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Open Access Thesis


Ulster Project, Youth -- Northern Ireland -- Attitudes, Volunteers -- Iowa -- Decorah -- Attitudes, Peace movements -- Northern Ireland


The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the beliefs, feelings, and experiences of 10 people involved with the Ulster Project in Decorah, Iowa. In addition, the study sought to assess the merits and consequences of the Project and to evaluate the validity of the contact hypothesis. The Ulster Project is a non-profit organization, which sponsors an ecumenical summer visit of Northern Irish youth to the United States. By exposing its visitors to people of the opposite religion, the Project's long range goal is to heal the many scars which have been built up through years of violence and ignorance so that, in the end, reconciliation can be brought to the various parties in these troubles.

The participants in this study were 10 white, middle-class, men and women from various religious denominations. They ranged in aged from 21 to 69 and also differed in how long they had been involved in the project. The participants were selected through referrals by an initial contact.

The data for this study were gathered through document analysis and in-depth interviews. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed to discover emergent patterns, and themes. Analysis was guided by the framework of Interpretive interactionism, as described by Norman Denzin.

Results indicated that the participants were united in their goal of breaking down barriers of mistrust and ignorance among the Northern Irish youth, building friendships at home and abroad, establishing cross-community links in Decorah, and building bridges across the religious and political divide in Northern Ireland. The results further highlight the importance of social identity in Northern Ireland while describing the means the Project employs to reconcile these differences at both the interpersonal and intergroup level. The data suggest that the Project is successful in promoting healing and reconciliation at the interpersonal level. It is less clear on the effects at the intergroup level.

With very limited evidence available concerning the impact of the various reconciliation schemes in Northern Ireland, this study contributes to the existing literature by evaluating the various attempts at reconciliation that are now being undertaken. As a result of these evaluations, recommendations for the Ulster Project included encouraging open discussion of the conflict in Northern Ireland, changing the practice of placing the teenagers with host families of the same faith, and deciding on whether bringing teenagers from a more troubled area of Northern Ireland would be more productive in the long run.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology

First Advisor

Ronald Roberts, Chair


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Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (viii, 91 leaves ; 28 cm)



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