; What is Sectarianism

In Scotland, sectarianism is most often related to the bigotry displayed between some Protestants and Roman Catholics. If you asked young people why this was the case, they would, most likely, not be able to tell you. So, without, at this stage, getting into the historical detail, let’s look at what sectarianism is and how it manifests itself in Scottish life. 


DEFINITIONS (from the Oxford English Dictionary)

Sectarianism: an action carried out on the grounds of membership of a sect, denomination, or other group or rigidly following the doctrines of a sect or other group...

Bigotry: intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself...

Prejudice: preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; bias, partiality; unreasoned dislike, hostility, or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, a race, sex, or other class of people....

Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex...


Sectarianism occurs when members of different denominations within a faith display bigotry and prejudice toward each other. Examples include the Sunni and Shia within Islam, Orthodox and Reform within Judaism or Protestants and Catholics within Christianity.

This kind of sectarianism can manifest itself at different levels within society.

  • At individual and group level through behaviour, attitudes and language used eg making derogatory remarks about those perceived to be in ‘the other group’.
  • At institutional level there may be conscious or unconscious discrimination against particular groups eg through recruitment or promotion.
  • At cultural level, there may be practices which are understood by some to be part of our cultural heritage but which exacerbate the sectarian divide eg traditional music, football, marches etc.

And can include:

  • Jokes and comments
  • Name-calling
  • Chants and songs
  • Graffiti
  • Verbal abuse
  • Intimidation
  • Discrimination
  • Physical violence
  • Domestic violence
  • Murder
  • Wars

Recognising WHAT sectarianism is one thing, and one that many people of all ages in Scotland can identify with. People of all faiths – or no faith – may have perspectives that promote religious intolerance and sectarianism. Equally, people of all faiths – or no faith – can be the victims of bigotry and discrimination.

Sectarian behaviour and attitudes in Scotland are often demonstrated by, and suffered by, people of no faith (secular). It is a matter of personal identity rather than faith. There is also a certain amount of stereotyping of people depending on where they grew up, where they went  to school, or which football team they are perceived to support.

Sectarianism is complex and multi-layered. From the point of view of this resource, it is anchored within a framework of human rights, tolerance,  and social justice.

This resource, Stand Up to Sectarianism, is based on the premise that sectarianism is not someone else’s problem. It is an issue for all of us.



youth scotland