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Secularization and Secularism

History And Nature Of Secularization And Secularism To 1914, Secularism And Its Opponents Since 1914, Bibliography

The terms secularization and secularism have had a variety of meanings since they were coined; "secularization" in the mid-seventeenth century and "secularism" in the mid-nineteenth, both incorporating the word secular. "Secular," from the Latin "saeculum," a generation or age, originally referred to secular clergy who were not in a monastic order. It also came to refer to the worldly realm. Secularism is used here in two current senses—an emphasis on the this-worldly rather than the other-worldly, and what is called in the United States as the "separation of church and state." In Latin countries terms based on laic imply stronger state controls, based on their history of struggles with the Catholic Church.

Secularization involves both increasing state control of spheres formerly controlled by religious institutions and the expansion and freedom from religious control of nonreligious institutions, both state and private, and comprising education, social welfare, law, publication and the media, and forums for the expression of belief and action. In some areas, notably Turkey and communist countries, there has been state control of religion, rather than separation of church and state, and it is unclear if such countries should be called secular. Every secular country has a different version of secularism, and none of them has an absolute separation of church and state. Secularism involves belief in the priority of this-worldly considerations, and an end to religious doctrinal influence on law, education, and welfare, and the need for equal treatment of various beliefs and believers. To its opponents secularism often implies unbelief, a sense also included in some dictionaries but denied by most secularists, whether or not they are believers.

Secularism has also involved egalitarian political and social treatment of religious minorities and unbelievers, which had not been true of either Protestant or Catholic majorities, while Islam had a place for minorities but an unequal one. The major Asian religions have traditionally been more religiously tolerant and have had fewer struggles over secularism.

Works about secularism and secularization have been scattered over time and region, with the greatest concentration covering the "secularization thesis," most popular in Great Britain, which posited a steady progress of secularization, which has not since occurred outside Western Europe. India, where secularism is a central political issue, has seen more varied literature on the subject. Many works relevant to secularism and secularization are centered on different concepts.

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