Embodied Peacebuilding

Reconciliation as Practical Theology

by Leah Robinson (Author)
©2015 Monographs XIV, 284 Pages


In the areas of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, the word ‘reconciliation’ has often been branded a negative term because it implies a resolution agreed upon by all parties in a given society, which for many seems an unachievable ideal. This book looks at the concept of reconciliation from a theological point of view, analysing its use historically within theology and presenting a new model of a practical theology of reconciliation. Using narrative research, it explores this idea within the context of Northern Ireland and offers valuable insights into the theological use of reconciliation by members of communities based in a conflict zone.
The goal of Embodied Peacebuilding is to establish reconciliation as a prominent concept in the field of practical theology and to give a voice to those peacebuilders who are using reconciliation as a common theme within Northern Ireland.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Models and Figures
  • Preface
  • Part One: The Theology of Reconciliation
  • Chapter One: A History of the Theology of Reconciliation
  • The Biblical Background
  • Ecclesial Developments
  • Chapter Two: The Theology of Reconciliation in the Academy
  • The ‘Vertical or Horizontal’ Debate
  • The Key Concepts in the Theology of Reconciliation
  • Reconciliation: Process or Goal?
  • Chapter Three: A New Model for a Practical Theology of Reconciliation
  • Summary of the Debates
  • Contextual Models of the Theology of Reconciliation
  • Summary
  • Part Two: Embodied Peacebuilding: A Case Study in Northern Ireland
  • Chapter Four: A History of Northern Ireland
  • Introduction
  • The First Era of Troubles: 1919–1923
  • ‘The Static Society’: 1924–1963
  • The O’Neill Administration: 1963–1968
  • The Second Era of Troubles: 1969–1993
  • 1969–1971
  • 1972–1973
  • 1974–1976
  • 1977–1979
  • 1980–1981
  • 1982–1985
  • 1986–1993
  • The Peace Process
  • 1993
  • 1994–1996
  • 1997–2000
  • 2001–2009
  • The Rhetoric of Reconciliation in Northern Ireland
  • The National Level
  • The Local Level
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Five: The Corrymeela Community
  • Introduction
  • The Corrymeela Community Corporate History
  • The Inspiration for the Corrymeela Community
  • Corrymeela Beginnings
  • Corrymeela During the Troubles
  • Corrymeela During the Peace Process
  • A Corporate Theological Summary for Corrymeela
  • Personal Perspectives from Current Staff and Members
  • Introduction
  • Emma Cowan, Faith and Life Project Worker, Belfast
  • Ronnie Millar, Center Director, Ballycastle
  • David Stevens, Leader of Corrymeela, Belfast
  • Jo Watson, Fundraising Director, Belfast
  • Yvonne Naylor, Former Volunteer and School’s Worker, Current Member, Belfast
  • Ciara McFarlane, Secondary School’s Project Worker, Belfast
  • Interviewees’ Theological Summary
  • Chapter Six: The Cornerstone Community
  • Introduction
  • The Cornerstone Community Corporate History
  • The Inspiration for the Cornerstone Community
  • Cornerstone Beginnings
  • The Forthspring Inter-Community Group
  • Post-Peace Process
  • A Corporate Theological Summary for Cornerstone
  • Personal Perspectives from Current Staff and Members
  • Introduction
  • Sam Bright, Member-Resident of the Springfield Road House, Belfast
  • Sam Burch, Member-Former Leader, Newcastle, Co. Down
  • Paddy Connolly, Member, Unity Pilgrims, Belfast
  • Gerardine Connolly, Member, Unity Pilgrims, Belfast
  • Tom Hannon, Member-Former Leader, Belfast
  • Isabel Hunter, Member-Resident of Springfield Road House, Belfast
  • Gerry Reynolds, Member-Leader of Unity Pilgrims, Belfast
  • Interviewees’ Theological Summary
  • Chapter Seven: A Practical Theology of Reconciliation
  • Introduction
  • How the Social Context has Influenced the Corrymeela and Cornerstone Communities
  • How the Social Context Influenced the Theology of Corrymeela
  • How Corrymeela as a Social Context Influenced the Corporate Theology of Corrymeela
  • How the Social Context Influenced the Theology of Cornerstone
  • How Cornerstone as a Social Context Influenced the Corporate Theology of Cornerstone
  • Conclusion: The Struggle for Reconciliation in Northern Ireland
  • The Notion of Reconciliation at the National Level in Northern Ireland
  • The Notion of Reconciliation at the Local Level in Northern Ireland
  • The Future of Reconciliation in Northern Ireland
  • A Final Thought on The Theology of Reconciliation
  • Works Cited
  • Bible
  • Interviews by Author
  • The Corrymeela Community
  • The Corrymeela Community
  • The Corrymeela Community
  • Index
  • Series Index Page

← vi | vii → Models and Figures

Model One

The Place Called Reconciliation.

Model Two

The Social Context’s Influence on a Theology of Reconciliation.

Model Three

Views on the TRC by South African Clergy and Politicians.

Model Four

The Kairos Theologians.

Model Five

Black Churches in the United States of America during the Civil Rights Movement.

Model Six

The National Council of Churches in Korea, ‘Declaration of the Churches of Korea on National Reunification and Peace’.

Model Seven

Ray Davey’s Founding Vision for Corrymeela.

Model Eight

The Corrymeela Community During the Troubles.

Model Nine

Corrymeela During the Peace Process and Beyond.

Model Ten

The Cornerstone Community.

Model Eleven

Reconciliation as it Tended to be Portrayed by the Northern Ireland Government.

Figure One

The Agreed Upon Theological Themes at Cornerstone.

Figure Two

The Debated Future of Cornerstone.

← viii | ix → Preface

Any issue that is of practical contemporary human and religious concern may become the focus for practical theological considerations.1

If ever there was a theological theme that had to be developed in relation to the world in all its agony and hope, this [reconciliation] is that theme.2

The interest in Jesus’ death on the cross and what it means for humanity is as old as Christianity itself. From the beginning, those who have called themselves Christian have contemplated the idea of the atonement and what it means for humanity’s relationship with God. The theology of reconciliation has been analysed by some of the greatest scholars of the past generations. Post World War II, however, the focus on the theology of reconciliation began to shift from a heavily doctrinal view to one that concentrated more on the practical realm of Christian life. With the emergence of various intra-national conflicts throughout the world such as Israel-Palestine, South Africa and Northern Ireland, it became clear that theology could no longer reside within the safe walls of academia. Christianity needed to find its position amidst the turmoil and secure a place in communities in conflict.

Like many branches within theology that began to emerge during this time, such as liberation theology, literature concerning the practical aspect of the theology of reconciliation began to develop in countries that were suffering from conflictual states. South Africa is one example of this development. Theologians in this context took elements from the theology ← ix | x → of reconciliation and, in a practical form, established the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This, along with the African concept of Ubuntu theology, which emphasizes the importance of the interconnectedness of humankind, led to the development of a practical theology of reconciliation that has been analysed and written about with varied perspectives from scholars such as John W. De Gruchy.3

Conflictual issues in Latin America and the former Yugoslavia have also influenced research into practical understandings of the idea of a theology of reconciliation. Researchers such as José Comblin4 and David Tombs5 have wrestled with the ideas of reconciliation in the Latin American context, specifically in the theology of reconciliation’s connection to the established understanding of liberation theology. From a Croatian perspective, Miroslav Volf has studied the importance of the use of a theology of reconciliation in areas of conflict. Volf has focused primarily on identity and the ‘other’ within his works.6

Another volatile region where the practical aspects of the theology of reconciliation are being utilized is Northern Ireland. With the development of religious reconciliation communities, both before and after the ‘Troubles,’7 the theology of reconciliation emerged as a guiding belief to a practical attempt at national reconciliation. The difference between Northern Ireland and South Africa, however, is that very few people have analysed the understanding of reconciliation from a theological point of view in the Northern Ireland context. The works that have discussed the ← x | xi → theology of reconciliation are marked with the same criticism that professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, Joseph Liechty offers:

In Northern Ireland, work towards reconciliation long preceded careful reflection on the meaning and dynamics of reconciliation. As reflection began to emerge, it revealed shared themes and understandings, but considerable confusion as well. Even work of real value can betray less than careful understandings of the elements of reconciliation and the relationship between them, if not outright confusion.8

As Liechty goes on to state: ‘Wherever reconciliation is addressed, a jumble of terms is likely to emerge, with forgiveness, repentance, apology, justice, truth, peace and of course reconciliation itself being among the most common ingredients of the reconciliation stew.’9

The common ‘jumble’ that Liechty speaks of is the wide variety of understanding that people have for the word reconciliation and likewise the theology of reconciliation. Theologians have always been keen on diverse thought, but the theology of reconciliation is a different case altogether. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find any literature on the theology of reconciliation that comes close to an agreement on its definition. Accordingly, discussion on the theology of reconciliation as a contextual, practical theology has been largely avoided.

Because of the nature of the subject at hand, this book will be divided into two parts. The first section will look at the historical understanding of the theology of reconciliation, as it was viewed through biblical, ecclesial and contextual developments. This is to show the reader how the theology has developed, how it was viewed in various historical time periods, and likewise to offer a new contextual model of viewing the theology in a practical way. I believe these sections will offer further insight into the ways that the theology of reconciliation can be adapted and used in contextual scenarios.

← xi | xii → In the following chapters you will see an attempt at putting together literature that would help to systematize the theological understanding of reconciliation and thus offer a clearer understanding of the ‘jumble.’ And while this gap in clarity offers an opportunity to me as a researcher, my interest in the theology of reconciliation goes beyond just placing it in a positive light in the academic arena. It involves relating the stories of those who live reconciliation in the world as a reflection of their faith in God; showing reconciliation as a legitimate means of practical theology in the world and offering a view into what this looks like at ground level.

The second half of the book will focus specifically on what the practical theology of reconciliation looks like in a given context, Northern Ireland. It will offer a brief historical background of the Troubles as a source of reference for the consequent chapters that include stories of those who currently work in the area of reconciliation. These stories will come exclusively from women and men who were working for two distinct ‘reconciliation communities’ in Northern Ireland. These communities are unique, as they exist outside of the walls of the church, yet contain members who adhere strongly to theological concepts related to reconciliation.

For nine months I lived and worked alongside these individuals and tried to understand their mission through their eyes and their words. Most of the second half of this book will relate directly to this narrative style of research. It will rely on life story interviews and will include attempts by the author to paint narrative pictures of those Catholics and Protestants who work alongside each other in these communities based on their own words and stories. The hope is that the words of those who are living in these Christian communities will offer a clearer picture on the distinctive practical theology of reconciliation in Northern Ireland.


1Stephen Pattison and James Woodward, ‘An Introduction to Pastoral and Practical Theology’ in The Blackwell Reader in Pastoral and Practical Theology, eds James Woodward and Stephen Pattison (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2000), 8.

2John W. De Gruchy, Reconciliation: Restoring Justice (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 28.


4See José Comblin, ‘The Theme of Reconciliation in Theology in Latin America,’ in Reconciliation, Nations and Churches in Latin America, ed. Iain S. McClean (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 135–70.

5David Tombs, ‘The Theology of Reconciliation and the Recovery of Memory Project in Guatemala,’ in Explorations in Reconciliation: New Directions in Theology, eds David Tombs and Joseph Liechty (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 85–99.

6Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996).

7A volatile time period in the history of Northern Ireland. Typically seen as beginning around 1969 and tentatively ending at the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. For further explanation see Chapter Four.

8Joseph Liechty, ‘Putting Forgiveness in its Place: The Dynamics of Reconciliation,’ in Explorations in Reconciliation: New Directions in Theology, ed. David Tombs and Joseph Liechty (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2006), 59.


← xiv | 1 → PART ONE

The Theology of Reconciliation ← 1 | 2 →

← 2 | 3 → CHAPTER ONE

A History of the Theology of Reconciliation

It is not often that scholars of theology will admit that a concept within their realm of study is ‘confusing,’1 having ‘no agreed upon definition,’2 and has become ‘trivialized’3 and ‘sentimentalized.’4 While the concept of reconciliation has been researched by renowned theologians such as Karl Barth, debates remain concerning its meaning and practical application. This has caused, according to some scholars, reconciliation to be ignored in theological reference material, including major texts related to practical theology.5


XIV, 284
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
ideal narrative research Northern Ireland conflict resolution
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XIV, 284 pp., 13 fig.

Biographical notes

Leah Robinson (Author)

Leah E. Robinson lectures in practical theology and peacebuilding at the University of Glasgow. She is creator and programme convenor for the MSc in Values-Based Practice: Peacebuilding and coordinator for the doctorate in Practical Theology at the university. Her current research focuses on the issue of sectarianism in Scotland and Northern Ireland and she is co-founder of the Scottish Religious Cultures Network. Her publications include Separation of Church and Soccer: The Impact of Secularization on Religion-Based Violence in Sports (2015). She is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).


Title: Embodied Peacebuilding
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298 pages