What is sectarianism?

A Definition..

Sectarianism is a word which conjures up many different emotions, opinions and perspectives. The term can take on different meanings depending on how it is used.

Dictionary Definition of Sectarian.


1.      Of, relating to, or characteristic of a sect.
2.      Adhering or confined to the dogmatic limits of a sect or denomination; partisan
3.      Narrow-minded; parochial.

Nil by Mouth’s campaign focuses mainly on challenging sectarian hatred, abuse and discrimination between Catholics and Protestants. The prejudice which stains Scottish culture fuels an alarming reality that you need not belong to a particular faith to be a victim of sectarianism. The school you attend, the community you belong to, your name, your accent or the colour of your clothing can all mark you out as a target for discrimination and abuse. There are many many examples of where this has been the case. We define sectarianism as:

“Narrow-minded beliefs that lead to prejudice, discrimination, malice and ill-will towards members, or presumed members, of a religious denomination.”

A denomination – or sect – is a division or grouping within a faith eg Protestants and Catholics within Christianity, Sunni and Shia within Islam, Orthodox and Reform within Judaism. Denominations within one faith share the same fundamental elements of the faith but have different practices or different interpretations of specific elements of that faith.

Sectarianism in Scotland is typically related to Protestant/Catholic divisions but it is helpful to understand that sectarianism also occurs within other faiths and is a feature of religious intolerance.

Although sectarianism is rooted in religion it is often linked to cultural, historical and political differences. It is frequently argued that in recent years this type of intolerance of others has little link with history or association with religion itself.

Here are some real life examples to consider ( 2009).

Examples from schoolchildren :-

CHLOE: Sectarianism is one of the worst things to happen to us since Global Warming because it leads to murder and things like that. We need to get Glasgow off the map for being the murder capitol of the World!


Examples from employment : -

CLAIRE:  ” I trained in Glasgow as an architect. At a job interview a few years ago one of the interviewers was looking though my CV, and when he got to the bit where I’d written what school I went to he said ” Oh, we’ve got a few of your type here”, suggesting I was some kind of unwanted minority. His point was that I went to a Catholic school. It’s not just our grandparents who have these stories, it’s us too. Old fashioned narrow minded views live on. ”

LAURA: ” I’d been a lawyer in Scotland for a few years before I really noticed that Catholics don’t seem to make it to partner in law firms”

MARGARET : ” People think it’s a west coast issue, but I grew up in Edinburgh and there were companies you just didn’t bother applying for a job with. It might not have been official policy, but they only recruited Catholics.”

Examples from social settings:

JB ( aged 45):  ” I went to a birthday party at someone’s house last summer, when the cake came out they sang the up to your knees in fenian blood song instead of the more traditional happy birthday. I haven’t been back. ”

Jack (aged 69) : ” There was almost a street party a few years ago when the first Catholic was elected as the President of our local golf club. It was such a novelty for a golf club in the west of Scotland. Don’t even get me started on Bowling clubs!”