Witness Seminar Series

The Cold War Challenge to the Christian Churches

This series of four seminars take the form of interactive group interviews. The oral history interactions and historical analysis help us to better understand the extent to which the Cold War was a religio-political enterprise that confronted the churches with profound challenges on a number of levels that have only recently begun to attract serious attention from Cold War scholars.
Seminar 1

Seminar one took place at London Metropolitan University on 29 November 2012. It brought together a panel of Christian activists involved in different capacities with the problems of the churches and East-West relations going back to the 1960s. In particular, they posed critical insights into two significant institutional responses to the Cold War challenge to the Christian Church, the British Council of Churches’ East-West Relations Advisory Committee and the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism (later Keston Institute).

The Very Rev Canon Dr John Arnold: Dean Emeritus of Durham
The Very Rev Canon Dr Michael Bourdeaux: founder of Keston College
Xenia Dennen: Chairman of the Keston Institute
The Very Rev Canon Dr Paul Oestreicher: former vice president CND
Dr Werner Krätschell: former Superintendent of the Protestant parish in Berlin-Pankow

Chair: Dianne Kirby

Videographer: Mark Sydserff

Seminar 2

Seminar two was also held at London Metropolitan University on 11 March 2013. It was a chaired conversation exploring the dilemmas with which nuclear weapons and the peace movement confronted Britain’s churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church, in Britain.

Bruce Kent: Former General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament (CND)
Brian Wicker: Former Chairman of Pax Christi and of the Council on Christian
Approaches to Defense and Disarmament (CCCADD)

Chair: Dianne Kirby

Videographer: Mark Sydserff

Seminar 3

Seminar three is in two parts and was held at Princeton Theological Seminary on 4 April 2013. It explored the difficulties with which the Cold War presented the ecumenical movement, especially the American based organization Christians Associated for Relationships with Eastern Europe.

Norman Hjelm: Former Director of Communication and Acting Deputy General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva and former Director of the Department of Faith and Order for the National Council of Churches in America.

Charles West: Former Professor of Christian Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary; former Associate Director of the Ecumenical Institute Bossey of the World Council of Churches, former President of Christians Associated for Relationships with Eastern Europe.

Paul Mojzes: A United Methodist ecumenical Christian, also Professor of religious studies at Rosemont College and former President of Christians Associated for Relationships with Eastern Europe.

Chair: Dianne Kirby

Video produced by Princeton Theological Seminary
Archives and Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary Library
Archivist - Kenneth W. Henke
Producer - Joicy Becker-Richards
Videographer - Eric Rasmussen

Seminar 4

Seminar four, ‘Liberation Theology on the island of Ireland’, is in three parts and took place at St Mary’s College, QUB, on the Falls Road, Belfast as part of the Feile an Phobail, Festival of the People. It explored if liberation theology had played a role in the Northern Ireland conflict and if it retained influence today and might figure as a force in the on-going quest for social justice and change throughout society.

Professor Terry Eagleton: An internationally celebrated literary scholar and cultural theorist, author of over 50 books. Some of these, from early works such as the New Left Church published in 1966, to more recent books and indeed lecture series, reveal how his Irishness connects with a Catholicism that has played a part in his development as a public intellectual. He was a leading member of a group on the Catholic left that sought radical reform of the Church itself. As liberation theology emerged in Latin America and black theology in the United States, the group launched the magazine Slant in the spring of 1964. It and the Slant Manifesto generated heated controversy within and without the Roman Catholic Church in England.

Fr. Des Wilson: A curate in West Belfast from 1966 to 1975. In 1972 he went to Ballymurphy, an impoverished and demonised area where he sought to help local residents confronting the full force of the Troubles. He resigned his clerical positions in 1975 owing to disagreements about the use of church resources given the situation in Northern Ireland. He subsequently founded an adult education centre, independent of church and political parties, within the local community, where he still works. He was awarded the Pax Christi Peace Prize in 1975 and received an honorary award in Peace Studies from Manhattan College in 1976.

Rev Dr Oliver Rafferty: A member of the Jesuit order now teaching at Boston College who has numerous books on Irish and Church history. He taught at several universities in Ireland, the UK, the US and in Korea. Fr Rafferty has carried out extensive archival research, including in Vatican archives and those of the British Foreign Office. Brought up in Turf Lodge, he was 13 when the Troubles erupted. With first hand experience of the devastation and destruction inflicted on the community, he was witness to the various responses the Troubles invoked.

Chair: Dianne Kirby

Seminar 5

Seminar five. Women of Faith and the Northern Ireland Peace Process: A conversation between Sr. Geraldine Smyth, the Reverend Lesley Carroll, Baroness May Blood and Prof Dianne Kirby, February 2017.

Sisters of the Troubles

Recorded witness seminars addressing the experiences and recollections of women of faith, Protestant and Catholic during the Troubles

Sisters of the Troubles, Lithuania Conference

Sisters of the Troubles, The Documentary - BBC World Service
The untold story of the role of Catholic nuns during Northern Ireland’s troubles

In Conversation Fr Murray and Fr Wilson about the work of Catholic Sisters during the conflict in and about Northern Ireland

'Sisters in the Troubles’: Introduction to women in religious orders during the conflict in and about Northern Ireland
Published in the journal of Doctrine and Life, Vol. 75, No. 1, January 2017

Support for the witness seminars came from a variety of institutions and individuals within them:
Professor Jeff Haynes, London Metropolitan University
Dr Michael Kandiah, King’s College, London University
Professor Lisa Isherwood, Institute of Theological Partnerships, Winchester University
Professor Geraldine Smyth, Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin
Dr Gerard McCann, St Mary’s University College, QUB
Dr Fidelma Ashe, the Seedbed Foundation and Ulster University
Dr Jolene Mairs-Dyer, Ulster University

Sisters in the Troubles | Soul Waves Radio

The Troubles has been a subject of much study and discussion but an aspect that is often overlooked is the perspective of women; even more so religious women

Women of faith and the Northern Ireland peace process: breaking the silence

“This business of loving enemies mattered to me. That was a command I had to obey.”