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Research at St Andrews

Florian Englberger


Research overview

In my PhD project, I seek to question the process of dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. I argue, combining insights from history, evolutionary theory, social-psychology, sociology, and political science, that people are inclined towards stability, aspiring to see their socio-political life unfold along consistent lines: we all have the dire need for what Mary E. Clark has called the ‘sacred’ and Charles Taylor the ‘good’, a basic belief and personal Heilsgeschichte that keeps us from having to face ontological insecurity, or uncanniness, on a day-to-day basis.

Today, there is ample evidence that a proclivity for the familiar is an integral part of what might be perceived as human ‘nature’. We all need to belong. If denied or violated, this need to belong will be radically reclaimed in one way or another. In social domains dominated by fear and insecurity, ethno-national or religious identities provide that desired stability and fulfil our need for meaningful belonging in times of upheaval – they mark fellow nationals as trustworthy kin, the national family. I want to show how uncompromising national identities provide necessary protection for people whose need to belong is being disregarded. Traditional perceptions of ‘reconciliation’ which require (former) enemies to give up their own understanding of the past are therefore bound to fail, as they explicitly seek to alter what does not want to be changed. Therefore, I propose a policy approach which is precautionary and respects those identities that people consider to be essential and non-negotiable. What is needed is an empathetic intervention which leaves core identities untouched, but at the same time re-humanises the dehumanised ‘other’.

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