Secularism and Politics (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


An increasingly important area within the subfield of religion and politics is the study of secularism, an ideology that seeks to limit the influence of religion in public and private life. Secularism can refer to conditions at the societal level (public secularism) or at the individual level (private secularism). In addition, it can take the form of simply an absence of religion (passive secularism), or it can include an affirmative acceptance of secular ideals (active secularism).Comparative studies highlight the complex ways in which secularism both influences and is influenced by politics. In Western Europe, the long-standing practice of established and/or preferred religions has led to a lack of vitality in the religious marketplace, resulting in high levels of private secularism. In Russia and other Eastern European nations, the end of communism and political motivations are leading to both decreasing public and private secularism. In the Middle East, secularization throughout the 20th century seems to have led to a fundamentalist backlash. Similarly, in the United States, the increasing association between religion and political conservatism seems to be driving increasing levels of private secularism. Together, these lessons suggest that both political factors and local context are key to understanding the relationship between secularism and politics.