Becoming a ‘real’ Catholic: Polish migrants and lived religiosity in the UK and Ireland

Kerry Gallagher* (Corresponding Author), Marta Trzebiatowska

*Corresponding author for this work

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12 Citations (Scopus)
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The effect of migration on religiosity is a well-documented theme in the sociology of religion. Despite the rapid growth in the number of Polish Catholics in the UK and Ireland, little has been written on the spiritual and religious aspects of their journeys. This paper is based on the authors’ ethnographic fieldwork with Polish migrants in the UK and Ireland. Drawing on qualitative interviews and participant observation with Polish migrants of various ages and class backgrounds, we identify three possible outcomes for individuals of Catholic faith being transplanted to a secular context: first, Catholic Poles continue to practice in the same way as they did in their home country; second, they begin to question their faith and leave the church altogether; and third, they take the opportunity to explore their faith in a flexible and relatively independent manner. We argue that the final possibility leads to the privatisation and intellectualisation of their Catholicism. Thus, the experience of migration gives some Polish Catholics the freedom and courage to question their beliefs but it does not necessarily make them irreligious. In their own words, they ‘believe in the way they have always wanted to but did not dare’. In conclusion, this article highlights the secondary benefits of migration for the personal experience of religious faith.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-445
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Contemporary Religion
Issue number3
Early online date14 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to Andrew McKinnon (University of Aberdeen) for his insightful comments on an earlier version of this article. We would also like to thank the referees of the Journal of Contemporary Religion for their constructive and detailed comments which helped us to improve the argument further. The British portion of the research was funded by Porticus UK. The research team included Halina Grzymała-Moszczynska, Marta Trzebiatowska, Claire Wallace, Joanna Krotofil, Anna Jurek, and Marcin Lisak.


  • Polish migrants
  • Catholicism
  • privatisation of faith
  • Britain
  • Ireland
  • lived religiosity


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