Eugene O’Brien
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‘Belief shifts’
Ireland’s referendum and the journey from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft
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This chapter examines the implications for Irish Catholicism that the ‘Yes’ vote in the May 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage may have for the social and cultural position of the Catholic church in contemporary Ireland and in the future. His analysis channels the thinking of Ferdinand Tönnies, an early German sociologist and a contemporary of Durkheim and Weber, who used the German words ‘Gemeinschaft’ and ‘Gesellschaft’ to distinguish between two fundamentally different structural paradigms for social relations. O’Brien sees marriage as a core ideological signifier of ideological hegemony, and using the fantasy fiction of Terry Pratchett’s satire on religion entitled Small Gods as a lens, he looks at the referendum as a significant turning point in the definition of marriage, and by extension, in the transformation Irish society from the organic community of the Gemeinschaft, to the more postmodern and pluralist notion of the Gesellschaft.

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Tracing the cultural legacy of Irish Catholicism

From Galway to Cloyne and beyond


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