Abstract for Luzern colloquium

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Re-scaling secularisation

In 2008, researchers working for the Catholic Bishops of Ireland digitised the boundaries of Ireland’s 26 Catholic Dioceses. This was an eight week project which verified the boundaries, digitised them using standard GIS and represented them for an online resource. It also involved digitising the parish boundaries of selected numbers of these Dioceses. This was a much more difficult part of the project with considerable divergence where parishes begin and end. A combination of oral narrative and detailed paper maps produced digitised parish boundaries for three Dioceses. Organisationally, the Catholic Bishops require Diocesan boundaries more than they do parish boundaries. Why would this be the case given the centrality of parish to Irish ecclesial life?

In this paper, I review some understandings of secularisation and its epistemological nationalism. In these, countries and their constituent peoples are portrayed largely as ciphers of processes of secularisation. Such understandings reinforce a linear nature of time/space where a less religious state follows a more religious one. Opposing these understandings, some geographers of religion have turned to affect and less structured accounts of faith and belief. In particular, Holloway’s work (2003) has emphasised the embodiment of belief among individuals within (traditionally-rendered) profane spaces. In another frame, Ansell (2009) has tried to reconceptualise the local in a non-hierarchical way. Rescaling secularisation to include the non-representational nature of the Catholic parish in Ireland, for example, means radically revising Eliade’s hierophanies. Through the lens of the mapping project above, I point to how rescaling geographies of religion can lead to new research horizons.


Ansell, N. 2009. “Childhood and the politics of scale: descaling children’s geographies?” in Progress in Human Geography. Vol. 33, No. 2, pp.190-209.

Holloway, J. 2003. “Make-believe: spiritual practice, embodiment, and sacred space” in Environment and Planning A. Vol. 35, pp.1961-1974.