Archives For Marianne Elliott


“Deep Below the Surface
of the Tragic Violence

A Review of
When God Took Sides:
Religion and Identity in Ireland — Unfinished History.

by Marianne Elliott.

Reviewed by Mike Bowling.

When God Took Sides:
Religion and Identity in Ireland — Unfinished History.

Marianne Elliott.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

WHEN GOD TOOK SIDES - Marianne ElliottPersonal identity dictates who our friends are in most cases, and who we think we are contributes in a powerful way to who we list as enemies. Our friends always seem better than they really are and our enemies are never as bad as we think them to be. Apply this rationale to the last 500 years of Ireland’s history and you have the essential premise of the recently released book written by Marianne Elliott entitled When God Took Sides. Elliott, who was born and raised in Northern Ireland, teaches Irish Studies at Liverpool University. As co-author of the report from the Opsahl Peace Commission in Northern Ireland (1993), she brings a wealth of experience and understanding of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Although the foundation of the book is lectures she delivered at Oxford University in 2005, Elliott’s work flows more like detailed (and well-documented) storytelling than academic analysis. She ventures deep below the surface of the tragic violence which has appeared as an ugly scar on the face of an otherwise beautiful people and place. Elliott does not settle for a simple recounting of the seemingly endless story of action and reaction, murder and revenge or blame and defend; she offers the reader an explanation of how this cycle began in Ireland, how it was perpetuated and how it continues to this day. The results are not only important for those who hope to understand existing tensions between Northern Ireland and Great Britain or the more subtle tensions between Catholics and Protestants in the Republic of Ireland, Elliott’s work provides a model for understanding other conflicts throughout the world, especially those rooted in religion.

Elliott follows a thematic format instead of the typical chronological order. For those unfamiliar with Irish history and for those with only a cursory knowledge of “the Troubles” in Ireland, the book may be hard to follow. However, if the reader keeps in mind that the purpose is not a history of religion in Ireland, “Rather it is about politicized religion and how it came to shape the identities of people in Ireland.”, then the thematic plan makes much more sense. Again, the order of the chapters could provide a model for analysis of other critical historic conflicts (i.e. India and Pakistan, the civil war in Nigeria or the tensions between Burmese and Thais).

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