Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

The Secular and Secularisms

Casanova, Jose
Social Research

This paper explores the distinction between secularism as ideology and secularism as statecraft principle. By secularism as statecraft principle, I understand simply some principle of separation between religious and political authority, either for the sake of the neutrality of the state vis-à-vis each and all religions, or for the sake of protecting the freedom of conscience of each individual, or for the sake of facilitating the equal access of all citizens, religious as well as nonreligious, to democratic participation. Such a statecraft doctrine neither presupposes nor needs to entail any substantive “theory,” positive or negative, of “religion.” Indeed, the moment the state holds a particular view of “religion” one enters the realm of ideology. Secularism becomes an ideology the moment it entails a theory of what “religion” is or does. It is this assumption that “religion,” in the abstract, is a thing that has an essence or that produces certain particular and predictable effects that is the defining characteristic of modern secularism.