The notion that Religion can divide or unite communities, can expand or aid the healing of societal rifts, is problematic, not least when we attempt to conceptualise religion in a broader, more diffuse, socio-moral context. This paper aims to focus on the development of ideals of embodiment in Irish culture through the lens of Roman Catholic moral influence (including, but not restricted to, official doctrine), and its irreducible connection to Irish political, social, educational and legislative processes. In fact, the prevalence of Roman Catholic influenced moral normativity in Irish social life is still evident today, particularly when we take an educational perspective, and examine the policy guidelines and the actual implementation rates of the relatively newly-developed Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) programme. An initial analysis of the complex relationship of indebtedness to, and dependence upon, the Roman Catholic church, experienced in the Irish education system reveals not only a reluctance in the schools themselves to implement the full RSE programme, but also on the part of the parents and perhaps of even the students themselves. What boundaries do we create, or attempt to heal, between public religion and private morality, between the contested Cartesian dualism of body and soul, between church and state, between the constitutionally-declared primacy of the family and the state-run, (yet significantly) church-funded education system? The aim of this paper is to build on existing sexual morality studies, through looking at RSE policy, ideal (wo)manhood, and the historical background of the church-state relationship, all of which inform understandings of the body and sexuality in Ireland.
International Conference Religion on the Borders: New Challenges in the Academic Study of Religion, Södertörn University College, Stockholm, 18-22, April 2007