Secularism and Sectarianism in Christianity: The Case of Northern Ireland during the Troubles

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This chapter examines the ways that Christian communities in Northern Ireland perceived and grappled with the problem of violence between and among the Catholic and Protestant populations during the Troubles (1968–98). On the one hand, there is strong evidence of secularism being practiced by the communities in their intercommunal attempts to turn away from the “sin of sectarianism” committed against each other. On the other hand, however, within this “Christian secular” framework, the communities involved also sought to make active political contributions to resolving the conflict, rather than consigning it to “the world.” It is to the clarification of this apparent contradiction in Christianity—by way of the Northern Ireland example, Page 121 →the “unfinished Reformation,” as some locals call it—that this chapter is dedicated. It argues that while in general secularization as a historical process was seen by Christian communities in conflict as a common threat, it was also consciously welcomed if not promoted in specific instances to achieve peace. Hence the ambiguous nature of the relationship between the religious and the secular in Christianity, as reflected in the Northern Ireland conflict. Going beyond the question of “Christian secularism,” the chapter will also highlight the possible contributions and shortcomings of a theologically informed analysis of intercommunal conflict, namely, the sin-structural approach, vis-à-vis a secular sociopolitical analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond the Death of God: Religion in 21st Century International Politics
EditorsSimone Raudino, Patricia Sohn
PublisherUniversity of Michigan Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9780472902682
ISBN (Print)9780472075157, 9780472055159
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


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