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Addressing conflict and reconciliation

Behind many of the articles in the Autumn 2019 issue of Studies », lies an awareness of serious conflict – conflict in political aspirations, conflict in worldview or religion – and the possibility of reconciliation.

The question of the European Union dominates. Three of the articles specifically address Brexit, either specifically or as a springboard to broader questions of co-existence, ecumenism and human flourishing. The latter of these is the chief concern of Fergus O’Ferrall, formerly the Lay Leader of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and one of the ‘coalition of hope’ group which has produced A dialogue of hope: Critical thinking for critical times.

Dr O’Ferrall sees Brexit as “a very serious threat to the economic life of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”, but also as an even more critical threat to the Belfast Agreement, and therefore to peace between communities on the island. He notes that historically Irish Christianity has given rise to a deeply-embedded sectarianism and has been associated with violence, extremism and bigotry. If then Brexit should lead to the renewal of conflict, there will once again be an urgent need for reconciliation. For this, it is essential that all the Christian Churches would acknowledge and analyse the “theology of violence” which has long resided in the personal and collective psyches. The dismal reality, Dr O’Ferrall says, is that the Churches have not yet undertaken the critical theological task of deconstructing the myth of redemptive violence which has lain at the heart of their separate histories. In order to achieve this deconstruction, the Churches have to address the “underlying collective frames of thought”, the mentalités, which are deeply embedded in Ireland’s religious communities.

Other writers who approach the Brexit theme in this volume are William Kingston and Ray and Maurice Kinsella. Kingston’s short contribution makes one point, namely that in all the Brexit negotiations Ireland overplayed its hand by insisting on a border without checks as a precondition to trade talks. What Ireland most needed once the British voted to leave, Kingston argues, was a favourable trade deal, and this should have been secured before working to resolve the complex border issues. “The most important key to successful negotiation,” Kingston argues, “is to ensure that the other party also profits from the outcome”. The Irish, however, used the full strength of this position to manouevre Britain into an impossible situation.

For Ray and Maurice Kinsella, the Brexit debacle has shown up the “existential crisis” at the heart of the European Union – “from economic inequality and the near eclipse of Social Europe, to a yawning democratic deficit that has created a widespread sense of disenchantment and alienation from the European Project…” The tensions arising from all this have been imperfectly rendered as ‘populism’. At the heart of the matter is the tension between two great forces, “the perception of an increasingly hegemonistic EU and the aspiration to recover iteratively eroded national autonomy”. Much of the article is then taken up with identifying the immense damage which has been done to the felt sense of national identity and autonomy, especially by the procedurtes of ‘Troikanomics’.

In other articles in this issue, the contribution of male religious to Irish healthcare is positively assessed (Tim O’Sullivan); Dublin poet Gerry McDonnell’s writings on Irish Jews is examined (Shai Afsai); and the Christian meditation movement, particularly the work of John Main and Laurence Freeman, is understood in the context of the broader Christian hesychastic traditions (Alexandra Slaby).