The Centre was established by Professor Adrian Guelke within the School of Politics and International Studies in January 1998 to promote research on societies that are or have been deeply divided in terms of their ethnic and national identities. The Centre's location, Northern Ireland, itself is a striking example of such a deeply divided society. The city of Belfast provides an especially appropriate setting for the study of the problems that a deep division in society gives rise to, even in the conditions of relative peace.
The School is the leading place in the UK and Ireland for the study of the politics of Northern Ireland, with more staff engaged in research on this question than in any other third-level institution in Ireland or anywhere else. The School also contains on its staff a considerable number of specialists on deeply divided societies and state consolidation after conflict in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The Centre links together members of staff working on contemporary social and political processes in post conflict and divided societies in a comparative perspective. The members of staff furnish most of the expertise that goes into supervision of doctoral students working on comparative studies of ethnic conflict, teaching of the School's MA programme “Comparative Ethnic Conflict” and offer series of undergraduate modules on the issue area of ethnic conflict. See list of staff members with details of the research interests of the individuals listed.
The Centre hosts public lectures, seminars, workshops and hosts conferences in its field, including a colloquium of the International Political Science Association's research committee on politics and ethnicity. The Centre maintains institutional cooperation with research institutions and centres working in the area of peace and conflict studies, and is a member to academic networks studying the effects of ethnic, national, linguistic and cultural identities on politics worldwide.