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Gladys Ganiel MRIA: Sociologist of Religion

12 May 2023

Professor Ganiel’s research in the sociology of religion encompasses the role of religion in conflict and peacebuilding, religious trends on the island of Ireland, and wider debates about religious persistence amid secularisation.

Gladys Ganiel MRIA is professor in the sociology of religion at Queen’s University Belfast.

My passion is exploring and helping others to understand the significance of religion in the contemporary world, particularly on the island of Ireland, but also further afield. My earliest research interest was in the role of religion in conflict and peacebuilding in Northern Ireland, a topic I pursued in my doctoral studies at University College Dublin and in the first years of my academic career at the Belfast campus of the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin. My first book, Evangelicalism and conflict in Northern Ireland (Palgrave 2008), analysed how evangelicalism was contributing to peacebuilding in Northern Ireland. It broke new ground, because previous studies had focused almost exclusively on how evangelicalism had contributed to division and violence. Pushing beyond the stereotypical association of evangelicalism with Reverend Ian Paisley, I documented the diversity within evangelicalism and explored how evangelical identities were changing in response to political developments and evangelicals’ self-critique of their tradition.

My interest in evangelicalism provided a foundation for my work on Emerging Christianity, which resulted in another book, this one co-authored with Gerardo Marti, The deconstructed church: understanding emerging Christianity (Oxford 2014). The deconstructed church is one of the first comprehensive social scientific analyses of the Emerging Church Movement, a reform movement within Western Christianity that reacts against its roots in conservative evangelicalism by ‘deconstructing’ contemporary expressions of Christianity. It won the 2015 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Social Scientific Study of Religion, the largest such organisation in North America. We argued that the Emerging Church Movement is the most significant re-framing of Western Christianity in the early twenty-first century, describing how Emerging Christians are shaping a distinct religious orientation that encourages individualism; deep relationships with others; new ideas around the nature of truth, doubt and God; and innovations in preaching, worship, Eucharist and leadership.

More recently, I worked on a research project with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland that resulted in a book co-authored with Jamie Yohanis, Considering grace: Presbyterians and the troubles (Merrion Press 2019). Considering grace records the stories of 120 ordinary people’s experiences of the Troubles, exploring how faith shaped their responses to violence and its aftermath. It is not a conventional academic book, but rather a collection of stories from Presbyterian ministers, victims, members of the security forces, those affected by loyalist paramilitarism, ex-combatants, emergency responders, health-care workers, peacemakers, politicians, people who left Presbyterianism, and ‘critical friends’ of the Presbyterian tradition. Considering grace is the first book to capture such a full range of experiences of the Troubles of people from a Protestant background. I also wrote a biography of one of Northern Ireland’s most significant faith-based peacebuilders, Unity pilgrim: the life of Fr Gerry Reynolds CSsR (Redemptorist Communications 2019), highlighting his contributions to ecumenism and the lessons that peacebuilders can learn from his witness.

Another major interest of mine is religious trends on the island of Ireland. My book, Transforming post-Catholic Ireland: religious practice in late modernity (Oxford 2016) was the first major academic book to explore the dynamic religious landscape of contemporary Ireland, north and south, and to analyse the island’s ongoing religious transition. I developed an original concept—‘extra-institutional religion’—which helps to explain how people of faith are practising religion in a secularising Ireland, ‘outside of and in addition to’ the institutional Catholic Church.

I have served as co-editor, with Andrew Holmes, of a forthcoming Oxford handbook of religion in modern Ireland (publication expected 2024), consisting of 32 chapters written by leading academics. It is the first such volume to employ an all-island approach to the relationships between religion, society, politics and everyday life on the island of Ireland.

I am currently leading a three-year research project, funded by the Trans-Atlantic Platform, which investigates the role of religion in societies emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, including the island of Ireland. The project involves partners in Canada, Germany and Poland, ensuring a comparative dimension. We are focusing on discourses around health, illness and science; changing relationships between religion and the state; and religious adaptations to the digital world.

I hope my work prompts others start to think about religion in new ways.

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