This article explores the possibility that an analysis of racism in the United States and sectarianism in Northern Ireland inspired by literary, psychotherapeutic, religious and philosophical conceptions of metaphor might yield new insight into the two situations by attending carefully to similarities and differences between them. Following brief summaries of the current state of racism in the U.S. and sectarianism in Northern Ireland, the article offers two perspectives from the field of psychotherapy that seem particularly germane to both situations. Then we turn to the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt for a reflection on the unpredictability and irreversibility of human action, and what can be done within the limits of those conditions. Finally, we find in contemporary broad-based community organizing in the tradition of Saul Alinsky our closing metaphor: interracial and interfaith citizens organizations as crucibles that enable citizens and people of faith to imagine a way forward in societies struggling with racist and sectarian histories.

Author Bio(s)

John Lord Alderdice, was educated at Queen’s University Belfast, graduating in Medicine in 1978. He specialised in psychiatry and psychotherapy and was appointed Ireland's first Consultant Psychotherapist in 1988. He is a Fellow and Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and an Honorary Affiliate of the British Psychoanalytical Society. To apply his psychological ideas to political conflict resolution he entered Northern Ireland politics and served as elected leader of the nonsectarian Alliance Party from 1987 to 1998. During this time he was one of the key negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement. In 1998 he was elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly established under this Agreement and appointed its Speaker. He is also a member of the British House of Lords, and the Deputy President of Liberal International, the world-wide federation of 90 liberal political parties.

Michael A. Cowan was educated at Loyola University (Chicago), graduating in psychology in 1967. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from the Ohio State University and a master’s degree in systematic theology from St. John’s University (Collegeville). He currently serves as professor and executive director of the Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy, Loyola University New Orleans. He is a founding leader of three interracial, civil-society organizations: the Jeremiah Group (the New Orleans Industrial Areas Foundation [IAF] affiliate); Shades of Praise: The New Orleans Interracial Gospel Choir; and the Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans. He has lectured, consulted, and learned in Northern Ireland annually for the last 20 years.


interracial and interfaith citizens, metaphors, Northern Ireland, psychotherapy, racism, sectarianism, United States

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