February 17, 2010
Did religion influence land reform?
As questions continue to be asked about the Scottish Government’s commitment and enthusiasm for land reform, new research suggests that theology may have had a significant part to play in influencing the way that land reform has developed. “We are living in an era where theology has a new-found political relevance, but often in regressive ways. Our research hints at progressive possibilities that help to regenerate communities and give life.”
Theology Influenced Modern Scottish Land Reform – New Research Paper
1 February 2010
Religious factors played a marked role in the run-up to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, according to a new study involving researchers from the University of Strathclyde – Professor Alastair McIntosh and an intern student from the Netherlands, Rutger Henneman.
McIntosh, who was heavily involved in the Eigg community buy-out during the 1990s, is a Fellow of the Centre for Human Ecology and a visiting professor in the Department of Geography and Sociology at the University of Strathclyde.
Their research, published in the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture from the University of Florida, is built on 15 interviews with key land reform figures on Assynt, Eigg and Gigha, including some of the national church leaders who took a stand.
The idea that Biblical challenges to landlordism can help to legitimize land reform is a part of liberation theology in Latin America. The work of Professor James Hunter and Professor Donald Meek has shown that similar ideas were also powerfully at work during the run-up to passing the 1886 Crofting Act in Scotland. The significance of this new study is that it demonstrates that ideas like “the Earth belongs unto the Lord” can still be activated even today, when the country is relatively secular.
Many of those interviewed considered that religion had no direct political effect, but it helped to deepen the debate. For example, Dr Alison Elliot who, in 2004, became the first female Moderator of the Church of Scotland, said:
I think the theology provided not a justification [for land reform], but it provided depth and a focus…. In other words a lot of people are involved in land reform who would not have said they were religious in their commitment, but there was a deep sense of connectedness with the land, a sense that the land was something that was beyond ourselves … and the theology provided a way of articulating that.
Some islanders saw spirituality as having a central role in social transformation. Mairi Mackinnon, a Roman Catholic from Eigg said, “The hand of the Lord is in all the processes. The buyout is part of that.” And John Martin, a member of the Church of Scotland from Gigha said that land reform had dispelled “the Monday-morning feeling … the time of social justice has arrived. The time of social injustice has gone.” He added that the challenge post-land reform “is to strengthen the church again.”
Dr Graham Blount, a senior Church of Scotland figure, especially praised the Free Church of Scotland for its radical land theology. The study quotes the view of Free Church Professor, Donald Macleod, that land reform is “driven by the most irresistible of all forces: the divine spark of discontent.”
Professor McIntosh, the report’s co-author, said, “We are living in an era where theology has a new-found political relevance, but often in regressive ways. Our research hints at progressive possibilities that help to regenerate communities and give life.”