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Secularism has a broad range of meaning. While its definition as the separation of religion from civic affairs and the state is the most common,[1] it may connote anticlericalism, atheism, naturalism, banishment of religious symbols from the public sphere and much more.[2]

As a philosophy, secularism seeks to interpret life on principles taken solely from the material world, without recourse to religion. It shifts the focus from religion towards "temporal" and material concerns.[3]

In political terms, secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.[4] There are distinct traditions of secularism in the West, like the French and Anglo-American models, and beyond, as in India,[2] where the emphasis is more on tolerance for all religions rather than separation. The purposes and arguments in support of secularism vary widely, ranging from assertions that it is a crucial element of modernization, or that religion and traditional values are backward and divisive, to the claim that it is the only guarantor of free religious exercise.

Overview

The British writer George Holyoake (1817–1906) coined the term "secularism" in 1851[5]

The term "secularism" was first used by the British writer George Holyoake in 1851.[5] Holyoake invented the term "secularism" to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. An agnostic himself, Holyoake argued that "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experie

Secularism has a broad range of meaning. While its definition as the separation of religion from civic affairs and the state is the most common,[1] it may connote anticlericalism, atheism, naturalism, banishment of religious symbols from the public sphere and much more.[2]

As a philosophy, secularism seeks to interpret life on principles taken solely from the material world, without recourse to religion. It shifts the focus from religion towards "temporal" and material concerns.[3]

In political terms, secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.[4] There are distinct traditions of secularism in the West, like the French and Anglo-American models, and beyond, as in India,[2] where the emphasis is more on tolerance for all religions rather than separation. The purposes and arguments in support of secularism vary widely, ranging from assertions that it is a crucial element of modernization, or that religion and traditional values are backward and divisive, to the claim that it is the only guarantor of free religious exercise.

The term "secularism" was first used by the British writer George Holyoake in 1851.[5] Holyoake invented the term "secularism" to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. An agnostic himself, Holyoake argued that "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."[6]

Secularism may be categorized into two types, "hard" and "soft". "Hard" secularism considers religious propositions to be epistemologically illegitimate and seeks to deny them as much as possible. The "soft" variety emphasizes tolerance and liberalism.[7]

History

Although secularism is a modern concept, related ideas may be found in the works of ancient philosophers from many civilizations.[8] Among the earliest documentations of a secular form of thought is seen in the Charvaka system of philosophy in India, which held direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of knowledge, and sought to reject the prevailing religious practices of that time.[9] Zeno of Citium and Marcus Aurelius are also notable examples. Secularism emerged in the West with the establishment of reason over religious faith as human reason was gradually liberated from unquestioned subjection to the dominion of religion and superstition.[10] Secularism first appeared in the West in the Classical philosophy and politics of ancient Greece, disappeared for a time after the decline of the Classical world, but resurfaced after a millennium and a half in the Renaissance and the Reformation. The subsequent Enlightenment hailed Nature as the "deep reality" that transcended the corrupted man-made institutions of society. Consequently, the rights of man were not considered as God-given, but as the de facto benefits of Nature as revealed by Reason.[11] John Locke, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, epistemologically illegitimate and seeks to deny them as much as possible. The "soft" variety emphasizes tolerance and liberalism.[7]

Although secularism is a modern concept, related ideas may be found in the works of ancient philosophers from many civilizations.[8] Among the earliest documentations of a secular form of thought is seen in the Charvaka system of philosophy in India, which held direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of knowledge, and sought to reject the prevailing religious practices of that time.[9] Zeno of Citium and Marcus Aurelius are also notable examples. Secularism emerged in the West with the establishment of reason over religious faith as human reason was gradually liberated from unquestioned subjection to the dominion of religion and superstition.[10] Secularism first appeared in the West in the Classical philosophy and politics of ancient Greece, disappeared for a time after the decline of the Classical world, but resurfaced after a millennium and a half in the Renaissance and the Reformation. The subsequent Enlightenment hailed Nature as the "deep reality" that transcended the corrupted man-made institutions of society. Consequently, the rights of man were not considered as God-given, but as the de facto benefits of Nature as revealed by Reason.[11] John Locke, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine and other Enlightenment thinkers contributed much to the formation of secularist notions. In recent times, secularism has been represented by such intellectuals as Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and Christopher Hitchens.

State secularism