Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Thinking more deeply about sectarianism

FOUR of the five members of the Scottish government's expert advisory panel on tacking sectarianism have come together at Just Festival this evening, to look at how the debate can be moved forward.

Experienced Church of Scotland minister the Rev  Ian Galloway, chairing, introduced the panel, the topic and the work of the group.

Theologian Dr Cecilia Clegg stressed that sectarianism cannot simply be equated with 'religious bigotry' or indeed ignorance. Polite people can think and behave in sectarian ways. It is to do with religious difference, however, and what happens when that is used to exclude or stigmatise. Sporting allegiance, national allegiance and politics also comes into the mix. Football often acts as a proxy for other things, just as religion or belief can be used and abused negatively. Natural rivalries are blur into something more sinister.

Michael Rosie, Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, talked about his own discovery of the bile that can exist between different groups at a Hearts-Rangers match he attended a fan. His work since then has not focused on football but on other areas. However, his concern is to get beyond competing anecdotes to survey and other data. There is, however, a lack of high quality qualitative material, something the group is seeking to address, he said.

Margaret Lynch, a member of a faith-based community organisation in Coatbridge spoke out of her experience of moving between differently configured situations of religious interaction. Understanding experience and  accounting for history across and between 'green' and 'orange' convictions needs to be handled carefully, she said.

'Our identity' defined in opposition to someone else's is part of the narrative we inherit. We are conditioned in ways that are obvious and less obvious to us and to other people. This is why a conversation starting with "this is my experience", based on generosity, is needed to begin to overcome resentment and hostility, Ms Lynch suggested. That is where the hope for change is rooted.

Ian Galloway talked of his 40 years working experience in the Gorbals and other poor and deprived communities. Sectarian sentiment had always been part of the mix on street corners and in local life, he said. Positively, however, he has seen young people in Glasgow change as a result of exposure to the issue. Attitudes have definitely shifted.

Where locally can you find organisations that are experienced and trusted enough to be able to make a contribution to challenging sectarianism  That is one of the challenges, Dr Galloway explained.  Likewise, how can churches learn to need one another genuinely, rather than to see themselves being in competition?

This article has been live-blogged at the event. More here

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