The study 'Making Communion: Disappearing and Emerging Forms of Childhood in Ireland' began with Dr. Karl Kitching, lecturer in the School of Education and former primary school teacher, embarking on a pilot project in one primary school during 2010-2011. The aim of the study was to explore children's worlds during a significant year for many children in Ireland: the year of preparation for Roman Catholic First Holy Communion. However, the pilot study did not simply focus on the meanings of 'Communion' for Catholic children. Rather, the aim was to explore how children experience their worlds in similar and different ways, regardless of whether they were part of a faith community or not.
The Irish Research Council funded a wider set of case studies in 2012-13 through its Collaborative Research Projects Scheme. Dr. Yafa Shanneik, an expert in the Study of Religions now working as a postdoctoral fellow in University of Chester, joined the project at this point. This larger project allowed the exploration of the intergenerational aspect of Communion and wider childhoods in Ireland. Along with encountering a much wider group of children, the larger project included interviewing young people (at second level school age) and senior citizens about their experiences of childhood. Parents and teachers also contributed their memories, and discussed their experiences of school choice and of working in predominantly Catholic school sector. This larger study also offered the chance to explore the lives of children and parents associated with multidenominational and Church of Ireland schools.
'Communion' has some sort of meaning for most of Ireland's school-going population, simply because the vast majority of primary schools in Ireland are managed under the ethos of the Catholic Church. Sacramental preparation is a significant focus for children in second class (7-8 years of age). However, with the decreased moral authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland (documented particularly by Professor Tom Inglis UCD), Communion has itself changed in shape and meaning. Communion is a significant lens through which we can examine the diversity of contemporary 'Irish' childhoods, given the discrepancy between religious practices and religious-run schools in Irish society. Communion also offers significant insight from a social class point of view into what counts as 'respectable' families (e.g. in terms of how they consume, present their child, observe religion etc.), while also offering insight into questions of ethnic diversity and racism, and also the kinds of gendered cultural norms presented to and used by young children. In other words, Communion offers further answers to key questions about inclusion and exclusion in contemporary Irish life. Perhaps most importantly, it offers answers as to how children make sense of these questions in their own way as religious and non-religious citizens, without treating their understandings as lacking an 'adult' point of view.
Kitching, K. and Shanneik, Y. (2015) Children's Beliefs and Belonging: A Schools and Families Report from the 'Making Communion' Study. Cork: Authors CLICK HERE TO ACCESS IN FULL
Kitching, K. (2014) The Politics of Compulsive Education: Racism and Learner-Citizenship. London: Routledge.
Kitching, K. (2013) Governing 'authentic' religiosity? The responsibilisation of parents beyond religion and state in matters of school ethos. Irish Journal of Sociology 21(2): 17–34.