Cosgrove, Olivia and Cox, Laurence and Kuhling, Carmen and Mulholland, Peter
Editors' introduction: Understanding new religion in Ireland.
Ireland's New Religious Movements.
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, pp. 1-27.
In recent decades, the religious landscape of the island of Ireland has transformed dramatically. In the Republic, the Catholic church, dominant since the late nineteenth century, has faced a steady decline in levels of practice and a dramatic cultural crisis. Similar processes, albeit less dramatic, are taking place north of the border and in the established Protestant churches, while Irish Judaism is also in decline.
At the same time, ways of being which classify themselves as non-religious or which consciously resist religion (new and 'alternative' spiritualities, atheism, humanism, agnosticism and so on) have become more widespread. World religions – Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and so on – have arrived, with migrants and through conversion; while established churches face the simultaneously enlivening and unsettling arrival both of African churches and of large numbers of new parishioners with sometimes very different orientations to what is nominally the same denomination. Beyond these, new religious movements (NRMs) are flourishing, and what is sometimes called the "New Age Movement" (NAM) – bringing very large numbers of Irish people in contact with yoga, meditation, traditional Chinese medicine, reiki and other forms of “alternative” and/or “complementary healing”.
In this context, the study of new religion in Ireland becomes an interesting and enjoyable topic as well as one which is manifestly important if we on this island are to understand and live with each other; perhaps particularly on this island, where religion has historically been bound up with ethnic and political identity, and where both north and south of the border religious affiliations have statutory implications – whether in education and health in the Republic or in political structures in the North.
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