Recently I began a research project into the influence of sectarianism on Scottish school children, specifically in the Glasgow city school systems.

When I walked into the classroom the teacher stated: "Dr Robinson is here to talk to you about sectarianism." Students looked interested and cautious at the same time.

At one stage a young boy came up and said, "Sectarianism is a bad word isn't it?" I asked him why he thought that and he replied: "I have no idea, but I feel like it is."

I was aware that, coming into the Scottish context, there would be differences from what I had come to know as the 'S-word' in other countries.

What I didn't realise was how difficult it was to get people to speak about what has historically been considered an issue in Scottish society but that is, "not as bad as it used to be".

Part of this, I discovered, was because no one seemed sure if what they were talking about was sectarianism.

At the University of Glasgow, Professor Tom Devine recently said that, while he believed sectarianism was on its deathbed in Scotland, there was need for further research. He discussed current statistics related to sectarianism and the lack of representative evidence across the country.

Indeed, this has been an issue many researchers have found problematic.

Much like the Yes/No campaigns in the independence referendum, sectarianism became a "yes it exists" or a "no it doesn't" matter.

So, while many academics are increasingly interested in understanding sectarianism at a grassroots level, their research tends to fall under the same scrutiny.

It's either not seen as representative of Scottish society or it is in some ways biased towards the Yes/No sectarianism debate.

In the southern United States, where I am from, there are constant discussions pertaining to the fact that racism is not a part of life in the same way it was pre 1960s.

Skin colour does not dictate jobs or who you marry. But when I go home and talk to my friends in Atlanta, and I hear their individual stories, I am oftentimes struck by how far we are from "tackling racism" in this context.

The state of what it means to be racist has changed as culture has changed but its existence has yet to be questioned.

Yes, my thoughts on this subject are based on individual stories and are not generalisable. But they are real, they are current, and it is these anecdotes that make up the story of our society.

And as I sit in a room full of people in North Ayrshire or Inverkeithing or school children in Glasgow who are telling me their stories of a version of sectarianism that exists in the here and now, I realise that the best research we could possible do is to offer these people a voice in a public way to tell us what sectarianism means and if it exists.

In the end of the day, are we researching to prove we are right or are we researching to work towards the establishment of a more tolerant and peaceful society?

For too long academics have used selective data instead of local understandings and I genuinely hope that, in the coming years, that will change.

This may well result in sectarianism being seen as truly tackled or perhaps not, but at least this decision will come from the people of all parts of Scotland.

The launch of the first dedicated research network, the Scottish Religious Cultures Network based at the University of Glasgow, is the first step in the re-evaluation of the role of religion in modern society and how we begin challenging the perpetuating social divisions that stem from it.

Alongside the network is the newly established Values-Based Practice MSc in Peacebuilding that includes courses such as The Legacy of Sectarianism in Scotland and Ireland and Theory and Practice of Peacebuilding.