Protestantism and fraternity in contemporary Scotland
Author: Joseph Webster

This book offers the first ever ethnography of the Orange Order in Scotland via an in-depth analysis of ‘The Good’ of exceptionalism. While stylistically similar to Freemasonry, the Orange Order differs in being a strictly Protestant-only fraternity committed to preserving the Reformation and the constitutional union of the United Kingdom. Established in late eighteenth-century Ulster, the Order today is not only ultra-Protestant and ultra-unionist, but, according to critics, is also deeply sectarian, viewing Roman Catholicism as a despotic religious-cum-political ‘menace’ dedicated to destroying Great Britain. Through a fine-grained anthropological account of Orangeism during the Scottish independence debate, this book takes readers inside Scotland’s most infamous fraternal organisation – an organisation which members refer to not as a secret society, but as a ‘society with secrets’. What, according to these Scottish Orangemen, should a good Protestant life look like? By drawing on new literature within the anthropology of ethics and morality, this book answers this central question by examining the culture of Scottish Orangeism in the widest possible sense, assessing the importance not only of loyalist marches and unionist political campaigning, but also Orange gossip and fraternal drinking, the performance of ritual and secrecy, celebrations of football fandom and sectarian hate, as well as the formation and sharing of anti-Catholic conspiracy narratives. Combining ethnographic depth with analytical breadth, this book argues that what makes the Order so compelling to members yet so repugnant to its critics is its steadfast refusal to separate religion from politics and fraternity from ethnicity.

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Orangeism, Protestantism, anthropology
Joseph Webster

Opening with an ethnographic description of a moment of crisis in the Orange Social Club that forms a key field-site for the rest of the book, the Introduction proceeds to outline the key research questions which frame the text – questions about the nature of religion as a political and ethnic signifier. Next, the Introduction situates the importance of these questions within two interlocking debates within anthropology, concerning the place of Christianity and ethics/morality as ethnographic subjects in need of urgent attention and reconsideration. The answer this chapter introduces, and which is then unpacked throughout the rest of the book, is that Orange claims about Protestant exceptionalism, if they are to be understood properly, require anthropologists and other ethnographers to rethink what can legitimately be included within scholarly and common-sense definitions of ‘The Good’. The chapter offers a survey of the (seemingly contradictory) ideological heterogeneity, demographic homogeneity, and moral/ethical duality of the Orange Order in Scotland. Before ending with a summary of the main ethnographic and conceptual themes of the book, the chapter offers some reflexive commentary on methods and ethics in the context of conducting research with what many consider to be politically toxic social groups.

in The religion of Orange politics
Joseph Webster

This chapter sets out the historical and contemporary context of the Orange Order. It starts with a discussion of the status of historical knowledge, arguing that an understanding of Scottish Orangeism should not seek to elicit unchallengeable fact-based historical truth, but should reflect on Orange uses of history. What this chapter opens with, then, is not just historical context, but an ethnography of historical context. Next, the chapter offers a deliberately selective history of the conflict between James II and William III who stand as the anti-hero and hero of Orangeism. The chapter explains the emergence of early Orangeism in Ireland, both in relation to Freemasonry, and in relation to the agrarian disputes between Catholics and Protestants in mid-Ulster in the eighteenth century in the context of the Penal Laws. Moving to Scotland, the chapter outlines how Orangeism came to Glasgow and spread east during industrialisation and migration from Ulster. The chapter also considers how the Troubles in Northern Ireland have profoundly shaped Scottish Orangeism, and how this influence continues to produce tensions between grass-roots Orangemen and the Orange hierarchy who remain divided over the value of gaining wider political and social acceptance within Scottish society.

in The religion of Orange politics
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Joseph Webster

This chapter offers a detailed ethnographic analysis of the Grand Orange Lodge Archive as a space where Orangemen act as amateur historians to produce historical accounts which make sense of the claimed primordial sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The empirical focus is on three Orange archivists, plus visitors to the archive, and their discussions about how contemporary Scottish society and politics is being shaped by the long-standing threats of papal aggression, Irish republicanism, and Scottish nationalism. Analytically, the chapter makes use of new theories of conspiracism to suggest that Orange history-making offers members of the Order a coherent and powerful a theodicy with which to interpret the world around them. The chapter concludes by warning against exoticising such conspiracy beliefs, suggesting that there is a strong hermeneutic elective affinity between certain types of conspiracism and certain versions of anthropological theory-building.

in The religion of Orange politics
Joseph Webster

This chapter analyses the public face of the Orange Order, namely its parading culture, and does so by comparing these events to the private sphere of the Lodge, and specifically secret Orange initiation rituals. Importantly, the purpose of the chapter is not to take for granted this public/private dichotomy, but to challenge it. This challenge is offered via a connected reconsideration of the dynamics of revelation and concealment, and suggests that while parades may be understood as ‘revelation-as-concealment’, initiation rituals may be understood as ‘concealment-as-revelation’. By taking the image of the publicly displayed Orange parade banner, and contrasting it with the Orange initiation blindfold, the chapter offers a re-reading of Simmel’s famous work on secrecy to suggest that public banners may maintain secrecy while blindfolds may actually give sight. By giving particular attention to Simmel’s analysis of secrecy as a kind of enlargement, the chapter concludes by suggesting that, for Orangemen, the rituals of parading and initiation act to confirm (as opposed to impart) their status as members of an exceptional Protestant elite.

in The religion of Orange politics
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Joseph Webster

This chapter takes as its ethnographic focus the Glencruix Orange Social Club, a private bar for Orangemen which provides a key space for fraternal sociability and bonding. By describing the lives and conversations of Orangemen here, this chapter argues that any anthropology of ‘The Good’ needs to rethink what might be legitimately included within this category; failure to do so will lead to a fundamental failure to understand the moral claims which Orangemen themselves make. This argument hinges on a partial conflation of fraternal love and sectarian hate, a conflation which is designed to show how loving fellow Orangemen and hating (largely imagined and absent) Catholics are interdependent social processes. Drawing on the philosophical work of Burke on ‘the negative’, the chapter suggests that a love for the fraternity necessitates a relational rejection, just as sectarian hate necessitates a relational embrace. A key element of the attendant ethnographic context here is the football rivalry between Celtic FC and Rangers FC which stands as Scotland’s most infamous occasion for performances of sectarian hate. The conclusion of the chapter, that hate can be part of ‘The Good’, begins to set up the book’s overall Conclusion about the morality of exceptionalism.

in The religion of Orange politics
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The Good' of Orange exceptionalism
Joseph Webster

The Conclusion returns to the overall theoretical argument of the book that the Scottish Orange Order needs to be made sense of as a kind of Protestant exceptionalism. The beginning sets this out via an analysis of British Israelite theology and its connections to Orange ideology. The key concept of Orange chosenness is explored in detail here, as are the connected themes of divine Queenship, the manifest destiny of British Protestants (in conversation with American Puritans), as well as the more contemporary case of the language of chosenness among Rangers fans. The conclusion then considers the implications of Orange ideas about exceptionalism, arguing that the result is a set of interlocking claims about the moral personhood of British Protestants in relation to the non-moral personhood attributed to Catholics. In making this case, the book draws on Augustine’s theology of evil as privatio boni, or the absence of good, suggesting that for Orangemen, Catholicism is just such an absence of (moral) personhood. The book concludes by suggesting that this kind of exclusionary exceptionalism is far more common than might be suspected, and, as such, the Orange Order cannot be dismissed as atypical of human social group formation.

in The religion of Orange politics
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Joseph Webster

This chapter takes as its ethnographic focus the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, examining the Orange Order campaign against a ‘Yes’ vote. The chapter opens with a discussion of the Order’s exclusion from the mainstream ‘Better Together’ campaign, and their decision to set up a rival campaign called ‘British Together’. Analytically, the chapter argues that the Order found itself well outside the mainstream of the Scottish independence debate because it refused to separate (unionist) politics from (Protestant) religion, a move that was mirrored in their insistence that the SNP was not only pro-independence, but pro-Catholic. The chapter goes on to argue that this logic left many Orangemen positioning themselves as latter-day Covenanters, fighting to maintain the heritage of the Protestant Reformation. For other Orangemen, the referendum and their campaign against independence led them to embrace the identity of latter-day loyalists, imagining themselves to be fighting (as in Northern Ireland) to maintain the integrity of the UK against republican enemies. This chapter concludes with an examination of Barth’s Ethnic groups and boundaries. The chapter critiques Barth by showing how Orangemen embrace reification and self-essentialism, suggesting that such actions cannot be dismissed as analytical category errors.

in The religion of Orange politics