Moderate secularism, religion as identity and respect for religion

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

3 Citations (Scopus)


One of the features of the ‘cultural turn’ in social studies and of identity politics is that, while many think one or both may have gone too far, it is now commonplace that the classical liberal separation of culture and politics or the positivist–materialist distinctions between social structure and culture are mistaken. Yet religion – usually considered by social scientists to be an aspect of culture – continues to be uniquely held by some to be an aspect of social life that must be kept separate from at least the state, maybe from politics in general and perhaps even from public affairs at large, including the conversations that citizens have amongst themselves about their society. This religion–politics separationist view, which is clearly normative rather than scientific, can take quite different forms, either as an idea or as practice, and can be more or less restrictive, I shall call ‘secularism’. While acknowledging the variety of forms it can take, I want to argue that one of the most important distinctions we need to make is between moderate and radical secularism. The failure to make this distinction is not just bad theory or bad social science but can lead to prejudicial, intolerant and exclusionary politics. I am particularly concerned with the prejudice and exclusion in relation to Muslims recently settled in Britain and the rest of western Europe, but the points I wish to make have much more general application. The chapter has three parts. Firstly, I argue at an abstract level that it is not necessary to insist on absolute separation between religion and politics, though of course it is a possible interpretation of secularism. Secondly, radical separation does not make sense in terms of historical actuality and contemporary adjustments. Thirdly, given that secularism does not necessarily mean the absence of state–religion connections, I explore five possible reasons for the state to be interested in religion.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCivil Liberties, National Security and Prospects for Consensus
Subtitle of host publicationLegal, Philosophical and Religious Perspectives
EditorsEsther D Reed, Michael Dumper
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781139035286
ISBN (Print)9781107471160, 9781107008984
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012

Structured keywords

  • SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship


  • Human Rights
  • Religion: General Interest


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