Power from the Periphery? ‘Extra-Institutional Religion’ and the Prospects for Change – Insights from the Life of Fr Gerry Reynolds

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This article develops the concept of ‘extra-institutional religion,’ which was first introduced in the 2016 book Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland. It describes how the author’s research for a biography of Fr Gerry Reynolds, a Redemptorist based in Belfast’s Clonard Monastery during the Troubles, helped advance the concept by fostering insight into the importance of links between faith-inspired activists and institutional religion. It also develops the concept’s theoretical potential, arguing that it may be well-placed to contribute to wider change by balancing two paradoxical structural strengths: its position on the peripheries of religious, social, and political life; and its continued links with institutional religion. It relates these structural strengths to theoretical literature on religion and civil society (which alerts us to how change can emerge from the peripheries); and Grace Davie and Abby Day’s work on European religion (which alerts us to the continued importance of historically dominant religious institutions). It then describes how Reynolds’s activism was enhanced by the legitimacy and connections that came with his embeddedness in the Catholic Church. Examples include his work with Fr Alec Reid facilitating secret political negotiations during the Troubles; and public ecumenical initiatives like the Cornerstone Community, the Unity Pilgrims, and In Joyful Hope. While Reynolds was not practising extra-institutional religion, his example advances this concept by demonstrating that for faith-inspired activists, maintaining solid links with institutional religion may be more important for sparking change than was originally argued in Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-34
JournalJournal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

The article was jointly published in The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions 21 (2019)


  • Extra-institutional religion
  • Catholic Church
  • Ireland
  • Fr Gerry Reynolds
  • secularisation

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