Book chapter

Secularism and Religion (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

The boundary between the religious and the secular spheres of life is contested in many parts of the world. From the latter decades of the 20th century, controversies over issues such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, assisted dying, and freedom of speech, as well as clashes around reproductive rights and equality issues, have all featured highly on national political agendas. Set against a backdrop of the "return of religion" to public life, these debates and tensions have given rise to the notion that secularism might be in a state of crisis or moving toward some form of post-secular condition. The term "secularism" is itself also contested. The precise nature of the "secular" and the "religious" spheres of life is subject to interpretation, and secularism in practice can be manifest in a number of ways. This ranges from exclusivist forms of secularism in countries such as the United States and France to inclusive secularism in the case of India. Supporters of a role for religion in public life maintain that religion provides a range of valuable public goods and gives individuals a sense of meaning and identity. Secularists, on the other hand, claim that the separation of church and state provides the best framework for upholding the rights and freedoms of all citizens regardless of their religion or belief.