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Religion and ex-combatant prisoners in Northern Ireland

John Brewer
University of Aberdeen
Gerard Leavey
David Mitchell
Open Panel

Abstract

Much has been written about the influence of religion in the Northern Ireland conflict, the part played by prisoners in the peace process, and the nature of ‘prison religion’ generally. Yet we know very little about the religiosity of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland or the ways in which their experiences of violence and imprisonment affected their religious interest and understandings. Those who’ fought the war’ are often assumed to have been secular, yet most were raised in a religious environment (given the high levels of religious observance in Northern Irish society), both loyalist and republican ideologies have been heavily flavoured by Protestant and Catholic theologies respectively, and many prisoners experienced religious conversions while in prison. Based on interviews with ex-combatant prisoners from both sides, this paper examines the different roles religion informed, influenced and continues to play in ex-combatants’ lives – including religious conversions in prison; the use of religious/faith resources as moral justification for, and neutralisation of, participation in violence; ex-combatants’ confrontation with, and mediation of, the religious/faith based critiques against violence; their own religious practice and observance as a source of mental well being and social reintegration; their the use of religion and faith based social action schemes as sources of employment, social reintegration and support.