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Terminology and Descriptions

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Presentation of Terminology in the Guide

The Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004 specifies religion as one of the protected grounds of the legislation. Healthcare settings tend to ask people their religion. For these reasons we use the term religion (and derivatives such as religious) as a standard term throughout this Guide.

We recognise that some groups discussed in the Guide do not identify with the word religion and prefer to use terms such as spiritual tradition. We have endeavoured to accommodate this preference in particular sections. Additionally, we respect the wishes of people without religious belief and where possible have avoided the use of the term religion when referring to them in this Guide

Religions and cultures have individual terminology for particular practices, rituals, etc. Our contributors were accommodating of our need to categorise ceremonies, practices rituals, etc., under descriptions recognisable in Irish healthcare settings, while indicating that the integrity of their practices was not compromised.

Many groups included the terms used by them to describe areas including ceremonies, rituals, practices, food categories, specific items of clothing, etc. Where provided these terms have been italicised to aid recognition of them by readers; names of religious ceremonies have been capitalised and italicised.

We have followed guidance on the presentation of the material so that information is easily accessible and user-friendly.


Intercultural terms used in the Guide

We employ a core set of terms in this document and it may be helpful to establish a working understanding of these terms. The National Intercultural Health Strategy includes a Glossary of terms that explores and explains a broader range of definitions related to interculturalism.

Nationality is the status of belonging to a particular nation state (or country) through birth or naturalisation, the latter being the process by which a person born in one country secures granted nationality of another country. A government of a particular state provides protection to its nationals, including the right to travel under the passport and guardianship of the state, and in reciprocation expects compliance with the laws of the country. 8

Ethnicity is characterised by the group identify, belonging and affiliation that one holds about oneself. Ethnic Groups share history, ancestry, language and geographic origin. Their shared identity exists independent of nationality. For example, communities holding Irish ethnic identity have developed as a result of emigration to countries such as England and the United States. Equally the Roma Community, while holding several nationalities, share a common identity. 9

Minority Ethnic Group/Community is a standard term used in the European Union to describe all groups whose ethnicity is different to that of the dominant group, which in the case of Ireland is the white Irish . The term Minority Ethnic Groups can be used as a descriptor for a range of groups in Ireland other than the dominant group including long established ethnic groups such as the Jewish Community; other established groups such as the settled Asian communities; and more recently arrived communities from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, etc. 10 This is the context in which we use the term in this publication, while recognising that not all members of these groups are identifiable with or wish to be identified with the term.11

Many members of Minority Ethnic Groups/ Communities are Irish citizens through naturalisation or birth. The term Minority Ethnic Groups/Communities is normally capitalised in intercultural publications to denote its status as an official descriptor.

Culture is commonly defined as the ‘learned and shared values, beliefs, behaviours and customs of a group of people’. 12 National groups, ethnic groups, religious groups and other types of groups share a culture. Therefore, a person in a healthcare setting may carry aspects of several strands of culture including national, ethnic and religious.

Interculturalism refers to the willingness and capacity of an organisation to ensure that cultural difference is acknowledged, respected and provided for in a planned and systematic way in all systems, processes and practices. In the delivery of health services to Minority Ethnic Communities the features of such an approach include:

  • Awareness of one’s own cultural values
  • Awareness and understanding that people of different cultures have different beliefs, ways of communicating, interacting, behaving and responding.
  • Appreciating that cultural and spiritual beliefs impact patient’s health and health-related beliefs, help-seeking behaviour, interactions with health care professionals and health care practices.
  • A willingness and capacity to respond appropriately to patients’ cultural and/or ethnic background in order to provide optimal care for the patient. 13


Migrant Workers are defined in Article 2 of the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families as “a person who is to be engaged, is engaged, or has been engaged in remunerated activity in a state of which he or she is not a national”14. Migrant Workers are members of Minority Ethnic Groups.


Terminology and Traditions within Christianity

This sub-section is included to help staff in healthcare settings to understand the diversity of Christian traditions in Ireland and develop sensitivity in working with persons from these traditions. To this end, this sub-section will provide a very brief synopsis of the origins and influences of the various Christian traditions in Ireland and provide guidance on appropriate descriptions for particular groups.

Catholic: The term Catholic means ‘universal’ and is used by more than one Christian church. Generally these churches emphasise historic continuity with the twelve apostles who, according to Christian tradition, were chosen by Jesus Christ to continue his teaching. The largest member is the Roman Catholic Church, whose leader is the Pope. Other churches that emphasise the Catholic tradition but are not part of the Roman Church are the churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Orthodox Churches.

There is a specific Roman Catholic section in the Guide; we clarify that we are referring solely to Roman Catholics in this section.

Orthodox: The word Orthodox is derived from two Greek words and literally means ‘right teaching’ or ‘right worship’. The Orthodox Churches emphasise historic continuity with Christ’s twelve apostles.

The Churches are the main Christian movement in much of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Census 2006 indicated that the Orthodox Churches are the fifth largest religious group in Ireland.

Protestant and Reformed traditions: The term Protestant is often misapplied in the Irish context and there is often a lack of clarity about the origin and influences of the churches often described as Protestant .

The terms Protestantism and Reformation can be traced to developments that took place within Christianity in the sixteenth century. Key figures include Martin Luther, whose teachings gave rise to the Lutheran Church, and John Calvin, whose teachings gave rise to the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. A concurrent reform occurred within the Church of England that influenced the churches of what is now called the Anglican Communion.

In the eighteenth century an Anglican Minister, the Reverend John Wesley, chiefly initiated a revival movement within the Church of England that became the source of the Methodist Church. Generally churches that have a reformed influence emphasise biblical (i.e. the Christian Bible ) rather than human authority and affirm their continuity with early Christianity.

Many churches have multiple heritages and as such the term Protestant is often either restrictive or inaccurate. The Church of Ireland affirms its continuity with the ancient Celtic Christian Church in Ireland and considers itself to be “the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland” and “a reformed and Protestant Church.”15 The Methodist Church has influences from the Catholic and Reformed traditions. The Lutheran Church has retained much of its original Catholic heritage. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland uses the term Reformed Tradition to describe its origins, while it shares the principal beliefs and practices of other historic Christian churches.

Baptist Churches, as the name of the movement suggests, hold a distinct approach to Baptism, the initiation ritual common among many Christian churches. The movement offers baptism only to those who voluntarily commit to the Christian religion. Within the movement it is usually referred to as Believer’s Baptism and candidates are completely immersed in water. In the Irish context, Baptist Churches are reformed, while they share the principal beliefs and practices of the other historic Christian churches.

Contributors from all of the Christian churches and groups have indicated that the most significant growth in numbers in recent years is from the newer Minority Ethnic Communities. It is likely that these groups may not use or understand historic labels used in Ireland to describe Christian traditions in Ireland.

For all of the reasons quoted here it is more appropriate to list the person’s chosen denomination, be it Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc., when categorising the person’s religion rather than use loose terms such as Protestant. This will also assist in the identification of appropriate pastoral needs for the person.


Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism:

The Irish Evangelical Movement was influenced by the ministry of John Wesley, whose teachings gave rise to the Methodist Church and who had a long history with Ireland. Evangelicalism emphasises the sole authority of the Bible, the need for personal conversion through faith in Christ (hence reference to born again Christians ) and the mandate to preach the Gospel.

Presently in Ireland the evangelical movement is expressed in most Christian denominations including Baptist, Church of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian and in numerous independent churches.

Pentecostalism is a specific strand within the overall Evangelical movement. It takes its name from the event of Pentecost when Christ’s first disciples were baptised in the Holy Spirit .

Principal beliefs of Christianity: Particular sections of the Guide refer to the ‘principal shared beliefs of Christianity’. In brief the main ones are:

  • Holy Trinity: Christians believe in one indivisible God expressed as the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit.
  • Deity of Christ: Christians believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate (literally ‘God in flesh’), fully God and fully human, Saviour and Messiah.
  • Christ as Saviour: Christian doctrine teaches that the death of Christ in crucifixion was an act of pure love, through which sin was forgiven and reconciliation with God was made possible.
  • Resurrection and afterlife: Christians believe that Jesus Christ died and is risen or resurrected. Christ’s resurrection offers the hope of resurrection for humans at the end of this present age.
  • God’s grace: Christians believe that the grace of God, received through faith, is essential to being in an eternal relationship with God.
  • Holy book: The Christian Bible is the key holy book.


Mainstream Christianity: The term Mainstream Christianity was traditionally used to refer collectively to the major historic denominations of Christianity in Ireland including the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, Presbyterianism and Methodism. Changing demographics indicate that the term may need to be revised, particularly given the growth in Christian movements such as the Orthodox Churches, the Evangelical/Pentecostal movement, etc. This Guide does not use the term Mainstream Christianity as it implies a value judgment about other Christian traditions and movements.

There are other groups profiled in this Guide, identified below, who use the Christian Bible within their religious practice. These groups use the group’s own name and do not associate with terminology such as reformed, etc. Each of these groups is very distinct, with its own individual history and beliefs. They should not be taken as a collective by virtue of being described outside the above traditions. The movements are presented in line with their historic arrival in Ireland.

The Religious Society of Friends ( the Quakers) commenced in Ireland in 1654; the first meeting took place in the home of William Edmundson who became convinced by the movement during business trips to England. George Fox, founder of the movement, visited the many groups established in Ireland in 1669. This Christian organisation has had a long history of involvement in humanitarian activities in Ireland and Friends have owned businesses renowned for positive employee well-being practices.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes known as the Mormon Church) has had a presence in Ireland since 1840. John Taylor, later third President of the worldwide Church, arrived in Newry in the summer of that year and commenced a mission programme. Today Latter-day Saints are found throughout Ireland. The Irish Mission office is located in Dublin.

The First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) has had a presence in Ireland since the late 1880s when Mrs Marjorie Colles began the practice of Christian Science healing in Dublin after attending a class in Boston conducted by founder Mary Baker Eddy. The branch church in Dublin was formed in the early part of the 20th century. Adherents of Christian Science are located in several parts of Ireland. Information about Christian Science in Ireland is currently handled by a regional office based in London.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church has been in Ireland since 1891 when the first Church was organised in Banbridge, County Down, where its head office is currently located. Today, the Church is an all Ireland movement. The diversity of the members reflects the global nature of Adventism, with worshippers from almost every continent. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA – Ireland) is the humanitarian organisation of the church.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have had a presence in Ireland since the 1890s. Today, the organisation is an all Ireland movement with its national headquarters in Newcastle, County Wicklow.



8 Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationality

9 Taken from a training programme developed by the HSE in partnership with Pavee Point Travellers Centre for the purposes of upskilling staff to implement an Ethnic Identifier question in data sets in healthcare settings

10 See for example ERHA (2005) Regional Health Strategy for Ethnic Minorities

11 The National Intercultural Health Strategy, op cit, discusses this phenomenon. See page 129.

12 See, for example, Henley, A. and Schott, J. (1999)Culture, Religion and Patient Care in a Multi-Ethnic Society: A Handbook for professionals; Ting-Toomey, S. (1999)Communicating Across Cultures; and Bennett, M.J. (Ed) (1998) Basic Concepts in Intercultural Communication: Selected Readings.

13Thrive (2005) Learning, training and development needs of health services staff in delivering services to members of Minority Ethnic Communities, page 64.

14 Quoted from National Intercultural Health Strategy, op cit, page 129.

15 Quoted from the Constitution of the Church of Ireland, which is referenced at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Ireland