Community Experiences of Sectarianism

This study explored community experiences and perceptions of sectarianism, based on in-depth qualitative research within five case study communities across Scotland. The insights obtained provide depth and context to other research about sectarianism, including quantitative survey and national criminal offending data.

7. Generations

7.1 If there are many places and times where sectarianism is not expressed or spoken about, how is it passed on? An important element that was mentioned frequently to us was the relationships between younger and older people (Hopkins et al 2011, Vanderbeck and Worth 2015). It is in the values, practices and social learning that are passed on where we can locate sectarianism. We examined the pressures within generations as well as the 'vertical pull of inheritance', from older to younger generations (Brannen 2012: 270 and Brannen et al 2011: 155).

7.2 Our analysis highlights some stories of continuity, against a backdrop of generational differences and contemporary social change. These transitions are an inheritance of culture (Richardson 2014; Brannen et al 2011). Here, we are looking at the transmission of values and characteristics of a previous generation, which can be acquired in different ways. At different times they can be learned, taught or tacit.

Generational differences or an inheritance of culture?

I think, like to your older people, they find [religion] quite important. Like they are still really like, but again it is not really religion, it is not religion at all. It is just like mainly a Celtic and Rangers thing. ... Like you see somebody who is a total diehard Rangers or Celtic fan, and they are all like oh pro-Catholic or pro-Protestant blah blah blah. And you are like 'No, [do you] actually go to church? Do you even ...? Did you go to church on a Sunday?' And they are like 'No'. And then why are you so being so extreme about it?
(Woman, Interview 1, N Lanarkshire)

7.3 This participant, although presenting this as mainly a problem of older generations, added:

It comes down to the younger ones a wee bit, though. See like ... definitely through them. Because there was a girl in my school, same age as me obviously ... and she is so cool, Orange walks, all the Orange walks. She will take her wee boy too, her wee boy is like only five, but he knows the difference between it all. And she is like 'aw ... Johnny was so funny today! He was like "Naw ma, that green top, that is pure Celtic!"' and all that kind of stuff. And it is just wee things like that, and she is obviously putting it down onto her son, and she is like proud of it, she thinks it is quite funny ...

7.4 Another participant pointed to the role of intergenerational relations and the pervasiveness of sectarianism:

Participant: I suppose ... well ... I mean my general opinion on beliefs is they usually start from either an inability to understand something, or a lack of knowledge, so, you know your sectarian beliefs are gonna be passed down through the generations without almost a reason.

Interviewer: Em ... and when you said like families pass it down is that, do you think that's kind of where it comes from?

Participant: Yeah definitely.

Interviewer: Or is it peer, is it peer influence?

Participant: Peer influence as well but the source is family.
(Man, Interview 5, Edinburgh)

7.5 Generational differences are ever-present however and act as forces of social change. The differences between generations are shaped by socio-economic pressures such as social mobility, multiculturalism, and the declining influence of institutional religion.

7.6 Religion is not only affected by wider social changes but is integral to them. Some of the comments made by our participants suggested a problem that has been called the 'intergenerational contract' (Vanderbeck and Worth 2015: 1). This refers to the tensions and sense of injustice between generations. Societies are changing rapidly, in this case through processes of secularisation, but in close-knit communities, sectarian sentiment can transfer down.

Well like, well as I say, growing up with friends that are Catholic they often cited eh, they often told me about their grandads who got forced out of where they lived and by Protestants and got like bottled or something by some Protestants and they would direct this against me, so I felt like a lot of this angst was kind of eh inherited and ehm yeah but baggage that they'd been brought down and been told by their dad and their grandad.
(Man, interview 3, Glasgow)

7.7 Raphael Samuels (1994), a British historian, has observed that memory 'is stamped with the ruling passions of the time'. We shape and reshape the past, selectively remembering or forgetting our memories. But this works in both directions: communities are also shaped by 'post-memories' (Hirsch 2012). These are the lived experiences of events that happened before our birth; in other words, the ways in which we embody memories of past histories and narratives, and how these interfere with and shape our daily lives.

7.8 A few of our participants contrasted youth to older, generational experiences:

So if you are doing something deliberately to provoke a reaction on the basis of what their religion is, knowing that, if you do something knowing that it will offend them, that for me is sectarianism ... Which is slightly different from I suppose casual or non-conscious sectarianism, which ... I will accuse maybe a lot of older folk of. I wouldn't say older folk are ignorant, I would say that they have been brought up in a different time and generation and things that were acceptable to them, are no longer acceptable now. So I wouldn't say they are out-and-out bigots. So ... if I said to my granny, 'Look granny, I am ... I am marrying a Muslim' or something, she would say, 'That is fine, just make sure it's in a Catholic church.'
(Man, interview 6, Glasgow)

7.9 This 'casual' (tacit) and 'non-conscious' sectarianism contrasts with the 'bitter' sectarianism that was often cited by participants as inherited by some young people. It is this casual sectarianism, challenged through a lens of political consciousness, which younger people seemed able to resist. Positively, much of this was linked to what was being claimed as multicultural influences in Scotland.

7.10 It is worth noting that often in interviews, more virulent and less casual sectarianism was described as being bitter. This term was used by several participants to separate those who use sectarian terminology as part of a more jovial 'banter' from those who are more likely to harbour a deep-seated dislike of others because of their religion.

7.11 Several participants focused on education, in particular of younger people, in tackling sectarianism:

Because if you want to stamp something out, you have to focus on the newest generation. Kind of try and train them not to, to not be like that.
(Woman, Interview 3, N Lanarkshire)

Participant: I think you know it's young people that write my generation off. We have came a long way but it's not going to go much further unless everybody still does have that individual opportunity to change. But let's focus on young people who are coming up.
(Man, Interview 5, N Lanarkshire)

While pointing to tensions between generations, the second participant argued that facilitating tolerance and openness are essential to achieving community progress.

The role of the family

7.12 The role of the family was mentioned by many participants. Previous work with gangs and marginalised youth in Scotland (Deuchar 2009: 84) has found that:

'Family was a big influence in terms of instilling sectarian values in many of the youngsters I talked to (confirming findings from Northern Ireland by Kelly 2002; Sinclair et al 2004). They talked about the way in which their fathers or older brothers had encouraged them to support the same football team as they did and had taught them the words of sectarian songs'
(Deuchar 2009: 84).

7.13 In Deuchar's work, despite these young men (almost exclusively) knowing the words to sectarian songs through family traditions associated with football, they were mostly apathetic toward religion itself. The cultural association is more nuanced:

'There is even less doubt about the continuing importance of cultural associations with Christianity at the "Celtic fringes" of the UK, where Christian affiliation remains important as an identity marker for those outside the dominant, English-centred national discourse (even when this is couched in terms of "Britishness"). In Scotland, where the state church[9] is Presbyterian and many Roman Catholics trace their ancestry to Irish immigrants, identities reflect religious, cultural and nationalistic legacies, and religious language is still important in a "sectarianism" which is manifest in various ways, not least in the behaviour and chants of supporters of Rangers (Protestant) and Celtic (Catholic) football clubs' (Guest, Olson and Wolffe 2012: 66 citing Bruce et al 2004 and Devine 2000).

7.14 A generational perspective can highlight in what ways sectarianism can become embodied in everyday life. Although a great many of our participants suggested that football is integral to understanding sectarianism in Scotland, football is not the extent of the issue. There are multiple sources and foci involved. Our participants spoke about sectarianism within community spaces and from individuals who had no prior connections to football. Narratives self-perpetuate as stories of 'football, sectarianism and Glasgow', and are recycled, several participants said, in the media. We look further at football in chapter 11.


Email: Linzie Liddell

Back to top