September 2012 marks the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, a dramatic political gesture rooted in the distinctive religious culture of the province, which has had profound implications for the subsequent history of the island of Ireland. The extent and the ways in which the Northern Ireland conflict has been ‘religious’ continue to be extensively debated in both academic and practitioner circles. This discussion has entered a significant new phase in the last decade, as a consequence of the restoration of relative peace to Northern Ireland at the very time that, on a wider global canvas in the wake of 9/11, religious difference has loomed much larger as a perceived source of conflict and insecurity.
This conference is the culminating event in a research project ‘Protestant-Catholic Conflict: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Realities’, funded under the Research Councils UK ‘Global Uncertainties’ programme. It will include the presentation of research from the project itself – including particularly work on attitudes to religion in contemporary Northern Ireland; on the diverse histories of religious division in English cities; and on anti-Catholicism in international perspective. The conference programme will be designed to set this work in a wider context, both of Ireland itself, and of comparisons with Protestant-Catholic conflict and other kinds of division in which religion is implicated elsewhere in the UK and in other parts of the world. It is hoped that by enhancing understanding of the roots of ‘religious’ conflict, the conference will contribute to the development of strategies for reconciliation. Contributions from practitioners in conflict resolution as well as from academics would be warmly welcome.