Swiss time

To round off a very intense two month period at work and for the thesis, I am off to Lucerne in the next few days to attend the 6th International Colloquium of Geography of Religion. For the first time the group is meeting out of the lofty and colonial spires of Oxford and going all continental. This is quite exciting for me because I have never been in Switzerland and the gathering should be a good opportunity to meet with some non-Anglophone geographers of religion.  Over the last few months, I’ve been beset by English geographers struggling with anything other than a stiff upper lip or north American writing which tends to reflect the US constitutional principle of non-endowment. My paper and presentation is about a Catholic Diocesan mapping project (hi Omar) and Marian statues and how these point to a need for a rescaling of ‘processes’ of secularisation.  I fly out tomorrow evening and return Sunday.

Over the last month or so, I have handed in ethical approval forms, completed an intense GY802 course and received feedback from The Supervisor on the literature review. On the last one, although initially deflated by the prospect of it going through another two drafts before it is ready, I am happy with the way it turned out and I think I have found the corner of the emergent geographical literature on the public realm, religion and Christianity that I find most comfortable. The ethical approval forms, which I had a mental block about, went in on the last day that they could possibly have been submitted – June 2. If they did not get there by then, I would have to wait until September at least before jumping through the somewhat opaque hoop. The planned fieldwork for this summer includes long-form interviews with those living in and around particular Marian statue sites, recruiting people at pilgrimages to provide some experiences in written form at three sites and a two week stint on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in September. It is going to be a long summer but am confident that with some more work in spring 2012, that will be it in terms of interviews and defined fieldwork. Perhaps over ambitiously at this stage, I’m projecting a completion date in late 2013.

The ethical approval process was not particularly transparent. Aside from the forms being needlessly repetitive, there is no sense for the applicant that there are defined stages in this process. If they had included a process laid out in the forms themselves, it would help, particularly for those not doing this on a full-time basis / with some vocational perspective. It did help me to clarify what it is I wanted to achieve and how this might be attained, the forms are not explicit enough for hand holding you through the next stages of a seemingly detached process, that exists alongside other doctoral degree commitments to participants, the department, progression processes etc.

All that and three projects completed to report stage at work. One for the Catholic Schools’ Partnership on parental understandings of school patronage (publicly available later this summer), one for Cura with their volunteer counsellors as part of a strategic review process and one combined project analysing three sets of ESS and ISSP data. The reports on these will public very soon. Nothing surprising in these: they chart a further decline in regular Mass attendance amongst Catholics in the Republic and Northern Ireland. Census 2011 results will confirm declining numbers of people in Ireland declaring themselves Catholic. By some queer definition of failure, 49 % of the Catholics in the Republic not attending Mass every single week is a headline. I am increasingly disinterested in these modes of analysis, particularly for the material I have read for the thesis so far, but they do provide meaningful signposts to longer term trends. In the last few weeks Joan Roddy has also retired from her work at the Irish Bishops’ Conference and last week in particular I realised how much I am going to miss her around here. She provided a helpful check to my increasing cynicism.

All of this really of course is to admit that I have not been able to find the time to reply to Eoin’s Daly’s excellent recent op-ed in the Irish Times on religion in Irish schools. Were I working full time on the doctorate I might have stood some chance to arguing against his engaging and strict Rawlsian outlook. I think in the end though that those trained in law and those in social sciences think in quite different ways about the pliability of the human will. To whit, my current reading is William Connolly’s  Why I Am Not A Secularist. I thought I really, really needed to read this book but then realised half way through it that it is a compendium of other articles from his work in the 1990s. His unquestioning belief in the state is beginning to grate but I have the sense that I might approximate a feeling like satisfaction near the final chapter. Next book on that teetering pile? Judith Butler’s Frames of War.

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