Michael Cronin opens this chapter by observing that the greatest threat to Irish society has been the dominant discourse of neo-liberalism and the Market, which has come to be the deity to which all must bend. The Irish Church has traditionally been associated with a regime of fear and punishment, which is somewhat paradoxical given that the founding message of Christianity is one of hope, of the end of fear. In Cronin’s view, a more radical move for a Church, which has been brought to its knees by a multiplicity of cultural factors, would be to embrace empathy and a politics of hope, which might consist of no longer saying ‘No’, but ‘Yes’. The affirmation of justice for all, a more equal sharing of wealth, the creation of a climate where difference is embraced, these are the life-affirming and Christian principles on which the future of Irish Catholicism should be based.
The emergence of Irish studies in the 1980s took place in the context of economic recession and bitterly contested social change in the South and a worsening, bloody war in the North. Irish literary studies has never been interested in affirming, projecting or protecting 'Irish difference' but in analysing the complex historical processes through which ideas about Irish difference have been discursively produced, circulated and resisted. At a symposium, held at NUI Maynooth in June 2012, examining the future of Irish studies in the wake of the 2008 crash, Heather Laird argued that while the global crisis is clearly economic and political it is also a crisis of narrative. Thinking about the future of Irish studies invariably meant considering the past of Irish studies, and Laird was one of several contributors to note that the intellectual project had its beginnings in an earlier period of economic and political crisis.