Atheism and Anticlericalism in Ireland: Modern and Early Modern Perspectives

Date / time: 1 June, 12:00 am

Call for Papers, deadline – 1 June 2023

When discussing Ireland since the 17th Century, scholars generally place great stress on religious or ethno-religious conflict. Plantations, the Williamite War, the Penal Laws, 1798 and the Act of Union, the Repeal movement, partition, and the eruption of violence in 1969, have frequently been placed in a Catholic vs Protestant framework. There are excellent reasons for doing so. However, it is possible that a focus on religion, and religious-based conflict, has led scholars to neglect a long and varied tradition of hostility to and criticism of organised religion in Ireland. This has manifested itself in anticlericalism (opposition to the clergy for its real or alleged influence in political and social affairs) between the early 18th and the early 20th Centuries, and often in atheism thereafter.

This interdisciplinary conference will probe several important questions in relation to Irish religious and irreligious cultures, and their impact on politics and society. To what extent was eighteenth-century anticlericalism of the kind found in England informed by sectarian conflict in Ireland? How did anticlericalism within Presbyterianism, initially hostility to the established church, shift to a wider anti-clericalism influenced by contemporary French and American thinking? Were nineteenth-century republican anticlericalists, in common with the continental experience, moving towards atheism or agnosticism or were they merely seeking to remove priests from politics? Was twentieth-century atheism informed by growing awareness of the abuses committed by Catholic clergy in Ireland? How have modern feminist campaigns framed their critique of religion and the Catholic Church?

We invite scholars of any career stage to a one-day conference on this topic to be held in King’s College London on Saturday 30 September 2023. Alongside historians, we welcome approaches from scholars in fields such as Literary Studies, Gender Studies, Political Science, Philosophy, and Theology, whose research relates to the history of irreligion and hostility to religion in Ireland. Themes may include

  • Presbyterian radicalism and Enlightenment thinking in the 18th Century
  • Secret societies and resistance to the tithe
  • The United Irishmen and religion
  • Fenianism and the Catholic Church
  • Literature and church-influenced censorship
  • Socialist, labour, and agrarian hostility to the church
  • War, conflict and atheism
  • The rise of atheism in the 20th Century
  • Feminist critiques of religion

Proposals (250 words), for 20-minute papers, plus a brief bio, should be sent to Dr Conor Morrissey ( or Dr Fionnuala Walsh ( by 1 June 2023. Limited postgraduate bursaries are available. We intend to invite a number of speakers to contribute to an edited volume based on the conference proceedings at a later date.

Image: Wiki Commons