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Project Title:Roots of Sectarianism
Contact:John Brewer
Address:Dept. of Sociology and Social Policy
Queens University
Telephone:01232 245133 ext 3749
Fax:01232 320668


Part of the dynamics to Northern Ireland's conflict is the belief that there is scriptural basis to anti-Catholicism. It forms part of the self-defining identity of certain Protestants and inhibits reconciliation between the two communities by suggesting that divisions are upheld by theological doctrine. The roots of sectarianism thus lie partly in claims about theology. Anti-Catholicism was given a scriptural underpinning in the history of Protestant-Catholic relations in Northern Ireland in order to reinforce divisions between the religious communities and to offer a deterministic belief system to reinforce racial divisions based on claims about biological science; sectarianism through claims about scripture. The claim that anti-Catholicism is theologically justified is contested by others who root anti-Catholicism in sociological processes. In this view, scripture was appropriated to justify social divisions at a particular historical context in Catholic-Protestant relations and can be located sociologically by the socio-economic and political processes that led to theology being used in this way. Claims about biological science are still common sensically used today to justify racial divisions, and anti-Catholicism is still thought to be scriptural. Therefore, an analysis of the roots of anti-Catholicism will inform public debate about the nature and causes of some features of the conflict, as well as assist in overcoming common sense myths that inhibit reconciliation. It will critically address some of the beliefs that self-define the group identity of a key section of Protestants.

Aims of the Research:

1. To examine the deterministic belief system that underpins some aspects of Northern Ireland's conflict, namely anti-Catholicism and its assumed scriptural basis.

2. To locate the emergence of this belief system in the context of wider Protestant-Catholic relations in Northern Ireland.

3. To explore the sociological dynamics which led theology to be appropriated to justify social divisions.

4. To place contemporary beliefs about anti-Catholicism into a historical and sociological profile which renders them common sensical rather than ordained by God.

5. To critically challenge some of the beliefs that self-define the identity of a key section of Protestants.


1 To understand the nature and causes of one element of the social conflict in Northern Ireland by examination of one of the defining beliefs of Fundamentalist- Protestant identity.

2 By showing that anti-Catholicism is rooted in sociological processes rather than Scripture, various claims that currently reinforce social division are properly understood.

3 To reinforce the Peace Process by challenging the claim that some divisions are immutable because they are determined by God.

A book is intended, and is likely to be written by the end of 1997. Funding occurred between November 1996 and April 1997.

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