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Secularism

This article concerns secularism, the rational social existence in which religion and supernatural beliefs are irrelevant to understanding the world and segregated from matters of governance. For other forms of being secular, and perspective on the terminology underlying the word "secularism", see secularity.

Secularism means:

  • in philosophy, the belief that life can be best lived by applying ethics, and the universe best understood, by processes of reasoning, without reference to a god or gods or other supernatural concepts.
  • in society, any of a range of situations where a society less automatically assumes religious beliefs to be either widely shared or a basis for conflict in various forms, than in recent generations of the same society.
  • in government, a policy of avoiding entanglement between government and religion (ranging from reducing ties to a state church to promoting secularism in society), of non-discrimination among religions (providing they don't deny primacy of civil laws), and of guaranteeing human rights of all citizens, regardless of the creed (and, if conflicting with certain religious rules, by imposing priority of the universal human rights).

Secularism can also mean the practice of working to promote any of those three forms of secularism.

In studies of religion, modern Western societies are generally recognized as secular:

  • There is near-complete freedom of religion (one may believe in any religion or none at all, with little legal or social sanction);
  • Religion does not dictate political decisions, though the moral views originating in religious traditions remain important in political debate in some countries, such as the United States; in some others, such as France (see La´citÚ), religious references are considered out-of-place in mainstream politics.
  • Religious influence is minimized in the public sphere.
  • Religion is not as important in most people's lives as it once was.

Proponents of secularism have long held a general rise of secularism in all the senses enumerated above, and corresponding general decline of religion in so called 'secularized' countries, to be the inevitable result of the Enlightenment, as people turn towards science and rationalism and away from religion and superstition.

Most major religions accept the primacy of the rules of secular, democratic society. However, fundamentalism opposes secularism. The two largest fundamentalist groups in the world are fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims.

Modern sociology, born of a crisis of legitimation resulting from challenges to traditional Western religious authority, has since Durkheim often been preoccupied with the problem of authority in secularized societies and with secularization as a sociological or historical process. Twentieth-century scholars whose work has contributed to the understanding of these matters are Max Weber, Carl L. Becker , Karl L÷with, Hans Blumenberg , M.H. Abrams, Peter L. Berger, and Paul BÚnichou, among others.

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Last updated: 06-02-2005 04:37:12
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