The last two weeks has been a tricky period for the development and completion of my thesis. While my three months of unpaid leave commences shortly, there is a considerable amount of rewriting to be done on the six chapters that I have written by now. In the last few days, in combination with The Supervisor and others I have been faced with the central problem in my writing: lack of clarity. It might seem from here and elsewhere that my writing is relatively clear. Put it all in a Thesis however and I feel I have to write like an advanced social theorist, if only to serve the great gods of social theory. So, I need your help. I need to clarify my thought about what is my core argument. I need to untangle the brambles of my thought. Immediately below here is a three hundred word summary of the thesis written about a month ago. Below that again is a shorter 260 word precis of my thesis. Which is clearer?
The secular and the sacred have long been placed in opposition to each other. This has been accompanied by a series of assumptions about the decline of religious faith and an increasing secularity. A re-evaluation of this is currently underway and, more recently, within human geography. How places are made to be religious forms a central part of this. In her latest review, Kong (2010) urges geographers of religion to go beyond the micropolitical to enable a better understanding of how religious places are made. She states that the religious is also to be found in unofficially sacred places. The thesis has two objectives. Firstly, I want to examine the practice and performance of Catholicism in places of significance at multiple religious sites in Ireland. Secondly, I want to provide a flat ontology for scale in these multiple sites thereby providing the grounds for a decentred geography of religion.
Using three examples, I will show how Kong’s analysis can be applied in Ireland so as open up broader research agendas. Firstly, I examine the Marian statues on public ground in Dublin city. Secondly, I outline how pilgrimage lies on the widely-understood boundaries of tourism and religious devotion. Thirdly, I examine the public discourses surrounding the re-creation of primary schools as sites of the secular. Building on three examples, the thesis suggests that by blurring boundaries between the sacred and the secular a number of new ways to examine religious place-making are brought forward. In responding to Kong, I bring forward an analysis which allows for the reinsertion of religious affect into political secularism. Using Marston et al.’s (2005) flat ontology for scale, I propose a more open-ended set of relations between the religious and the secular. They are relations that do not rely on a politically-disabling hierarchy of scales.
And the second:
My thesis is about the places of the secular and the sacred in Ireland. It begins with the idea that the two are not separate but related. The relationship between them is a productive one with consequences for how we understand religion in different places. I argue that the secular does not replace the sacred but that the two exist in tension. This tension produces particular forms of spatial politics that is invoked on some scales but not others. Using examples from Ireland, I show how the tension between the sacred and the secular arises in three different contexts. The examples demonstrate that religious space is not uniform but has different outcomes at different scales. It is fixed in religious statues, performed as pilgrimage practice and politicised at primary schools.
However, my thesis proposes a new way to understand the geography of religion. The subjectively religious is often relegated to particular places and is confined to micropolitical sites. To go beyond the micropolitical, I put forward a new way to understand religious space and its relationship to the secular. Firstly, as religious affect re-enters the public sphere anew under new conditions, it is being deprivatised. Secondly, arising from formations of the secular that sees religion as a discrete set of practices and performances, I describe the political characteristics of religion. Arising from these, I propose a new way to understand the relationship between the sacred and the secular. This new way relies on a decentred and fluid scalar politics. It is one which takes account of the contingency of the thinking and feeling body.