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Reimagining Irish Studies for the Twenty-First Century

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Edited By Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

This landmark collection marks the publication of the 100th book in the Reimagining Ireland series. It attempts to provide a «forward look» (as opposed to what Frank O’Connor once referred to as the « backward look») at what Irish Studies might look like in the third millennium. With a Foreword by Declan Kiberd, it also contains essays by several other leading Irish Studies experts on (among other areas) literature and critical theory, sport, the Irish language, food and beverage studies, cinema, women’s writing, Brexit, religion, Northern Ireland, the legacy of the Great Famine, Ireland in the French imagination, archival research, musicology, and Irish Studies in North America. The book is a tribute to Irish Studies’ foundational commitment to revealing and renewing Irishness within and beyond the national space.

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16 Religion in Irish Studies

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CATHERINE MAIGNANT

Studying religion as a specialist of Irish Studies is a methodological challenge, or even, in the eyes of some, a total epistemological aberration. In an article entitled ‘Death by Area Studies’,1 Aaron Hughes and Randi Warne warn that no serious academic work in the field of religious studies can be done by ‘a generalist’ who has had ‘very little if no [sic] exposure to the critical theories and methods associated with the academic study of religion’. Clearly, the very notion of area studies and its legitimacy as an academic research area are problematic, on account of their necessary interdisciplinarity and their assumption that local and contextual knowledge is key to analysing an area’s culture and history.

Yet if, as noted above, accusations by single disciplinary-oriented scholars that area experts – often based in modern languages departments – lack methodological and theoretical skills, still occasionally surface, hostilities between disciplines and area studies have eased. This is not to say that all difficulties have been resolved. Area studies were historically based in Europe, but concerned regions outside Western Europe. Initially, ‘results arrived at during fieldwork outside Europe were recognised if they matched the theoretical assumptions developed in Europe’.2 The basic postulate of researchers was often also that they (and their country of origin), were intellectually or societally superior to the society under examination, which limited the reliability of their findings. In any case, they had an agenda of ←255 | 256→their own and were consequently viewed as...

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