sexual abuse scandals, Catholics report decreasing levels of trust in the church as an institution, and mass-going has declined accordingly. Such trends are not unusual across Europe, where increasing secularisation and similar revelations about clerical child sexual abuse have damaged the witness of the Catholic Church. But in Ireland, the decline has been much more rapid, especially since the 1990s. This is remarkable, given the long-standing identification of Irishness with Catholicism, and the ‘monopoly’ which the church held over much of society.
But the story of the Catholic Church in Ireland (CCI) is not entirely one of loss. Ireland is not experiencing a straightforward transition from ‘Holy Catholic Ireland’ to a secular, irreligious republic. This paper is primarily concerned with identifying and analysing what Fr Brian D’Arcy has called ‘green shoots of Christian living’ among Catholics in Ireland. Drawing on in-depth case studies of Catholics who visit the Holy Cross Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor, Co. Down, and who are involved with Slí Eile, a Jesuit Centre for Young Adults, I explore how some Irish Catholics are experiencing their faith in the context of the challenges facing their institutional church. I argue that Holy Cross and Slí Eile are providing Irish Catholics with extra-institutional religious spaces that are perceived as free from the corruptions of the institutional church, where they can experience hope, healing and personal growth. These extra-institutional spaces are also facilitating people’s explorations of pursuits that they think have been neglected by the CCI, such as ecumenism, social justice and a deeper spirituality.
The paper offers a brief account of what Inglis has called the ‘de-institutionalisation’ of the CCI. Then it outlines the reaction of the institutional church to this development, before exploring how some Catholics have found room for their faith to grow within the extra-institutional spaces of Holy Cross and Slí Eile. But it is important not make grand claims for the significance of these extra-institutional spaces. We just do not know if these types of spaces will function as seedbeds for revival or reform within the CCI, or if they are simply refuges for the faithful, small and ultimately insignificant beyond their impact on individuals’ lives. But the research does reveal that Slí Eile and Holy Cross have provided life, vitality and hope for those who are involved with them. This raises some tantalising questions, which I outline in the conclusion.
 Donnelly and Inglis, “The Media and the Catholic Church in Ireland.” Inglis, “Catholic Identity in Contemporary Ireland.”
 Donnelly and Inglis, “The Media and the Catholic Church in Ireland,” 3, 10-13.
 Cooney, John Charles McQuaid. Elliott, When God Took Sides. Garvin, Preventing the Future. Mitchell, Religion, Identity and Politics in Northern Ireland.
 Inglis, Moral Monopoly.
 D’Arcy, A Little Bit of Healing, 113.
 Inglis, “Catholic Identity in Contemporary Ireland,” 217.
(Image sourced on flickr, by origamidon)