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Secular Definition

Secularism is the idea that human affairs should be managed according to secular, naturalistic principles. Secularism is most often understood to mean separating religion from public life and the state, but it can also refer to any position that seeks to eliminate or significantly reduce the influence of religion in public life. The term "secularism" has a wide range of connotations, and in its most general sense, it can refer to any position that supports the secular in any particular situation. It could imply anti-clericalism, atheism, naturalism, non-sectarianism, objectivity towards religious issues, or the complete elimination of religious symbols from government buildings. Secularism, as a philosophy, aims to explain reality without the aid of religion, using only ideas found in the physical world. The emphasis is shifted away from religion and towards "temporal" issues.

Secular Definition

There are various secularist traditions in the West, including as the French, Turkish, and Anglo-American models. There are also secularist traditions outside of the West, like as in India, where the focus is more on equality before the law and governmental neutrality than on complete separation. Secularism has many different goals and justifications, ranging from claims that it is an essential component of modernity or that religion and traditional values are outdated and polarising to the declaration that it is the only guarantee of freedom of religion.


Different varieties of secularism hold different positions on how and where religion should be kept apart from other facets of society. Every religious group can support a secular society, although non-religious people, including atheists, are more likely to identify as secularists than believers. The secularism schools of thought that take into account a secular state regulating religion fall under the heading of political secularism. Members of the majority religion in a nation typically reject political secularism, whereas members of religious minorities and non-religious citizens generally support it. Those who embrace political secularism in their own country are known as secular nationalists.

At least four different forms of political secularism exist in society, according to scholars. The fundamentalist version is hostile to religion and openly rejects it. Political states "adhering to the ideas of materialism, naturalism, and humanism" adopt the humanistic form, which has no regard for religion. The liberal approach is thought to be more tolerant of religious beliefs in general while remaining neutral and unprejudiced towards any particular religion. Although the phrase is used disparagingly, some scholars also view pseudo-secularism as a subset of political secularism that manifests itself when the state professes to be secular and neutral to faiths but favours one religion over others through its laws.

Political secularism is related with a wide range of values. It often opposes a legal hierarchy based on religious belief or lack thereof and advocates for legal equality amongst members of various religions. It is also linked to the idea that the government and the church are two independent entities that ought to be handled differently. Whereas internal restraint is a secular philosophy that opposes governmental control over one's personal life, state supremacy is a secular notion that favours allegiance to governmental law over religious law. Political secularism holds that the government can regulate behaviour but not beliefs. Similarly, secularism promotes freedom of thinking. Secularists favour order, especially in the sense that one's beliefs should not be allowed to cause civic unrest. Both the lack of piety displayed by adherents of one's own religion and tolerance for those of other religions are justified. Political secularism also affirms the virtue of reason. In addition to supporting freedom of religion, secularists also favour freedom from religion.


Throughout the dawn of time, secularism has been practised. While religion was remained pervasive in public life, nations like Ancient Greece adopted a limited form of secularism in which it was not involved in governing. During the Islamic Golden Era, secular states with a majority of Muslims existed.

In modern-day Rhode Island, Roger Williams established the Providence Plantations in 1636 as a community with complete religious freedom. Religious authorities, particularly the Catholic Church, vigorously contested secular ideas, sparking a religious cultural war. John Locke's principles, particularly his secularism, were incorporated into American government during the American Revolution by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; nonetheless, a truly secular state was not attained until the 20th century. In the Age of Enlightenment, French secularism was founded on Gallicanism, which placed a strong focus on governmental dominance, as well as materialism and anti-clericalism. In order to counteract the influence of the Catholic Church, the deistic Cult of Reason momentarily took the role of Christianity in revolutionary France.

The British agnostic writer George Holyoake was the first to use the already-existing phrase "secularism" in a modern sense in 1851. He looked for a name to represent a position that advocates living only according to naturalistic (secular) principles, without necessarily abandoning religion, because he found the term "atheism" to be too upsetting, preventing him from working with believers.

Secularism was defined differently by Holyoake than it was afterwards used by other authors. Holyoake offers a concept of secularism that is "much akin to modern definitions of humanism broader than merely atheism," according to the Humanist Heritage website. Modern conceptions of secularism are more likely to focus on the division of church and state than individual religious convictions.

Throughout the 20th century, secularisation of society started to take hold in many Christian nations, which resulted in a decline in levels of practise and belief. Sociologists differ on whether this indicates a short-term blip or a longer-term secularisation trend.

In 1905, the French idea of absolute isolation known as lacité was codified into law. Turkish secularism, or laiklik, became a state ideology under Kemalist after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's ascent to power in 1923, with the objective of modernising the nation. Prior to Atatürk's reforms, Turkey had a very short secular heritage, and Turkish secularism was first modelled after French lacité. Although secularism is still a contentious idea in Turkey and anti-Kemalist is a dominant ideology there, Turkey is still essentially the only country with a Muslim majority that has a functioning secular government. After gaining independence in 1947, India became a secular state; Mahatma Gandhi backed pluralist secularism as a way to ease tensions among the country's religiously diverse population. The Indian concept of secularism placed a strong emphasis on the equality of all citizens before the law, irrespective of their religious beliefs. In 1948, the International Declaration of Human Rights was published, providing legal protection for religious freedom worldwide.

State Secularism

Secularism is a political philosophy that advocates for the division of church and state, sometimes known as the separation of church and state. This can mean severing ties between a government and a state religion, substituting civil law for religious law (such as Halakha, Dharmastra, and Sharia), and ending discrimination against people of a particular religion. It is claimed that by defending the rights of religious minorities, this will strengthen democracy. The separation of church and state is one tactic that secular governments might use. These administrations, whether democratic or autocratic, all have a desire to restrict the religious component of the relationship. There may be various distinct policy recommendations for each state. Separation, strict oversight, and regulation of organised religion, as seen in France, Turkey, and other countries, may be some of these.

Secularists typically favour that politicians make decisions based on secular, as opposed to religious, considerations, in line with their belief in the separation of religion and state. In this regard, American secularist organisations like the Centre for Inquiry are heavily focused on policy decisions pertaining to subjects like abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell research, same-sex marriage, and sex education.

Religious extremists frequently reject a secular form of governance, contending that it goes against the nature of traditionally religious societies or restricts their freedom of speech. These attempts led to the term "secularism" becoming synonymous with "anti-religion" in the United States, for instance. But religious minorities frequently back secularism to protect their rights from the majority.

State secularism is frequently linked to the European Age of Enlightenment and has a significant impact on Western culture. Although none of these countries have exactly the same systems of administration with regard to religion, the United States, France, Turkey, India, Mexico, and South Korea are some of the most well-known examples of states that are regarded as being "constitutionally secular." For instance, secularism in France forbids such involvement, yet it does not totally separate state and religion in India.


The separation of church and state is upheld by separatist secularism. In this system, the state does not financially or otherwise support any one religion or set of religious rules. The difficulties facing separationist secularism include how to govern apart from religion when citizens, including government officials, are religious and how to control the secular activities of religious organisations. Based on the theories of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson, the federal courts of the United States construed the Constitution to support this system during the 20th century.

The secularist framework known as lacité was created and is applied in France. In this system, the state controls all matters of faith on a legal level and upholds the ban on practising religion in public. A 1905 statute established it, and successive regulations have prohibited youngsters from using religious imagery in public. Laiklik, a form of Kemalist secularism that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk introduced to Turkey in the 1920s and 1930s, is an adaption of lacité.

A method of aggressively promoting religion in general without favouring any one particular religious denomination is known as accommodationist. This system allows for few limitations on religion and frequently supports religious organisations financially. India employs this system, combining Indian heritage with Western secularism and ethnic and religious diversity. The right of Muslims to live under the civil code and Sharia simultaneously, as well as the complexities that follow, are two sources of contention about accommodationist in India. The United States has a history of accommodationist as well, and in the twenty-first century, the country has become more and more accommodationist.

A complete outlawing of religion is state atheism. In this system, the state upholds laws that prohibit religious expression in public or the practise of religion. State atheism, in contrast to other secularist ideologies, forbids both freedom of thought and the separation of religion and state. This distinction allows state atheism to be either considered or not to be a type of secularism. It is frequently linked to Marxism and Communist countries, where it is referred to as "scientific atheism."

Secular society

Modern democracies are typically seen as secular in religious studies. Due to the nearly total freedom of religion (religious beliefs are typically not subject to legal or social punishments) and the lack of religious leaders' influence over political choices, this is the case. Nonetheless, it has been asserted that Pew Research Centre surveys reveal that Americans are typically more at ease with religion playing a significant role in public life, whereas in Europe the influence of the church on public life is diminishing.

Instead than being influenced by a determined secular movement, most cultures become more secular as a result of social and economic advancement. Since Max Weber, the issue of power in secularised society as well as secularisation as a sociological or historical process has frequently been the focus of modern sociology. The West's current ethical discourse is sometimes referred to be "secular" since it is disassociated from religious issues. Several researchers from the 20th century, including Carl L. Becker, Karl Löwith, Hans Blumenberg, M. H. Abrams, Peter L. Berger, Paul Bénichou, and D. L. Munby, have contributed to our knowledge of these issues.

Since diverse people identify as secularists for various reasons and according to various belief systems, there is no one specific secular culture. Secularism is frequently linked to social liberalism and progressivism. White urban males of middle and upper class with advanced degrees are more likely than any other demographic group to identify as secularists in democracies. The demographics of secularists are more evenly distributed in societies where secularism is more prevalent, like as Western Europe. When nominally spiritual views become a part of public or private life without being recognised as religious, a society's definition of what is secular may likewise alter. Secularism is sometimes stigmatised because it is a minority in most communities. On the basis of morality, proponents of religious society argue that secular society is flawed because it lacks effective incentives for members to act morally.

Secular philosophy

Political philosophy and religious philosophy both take secularism into account. Secularism as a philosophy is strongly related to naturalism and materialism since it disregards the existence of immaterial or supernatural entities like a soul in favour of a material cosmos. Most contemporary empirical research is founded on this secular materialism and rationalism. Liberal European intellectuals like Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all advocated for several types of separation of religion and state during the Age of Enlightenment. Well-known moral philosophers like Derek Parfit and Peter Singer have characterised their work as openly secular or non-religious, as has the entire field of contemporary bioethics.

The nature of morality in a material universe is a key topic in secular philosophy. Systems of right and evil that are independent of religion or supernatural ideas are referred to as secular ethics and secular morality. Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy was largely created in reaction to this problem. Instead of being an abstract or idealised idea, "good" is often defined in terms of how it advances "human flourishing and justice" in secular ethics. Often, secular ethics are viewed through the lens of humanism.

Secularism in late 20th century political philosophy

Several of the organisations (NGOs) in favour of secularism might be perceived to define it as the common ground that allows all life attitude groups, whether religious or atheistic, to flourish in a society that respects freedom of expression and conscience. In the UK, the National Secular Society is one instance of such. Many secularists around the world share this viewpoint of what secularism entails. But many Christian academics and conservative politicians seem to view secularism as an attempt to drive religion out of society and replace it with atheism or a void of values, nihilism, rather than as the opposite of religion. As mentioned above in "Secular ethics," this dual element has complicated political discourse on the topic. Since the seminal work of John Rawls' Theory of Justice in 1971 and its sequel, Political Liberalism (1993), it appears that the majority of political philosophers prefer to utilise the combined idea of overlapping consensus rather than secularism. In the latter, Rawls claims that one of the three basic concepts of political liberalism is the idea of an overlapping consensus. He contends that the term "secularism" is inapplicable.

A secular argument, however, what is it? Some consider any argument that is introspective, critical, understandable to the general public, and rational to be secular. The fact that political liberalism considers all such arguments in the same light as religion, however, means that these secular philosophical systems do not offer valid public justifications. These kinds of secular ideas and arguments belong to first philosophy and moral doctrine, and they are outside the purview of politics.

Yet, Rawl's philosophy is comparable to Holyoake's idea of a democratic society that is accepting of all life stances. According to Rawl, supporting "a reasonable constitutional democracy" with "principles of toleration" is in everyone's best interests. His work has had a significant impact on political philosophy experts, and his concept of overlapping consensus appears to have largely supplanted secularism among them. The term "secularism" is not even indexed in textbooks on contemporary political philosophy like Colin Farrelly's. An Introduction to Modern Political Theory and Will Kymlicka's Contemporary Political Philosophy, and in the former it is only mentioned in one footnote. Yet, the subject it concerns is widely discussed and covered. It goes by the names of overlapping agreement, pluralism, multiculturalism, or another term. Rajeev Bhargava wrote a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory titled "Political Secularism." It begins with this statement and discusses secularism in a global context: "Secularism is a battered doctrine."

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