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As part of the Mary Ann McCracken 250 series of events Reclaim the Enlightenment and the Frances Hutcheson Institute are hosting this discussion on ‘A Spirit of Inquiry’ which will be chaired by Norma Sinte, chair of the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation

In 1792 the Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge (later the Linen Hall Library) declared an objective to encourage ‘a spirit of enquiry’. Henry Joy McCracken was a committee member and after his execution his sister, Mary Ann, took over his membership. They were thus associated with a notable enlightenment enterprise. Apart from collecting books the Society supported free and universal education, created the beginnings of a museum and provided Belfast’s first meteorological station. All this in a town which was happy to be described as ‘the modern Athens’. Perhaps above all those involved were suffused with a sense of the inevitability of human progress based on a common humanity and rational discovery. Dr James Dingley and John Gray explore what the enlightenment meant to that generation, and, from their differing perspectives, what it means today.


Dr James Dingley is a political sociologist with a PhD from the University of London and an academic of over 40 years standing, holding posts at the Universities of Ulster, QUB and Kurdistan-Hawler (Iraq, where he lived). He has written six books for major international publishers, published many journal articles and been a regular media pundit on terrorism and political violence. His research has concentrated on the fundamental causes behind political and religious violence, especially in relation to nationalist conflicts. In particular his research has concentrated on the role and influence of religion on nationalism and political identity and the challenges posed by Enlightenment thought to the political role of religion. In recent years this has taken him into the field of religion, national identity and socio-linguistics and the ability to create a community of trust. He is also a strong proponent of the Enlightened philosophy of the Ulster philosopher Francis Hutcheson (being Chairman of the Francis Hutcheson Institute).

John Gray is the Chair of Reclaim the Enlightenment. He is the former Librarian of the Linen Hall Library. He has been an activist in many community and environmental causes. He has written extensively on the political and cultural history of Ulster and with a particular interest in the fate of radical causes. His most recent publication is Mary Ann McCracken 1770-1866 Feminist, Revolutionary and Reformer.

Event information

• The Zoom meeting ID for this event is 5043388188 (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/5043388188)

• Hosted by Reclaim the Enlightenment- for more information email reclaimtheenlightenment@gmail.com

About the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation
The Foundation was officially launch in 2021 to promote the life and times of this remarkable woman and to explore her legacy and relevance in the 21st century. The Foundation have, to date, republished Mary McNeill’s biography on Mary Ann McCracken, produced an historical map of Belfast, and recently award bursaries to Ulster University Masters Students.

You can support the ongoing work of the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation here .

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For more information on the Foundation’s work and other events as part of Mary Ann 250 please click here