Religion and Sectarianism in Ulster: Interpreting the Northern Ireland Troubles

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Abstract

The following article considers the various arguments and counter-arguments around the role of religion in causing and sustaining the conflict in Northern Ireland. It identifies the essential elements of the problem and assesses a number of the explanations given, emphasising the difficulty of providing a single answer to such a complex question. The correlation between religion and the divisions in Northern Ireland seems at first sight obvious, but, as a number of commentators have rightly observed, pinning down the relationship between someone’s religion and their attitudes is much more problematic. This essay therefore avoids the reductionism and ‘either/or’ formulations of so many scholars on both sides of the debate, instead emphasising that religion is ultimately one of a number of dimensions to Northern Irish identity, the politics of which sustains the social divisions and was the source of the political violence that ravaged the region.

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