One of the more frustrating aspects of engaging with reading for a doctorate is that the writing gets easier. At the beginning, I found that I was tentative, speculative and a bit seat of the pants. Over time, particularly in the last three months, my confidence as a writer of geographic thought has improved. I think part of the learning process of doing a doctorate is in crafting meaning from ideas that seem disconnected when first put down on a page. The writing I have been doing recently, just as my time is coming to an end, is better than before. It relies on shorter sentences and more structure. And I like it. So, here is what my thesis is actually about:
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 within human geography. This takes account of the fact that the secular does not so much replace the sacred as exist in relation to it. This is a productive relationship and is seen in distinctions made between private and public space. In her most recent review of the literature, Kong (2010) asks that geographers of religion go beyond the micropolitics of religious spatial expression to connect with broader political processes. I apply three examples from Ireland to show how a relational geography of religion can respond adequately to her call to move beyond the micropolitical. The boundaries between private and public space thus become more porous.
Firstly, I examine the geography of Marian statues on ostensibly public ground in Dublin city. Secondly, I outline how pilgrimage practice lies on the boundaries of tourism and religious devotion. Thirdly, I examine the discourses surrounding the re-creation of Catholic primary schools in Ireland as sites of the secular, within a broader political process. These examples show that distinctions between private and public space break down on some scales. However, in connecting the micropolitical with a broader spatial politics in these examples, how we conceive of scale is important. The political significance of spatial practice on one scale is often subsumed within other scales. Using Marston et al.’s (2005) work on geographic scale, I propose a new set of relations between the religious and the secular. In this way, I draw the outlines of a map which reconfigures the relationship between religion and the secular as open-ended and contested.