Queen's Policy Engagement

Is Ireland turning to religion during the COVID-19 crisis?

It may not be a "devotional revolution", but religion may play a greater than expected role for many in Ireland as the crisis unfolds says Dr Gladys Ganiel.

Is Ireland turning to religion during the COVID-19 crisis?

Emmet Larkin’s claim that there was a “devotional revolution” in Ireland after the Great Famine is one of this island’s most enduring historical theories. Larkin argued that the trauma of the famine convinced people to seek God, transforming it from a land of barely practising Catholics to a nation whose identity was bound up with its faith. This process was accelerated by the energetic efforts of Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Armagh (1850-1852) and Dublin (1852-1878), who introduced new devotional practices from Europe.

Similarly, cross-national studies have found that phenomena like evangelical revivals and Marian apparitions almost always take place during times of social anxiety. Ulster’s famous 1859 evangelical revival can be understood in this light – and in part as a Protestant reaction to fears about Catholic expansion under Cullen .

Turning to religion during a crisis could be considered a relic of previous eras, a curious historical footnote that is of little relevance in our contemporary secular age. But it would be a mistake to overlook the power of religion during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Article originally appeared on RTE Brainstorm.

The featured image has been used courtesy of Getty Images and a Creative Commons license. 


Dr Gladys Ganiel
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Dr Gladys Ganiel is a Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work and a Research Fellow in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. Gladys works across the disciplines of sociology, politics, anthropology and religious studies. She specialises in religion, conflict transformation and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe and South Africa; the emerging church movement; evangelicalism; and religious change on the island of Ireland.

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