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gladys-portraitSpeaking on Friday at the ‘Religious Conflict and Difference’ conference at Stranmillis College in Belfast, Rev. Norman Hamilton, minister of Ballysillan Presbyterian in North Belfast and a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, urged the academics at the conference to make a greater effort to get their research out there and open for debate in the public sphere.

Prompted by Hamilton’s exhortation, I’ve decided to take this ‘Church Without Walls’ blog onto Twitter. You can follow me on Twitter as GladysGaniel.

The conference, a result of a research partnership between the Open University and the Institute for Conflict Research in Belfast, had featured a remarkable three days of conversation between academics and practitioners. The call for the conference had specified that this was the type of conversation it hoped to generate.

I can attest that a number of practitioners, such as clergy or lay Christians working in the reconciliation field, asked for copies of my own plenary paper, Religion in Northern Ireland: How Can the Churches Contribute to Post-Violence Reconciliation and Reconstruction?

(I will be blogging about the contents of that paper in the coming days.)

Hamilton remarked that while Northern Ireland has been one of the most-researched societies in the world, there is often little evidence that academic research has informed policy making.

He cited the 2010 ‘Cohesion, Sharing and Integration’ consultation document, which seemingly ignored a generation of research on ‘what works’ in conflict resolution and reconciliation. Hamilton lamented:

‘We have lost the capacity for good quality public discussion. Academics are an untapped resource when it comes to improving public discourse in these areas. … As academics, you have an ethical imperative to up the profile of your academic work.’

This ‘Church Without Walls’ blog is of course in many ways an attempt to increase the profile of my own research and that of other academics where I work at the Irish School of Ecumenics (Trinity College Dublin & Belfast). The Irish School of Ecumenics has a long ‘action research’ tradition in that we specifically strive for our research to be meaningful to practitioners and policy makers.

I also comment on the academic work of others in the wider fields of conflict resolution, reconciliation, sociology of religion, and politics.

Further, Church Without Walls includes a calendar feature in which I try and keep readers up to date on reconciliation-related and ecumenical events in Ireland. As a quick glance at this calendar shows, over the next few weeks there’s a flurry of events around the Ulster Covenant, as well as lecture series sponsored by the likes of Clonard Monastery and the WAVE Trauma Centre.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, continue to contribute to the conversation on this blog, and let me know if you have any events you would like included on the Church Without Walls calendar.

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