Conference season…again.

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2015 by Eoin O'Mahony

Conference season rolls around again. There’s a regularity to it that can be comforting. This year however I have been confining efforts to my defaults: the Conference of Irish Geographers and the conference of the ISASR.  I attended both within ten days of each other. The ISASR annual conference was a one day affair on May 11th. A report wot I rote on that is going to be available online shortly. The Conference of Irish Geographers was a very decent conference all in all. Better still for the fact that I won the GSI Doctoral Research Award. I am pleased with that.

My semester at St Patrick’s DCU Geography is coming to an end. The contract ends on June 30th and all of the teaching and assignment and project marking is finished. I’m applying for more work of course with more opportunity in the UK (after the end of the REF cycle I think) than here in Ireland. There’s a real reluctance to hire in higher education right now, perhaps a hangover from years of FEMPI. I do not want to work in the UK necessarily but needs must. Application after application, week after week. I am not taking any of the PFOs personally; it would be a waste of time.

Writing resumes next week. I’m also working on upgrading this blog and adjusting things over on and linkedin.


Reproduced from Occupy LSE

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2015 by Eoin O'Mahony

Statement of Solidarity from Irish Academics

As Irish academics, working both at home and abroad, we write to express our solidarity with the students currently occupying the London School of Economics. The insidious corporatisation that has consumed higher education in the UK over the last generation is a process with which we are becoming ever more familiar also in the Irish context. Both in the UK and in Ireland, we are being encouraged to treat our students as ‘customers’, to regard ourselves as ‘service providers’ and to deem everyone with whom we interact on campus as ‘stakeholders’. Never have we needed more urgently another model of what higher education might be – one guided by the pursuit of learning rather than the pursuit of profit, driven by free speech and radical enquiry rather than the often bogus metrics of ‘excellence’, and committed to creating a space in which everyone who teaches, works and learns is afforded the entitlement and responsibility of equality. The students who are presently occupying the LSE are committed to exploring the possibility that another university is possible and, for that, all of us who are concerned with the fate of higher education are in their debt.

Harry Browne, DIT

Dr Colin Coulter, NUIM

Mairead Enright, University of Kent

Dr Clara Fischer, LSE/UCD

Dr Sinead Kennedy, NUIM

Eoin O’Mahony, St Patrick’s College/DCU

Dr Gavan Titley, NUIM

Dr Tina O’Toole, UL

Dr Audrey Bryan, St Patrick’s College/DCU

Prof Helena Sheehan, DCU

Henry Silke, DCU

Dr Alana Lentin, University of Sussex

Dr Conrad Brunstrom, NUIM

Dr Andy Storey, UCD

Goretti Horgan, University of Ulster

Dr Anne Mulhall, UCD

Dr Debbie Ging, DCU

Dr John O’Brennan, NUIM

Dr Pauline Cullen, NUIM

Dr Stephanie Rains, NUIM

Daragh Grant, University of Chicago

Dr Carmen Kuhling, UL

Sheamus Sweeney, DCU

Dr David Landy, TCD

Katie Moylan, University of Leicester

Tina Kinsella, TCD

Dr Karl Kitching, UCC

Marnie Holborow, DCU

Anwen Tormey, University of Chicago

Colm O’Cinneide, UCL

Dr Deirdre Hynes, Manchester Metropolitan University

Deaglán O’Donghaile, Liverpool John Moores University

Prof Tadhg Foley, NUIG

Dr Lionel Pilkington, NUIG

Dr Heather Laird, UCC

Dr Chandana Mathur, NUIM

Dr Conor McCarthy, NUIM

Dr Colmán Etchingham, NUIM

Claire Brophy, NUIM

Dr Koen Leurs, LSE

Fergal Treanor, University of Antwerp

Dr Myria Georgiou, LSE

Piia Lavila, University of Helsinki

Dr Roderick Flynn, DCU

Linnete Manrique, Goldmiths, University of London

Fergal Finnegan, NUIM

Nicholas Kiersey, Ohio University

Caoimhe Butterly, Kimmage Development Studies Centre

Anna Maria Mullally, ITT Dublin

Dr Illan rua Wall, University of Warwick

Dr Kylie Jarrett, NUIM

Dr Maureen O’Connor, UCC

Dr Patricia McManus, University of Brighton

Paloma Viejo, DCU

Aileen O’Carroll, NUIM

Dr Eugenia Siapera, DCU

Dr Bald de Vries, Utrecht University

Tina Askanius, Lund University

Raymond Deane, UCD

Dr Conor McCabe, UCD

Ntina Tzouvala, Durham University

Dr Cathy Bergin, University of Brighton

Ronit Lentin, TCD

Prof Patricia Coughlan, UCC

Claire Bracken, Union College

Dr Mel Duffy, DCU

Prof Joseph Valente, University at Buffalo

Prof Lucy McDiarmid, Montclair State University

Dr Clare Hayes-Brady, UCD

Dr Fionnuala Dillane, UCD

Jane Grogan, UCD

Dr Graham Price, UCD

Dr Ellen McWilliams, University of Exeter

Dr Cliona O’Gallchoir, UCC

Dr Moynagh Sullivan, NUIM

Prof Gerardine Meaney, UCD

Dr Niamh Pattwell, UCD

Dr Charlotte McIvor, NUIG

Matthew Reznicek, Creighton University

Dr Sharae Deckard, UCD

Prof Margot Backus, University of Houston

Dr Susan Cahill, Concordia University

Prof Nicholas Daly, UCD

Prof Eithne Luibheid, University of Arizona

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My contribution to ‘The changing landscape of faith in Dublin’, March 19th 2015

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2015 by Eoin O'Mahony

This is the text of a short talk I made at this event (FB link) where Dr Melanie Browne and I were asked to speak to the exhibition to which we contributed. It had some slides which I am happy to share.

Despite my ongoing interest in religious landscapes, I do not draw hope or a source of energy from a transcendent force. In Ireland, I find I often have to make a distinction between my academic interest in religious place making and a relationship I do not have to an immaterial force. That is not to say they ought necessarily to be separate. I just find little relationship between my interest in how people make places religious and my own practices. In fact, I would argue that to discuss some category called religion at all in the first place is problematic but that is not for today.

In many different ways, Ireland is becoming more secular. There is a measurable decline in the authority conferred upon religious organisations and persons. It is highly arguable that Ireland itself is or ever has been a Christian country, let alone a Catholic one. This view, that a country can be Christian, Muslim etc., arises from the time when the religion of the monarch was the religion of his subjects and is ill suited to today’s democratic struggles. However, the numbers of people in Ireland who profess that they are Roman Catholic remains steady across time. The proportions of Catholics who attend to regular church rituals, i.e. mass, has fallen drastically since the 1970s when about 98% of Catholics attended weekly. About one and a half million people every week attend a Catholic rite. The proportion of people who profess different faiths and no faith has also changed in recent decades. The second largest religious grouping in Ireland today is Religious Nones. The religious landscape of Ireland today, outside of demographics, is very different to that of thirty years ago. Whether or not this is because of a process we may call secularisation is very much up for discussion.

Recent changes to the religious landscape of Ireland, as I have argued in my short essay in the book, tell us much about the intersection of religious belief and a formal planning process. That religious buildings are subject to a planning process to me is itself a sign of ongoing secularisation. I argue more broadly that secularisation is not merely the decline in the number of people who regularly practice a religious ritual or adhere to the authority of any one institution. It is mostly about what gets included and excluded as religious in the first instance. The religious landscapes of Ireland can only be understood as a connection between people’s everyday practices intended to the immaterial and representations of space. Churches and temples are built, cleaned, maintained and money is spent on them. We can see these as acts of piety or holiness but also as labour power. They rely on the material of everyday life so that they can remain vital. What is different in recent years however is the plurality of ways in which this materialization occurs. In their research on warehouse worship spaces, Maguire and Murphy argue that these places may not “dominate the horizon and remind people of that which is above and beyond them” but they still represent socially created space, simultaneously concrete and abstract. In that sense, it can be argued that formal analyses of the religious landscape of Ireland is being de-churched. The church spire will not disappear anytime soon but what we count as religious space is being changed. The religious and its understandings also change.

In Dublin today, we can see both change and persistence in religious landscapes. These places of religious faith are subject to continuous change, a negotiation. As a materialist, I believe that religious places are as subject to negotiated change as all other produced space. I am not sure why we might think otherwise. Three quick examples serve to illustrate this point:

  • The Timberyard building being finished in 2009, where O’Donnell & Tuomey were asked to find a place for a statue of Mary in the building’s design,
  • The re-installation ceremony for the Marian statue at the redeveloped Fatima Mansions complex. Before this took place, it was readily admitted to me by a community worker that this is “not the Church’s Mary, this is ours”.
  • Finally, the changes in use and numerous warehouse worship spaces catalogued by Eugene Langan, Melanie Brown and others for this exhibition.

In my doctoral work, I also examined how pilgrimage persists, in large and small scales, across the country as well as how the primary schools of Ireland are currently undergoing a similar renegotiation. This is a political process with material outcomes and the sooner we recognize this essential feature of religious landscapes, the better for us all. As practitioners and theoreticians. It certainly gets us out of the intellectual cu-de-sac of pointing at church-goers and laughing at their often-caricatured bronze age sky fairy belief systems. Condescending and dismissive accounts of religious place making are not only analytically unproductive. They also discharge us from an obligation to understand how all places are continuously subject to political contestation.

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In praise of Arnold Horner.

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2014 by Eoin O'Mahony

Colette Colfer and I are planning a conference paper on the adaptation of spaces for religious worship in Dublin and Waterford. Colette did some really good work under the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund in the recent past. I’m interested in knowing a bit more about warehouse churches in general. As part of the preparation for this work, a friend told me about a chapter in a book called Surveying Ireland’s Past. This is a ten year old collection of essays in honour of Anngret Simms . Because it is ten years old, it is full of people who had established academic jobs in geography and elsewhere long before I got to it. Aside from being a fine collection of multidisciplinary essays published by Geography Publications, it contains one of the best examples of the kind of geography that may never be written again. One of these is the chapter that Colette and I are interested in building on. It is written by Arnold Horner and is about the changing uses for churches and other religious sites in Dublin since the 1930s. I have had the pleasure of being in Arnold’s company and being in his home on summer days. He shows immense interest in the work that others do and is gracious about the contributions that he has made to the study of Ireland over the last four decades and more. He retains a genuine curiosity about the world that is slowly being administered out of geographical thought and academic research more generally. I never worked or studied under Arnold but I recently shared a lunch queue with him. We discovered that we had a mutual interest in available parish boundary maps. We email each other very occasionally.

The chapter that Colette and I are hoping to advance in our own paper is perhaps the best example of public geography that anyone could hope to read. You may have no interest in church buildings in Dublin. You may not even have read any geography since third year. But Arnold brings you along in a story about the changing religious landscape of Dublin and its people in a way that only the finest writers can communicate. In a single map or table he makes a complex idea simple. In his hands, a changing religious landscape becomes something real. I would be delighted if I could help advance his story into the early years of the twenty first century. Good research doesn’t rock ur world 4eva, it encourages you to proceed with more.Dublin 1 - my own photo.

Here’s the thing though: the chances are, I will not get the opportunity to. Arnold’s geography is of a kind that expresses keen interest, not KPIs. It is a chance to tell a story, not to foster innovation. The kind of geographic thought that he encourages does not slavishly attend to fund-inducing rankings or linked in any way with international best practice. It is a kind of research and writing that is full sure that others will take an interest in what he has to say because it constitutes the fabric of the world around us. It is politically engaged but not freighted with political-economic theory. This chapter on the changing fortunes of places of worship mentions places that many will know or are now only imprinted on the streetscape as memory. It shows a concern for place that may never find a home again. The Irish university that Arnold worked within is changed utterly. Now, universities see more purpose in rebranding bins than encouraging students to be curious. It actually insults his intelligence while at the same time worries about how much paper is being used in the photocopier. It seeks validation from the Anglo view of the world while at the same time talking up its Irishness as an essentialised virtue. Arnold’s geographic imagination (and those of Simms, Nolan and Aalen) will outlast the passing fad of registrars with red pens.

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Reblogged from Religion Bulletin

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2014 by Eoin O'Mahony

I came to geography late through sociology. I always felt that there was a crucial element of the knowledge missing in my sociological understanding of the world. It turned out that this missing piece was space. Sociologists talk about space but only geography provides a rigorous theoretical unpacking of space and all things spatial. Strange then maybe that I found the best exposition of the spatial and the religious in an anthropology book. Asad’s Formations of the Secular provides one of the most powerful and compelling cases for a relational geography of the religious and the secular. Written as a series of essays, it introduces several important ideas about the social expression about the religious and the secular.  I found his approach vital to my own doctoral research. From an Irish perspective in particular, Asad provides a way out of the analytical dead end within which a normative European model of secularisation revolves.


To understand secularisation, says this analysis, we must accept the increasing distance between private life and public behaviour. Religious social expression, if thought of as a public performance, is given its own space, an allowance to perform as one institution among many. This institutional differentiation allows for clear distinctions to be made between what is public and what constitutes private behaviour. This is reflected back to us as declining religious significance. Survey after survey shows smaller numbers of people attending church services. In this frame, beliefs are central: a belief in god, in the church, in some form of life after death. What replaces these beliefs is something called ‘the secular’. Asad’s Formations… turns this understanding around. It does so by asking some ordinary questions about who the public is, who defines what and where the private can be found. Most importantly, he asks what is public in the first place about the public sphere? For Asad, the public sphere is soaked with pre-existing configurations of power:


The investment people have in particular arguments is not simply a matter of abstract, timeless logic. It relates to the kind of person one has become, and wants to continue to be. In other words, there is no public sphere of free speech at an instant. (p.184)


This way of looking at the public sphere means that it is not merely the background of the people engaging that matters but the very notion of what gets counted as ‘background’ and ‘foreground’ as political principles. To me, this means that many academic understandings of the public sphere rely on an idealised subject. This way of thinking about secularisation involves a conception of the human as a free individual. In short, orthodox theoretical contributions which centre on the distinction between the private and the public are founded on an individualism particular to certain strands of European thought. The public sphere is not an empty space.


The public sphere is a space necessarily (not just contingently) articulated by power. And everyone who enters it must address power’s disposition of people and things, the dependence of some on the goodwill of others. (p.184)


Those thought of as religious, at least in many European contexts, may have to threaten existing power structures in order to be heard. In formal geographic terms, the public sphere is a series of contestations. The performances, practices and events of the secular and the religious are contested in various places, often in relation to each other. This has vital political consequences. In Ireland, where the Catholic church and the state allied for much of the twentieth century, clear distinctions between private and public space is barely discernable. More generally, religion is criticised for interfering in the proper business of politics and in the private life of individuals. However, as he argues:


…secularists accept that in modern society the political increasingly penetrates the personal. At any rate, they accept that politics, through the law, has profound consequences for life in the private sphere. So why the fear of religious intrusion into private life? This partiality may be explained by the doctrine that while secular law permits the essential self to make and defend itself (“our rights constitute us as modern subjects”), religious prescriptions only confine and dominate it. (p.186)


The individual in society, constrained already by law in their private conduct, conceives of himself as constrained by the religious. In this framing, both politics and religion are interrogated critically but jointly. Beyond this though, Asad’s excavation of the secular provides the basis for a decolonisation of the secular. This is done by placing European conceptions of secular legality in a relationship with the development of Islamic legal thought. In the final chapter of the book, Asad discusses how law has changed over time in Egypt. In particular, he is concerned with two questions:


How did Muslims think about secularism prior to modernity? What do Muslims today make of the idea of the secular? (p.205)


In doing this, he ably demonstrates the ways in which legal systems and their governance develop in relation to legal developments elsewhere. In Egypt, the developing relationship between religion, law and morality is influenced by its history as a colony of Britain. He decentres the study of the relationship between the religious and the secular, taking the focus away from European trajectories of the secular. Instead, the secular is denaturalised to become a conjunction of historical and geographical circumstances. In the Irish context, where Catholic identity is intimately connected with being Irish, Asad’s approach allows a more profound analysis. This analysis is not based on a story of constant decline and privatisation. It locates religion in some places and not others, always in dialogue, not replacement.


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In Uncategorized on December 5, 2014 by Eoin O'Mahony

December 2014 marks a bit of a turning point if I am honest. This time last year I was mourning my mother (still am really), I was about three months from completing my doctoral thesis and 2014 itself was yawning before me like some 22 month year in anticipation of ‘the oceans of time I would have’ post-PhD. Only two of these turned out to the way I had thought. This year turned out to be a long struggle with both NUIM (now Maynooth University) and the Office of the Ombudsman.

In an earlier post I outlined very briefly how the Registrar’s Office insisted on a fifth year of fees despite completing the thesis to academic satisfaction in four. This struggle was not helped by an intransigent postholder keen to imprint a particular style of management. There was an insistence on rules which were for their own sake, not reflected in common practice. I asked the Office of the Ombudsman to examine my case, in advance of shelling out €3,400 for nothing. It took so long for that office to examine and rule on my case that by September, I felt no choice but to pony up anyway. I wanted my doctoral thesis examined this side of Christmas. I may well reflect on the viva process in a future post but the pre-viva experience has been alienating to say the least. I will not say too much about my interaction with the Office of the Ombudsman until my appeal of their decision has been brought to a conclusion.

In the meantime, things that are more positive from an academic point of view: I successfully defended my thesis (with Prof. Avril Maddrell as external examiner) and I managed to write a couple of thousand words for various upcoming projects. The most exciting of these is making a small contribution to an exhibition of photography to be held at Darc Space, Dublin 1 next month. I’ll be blogging about that once it opens. I’ve also managed to contribute a book chapter to a volume on the bible in Ireland which might be published in 2015. However, and this is where the clouds are a little darker, I need to adjust my writing style for articles. Someone close to me says that I write blog posts well but when it comes to journal articles, I lose coherence and not a little clarity. It is as if  I feel the need to write like ‘an academic’, a style that was cultivated while an MA student in the 1990s. I continue to receive great support from friends and others in my pursuit of a new career. For now, here’s another plug for the RSP interview I did earlier this year which I enjoyed doing very much. Chris Cotter and the wider team have done some excellent work. Here’s hoping that NSRN Online benefits from Chris’s energy and enthusiasm.


The former life of a Talbot Street internet cafe

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2014 by Eoin O'Mahony

Eoin O'Mahony:

This is one of those blog posts that shows how ‘religious’ places are remade and remembered. Great work here.

Originally posted on Come here to me!:

Five Star Internet Cafe (Talbot Street) Five Star Internet Cafe (Talbot Street) Image by Ciaran (CHTM)

Covered in graffiti, the Five Star Internet Cafe on Talbot Street is an interesting building to look at from outside. Inside it is taken over by computers, telephones and pool tables, which give no real hint of the former life of this building.

This building was once a church – a Welsh Presbyterian Church to be precise. The foundation stone of the church was laid in 1838, and as Howell Evans has written “its original intention was not for the Welsh in Dublin, but mainly for the Welsh visiting the city.” Its proximity to the docks of Dublin ensured that visiting Welsh seamen would avail of the church. A contemporary sailors magazine noted that  “In Dublin, English and Welsh seamen hear the Gospel preached to them several times a week, in their respective languages.” Another article in a sailors magazine…

View original 460 more words

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