Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland: New Book to be Published with Oxford

celtic crossI’m delighted to announce that I am now under contract for my next book, Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland. The book will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

So while that’s some time to wait, here’s a summary of the research that I will be writing up over the next year.

Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland

In 2013, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, wrote an article for America: The National Catholic Review, which was simply titled: ‘A Post-Catholic Ireland?’[1] With those words, Archbishop Martin confirmed that almost all idealised visions of a ‘holy, Catholic Ireland’ have long since past. He recognised that commentators and citizens alike are increasingly talking about Ireland in post-Catholic terms. But what a post-Catholic Ireland means for all expressions of faith on the island, north and south, remains a mystery. The island’s history of religious devotion and religious conflict continues to cast its shadow over social and political life, while the unprecedented religious diversity that has accompanied immigration adds further layers of complexity.

This is the first major book to explore the dynamic religious landscape of contemporary Ireland, north and south, and to analyse the character of Ireland’s religious transition. It confirms that the Catholic Church’s long-standing ‘monopoly’ has well and truly disintegrated, replaced by a complex religious ‘market’ featuring new and growing expressions of Protestantism, as well as a range of non-Christian religions.

This analysis is based on a research project titled ‘Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism: Diversity, Dialogue and Reconciliation.’[2] Along with colleagues in the Irish School of Ecumenics, I had identified a need for research about religious diversity on the island of Ireland, which had been made more obvious by increased immigration during the Celtic Tiger years in the Republic of Ireland. I had also identified a need for research about what seemed, more than a decade after the Good Friday Agreement, to be an obvious lack of reconciliation between Christian churches, in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. I wanted to study how people of faith at the grassroots were encountering both ethnic and religious diversity, what they thought about it, and what they were doing to create more harmonious relationships with those who are ‘different.’

What I found was surprising. The ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church cast an immense shadow over the lives of people of all faiths and none. The crisis in the Catholic Church, coupled with a general wariness of religious institutions, has contributed to a profound individualisation of faith and the development of what I call ‘extra-institutional’ religion. The concept of extra-institutional religion is fully described throughout this book.

I developed the concept through reflecting on the sociological research conducted for this book, including surveys, in-depth interviews, and observations. I conducted two ‘Surveys of 21st Century Faith’ in 2009, the first of which canvassed 4,005 faith leaders (710 responses). The second was an open, online survey for laypeople, to which 910 responded. The in-depth interviews and observations were carried out as part of eight case studies of ‘expressions of faith’ between 2009-2011, including the Parish Pastoral Council of the Parish of Good Counsel in Ballyboden, Dublin; Magis Ireland (then known as Slí Eile), a Jesuit young adult ministry; Abundant Life, a Pentecostal congregation in Limerick; St Patrick’s United Church, a combined Methodist and Presbyterian congregation in Waterford; Jesus Centre Dublin, a congregation of the Redeemed Christian Church of God; Holy Cross Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor, Co. Down; the Fermanagh Churches Forum; and a sample of individuals from faith traditions other than Christianity. In total, 112 people were interviewed from across these eight cases.

Extra-institutional religious spaces are important because they comprise a significant part of Ireland’s religious market, providing alternatives to more long-established religious institutions like denominations or the local parish. They also provide alternative spaces that harness some of the creative tension unleashed as people critique a once-dominant religious institution, simultaneously rejecting that institution yet selectively drawing on the resources it offers to construct a faith that is personally fulfilling and, at times, focussed on correcting the social ills now blamed on that once-dominant institution. Further, the development of extra-institutional religion potentially holds the seeds for a wider religious transformation, creating spaces for people on the ‘margins’ of the religious market to speak into and model for the ‘mainstream’ how to practice reconciliation and meaningful ecumenism. Though such an outcome is by no means predetermined, such a transformation could make post-Catholic Ireland a place where religious diversity is celebrated as a gift, rather than seen as a burden to be endured.


[1], posted May 20, 2013 and accessed November 12, 2013.

[2] The project was funded by the Irish Research Council (2009-2011) and included sociological and theological research.

(Image sourced on flickr by Andrew Miller)

2 thoughts on “Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland: New Book to be Published with Oxford”

  1. This is set of ideas long overdue your keen eye. I look forward to reading the book when complete. Well done on the contract.

  2. Look forward to your publication. Hope you address fact that Catholic church still administers near all primary and secondary education in the Republic of Ireland. That’s a very powerful position; you aware of any campaign to end that?

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