Understanding Secularism is an educational initiative by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. It is a website whose aim is to provide a better understanding of the roles and forms of secularism around the world today.
In the 1960s we were told by Daniel Bell that we had witnessed ‘the end of ideology’ and in 1989 Francis Fukuyama suggested that we had reached ‘the end of history’. Yet the current generation finds itself facing a situation in which the clash of ideas and beliefs is a crucial factor shaping the contemporary world. Around the world secularism is in the news. Whether it is the decline of organized religion in Europe, cultural battles over reproduction and the family in Latin America, or political change in the Middle East, secularism plays a central role in the discussion. In India secularism–as ideological tolerance and religion-state separation– is a perennial issue.
The motivation for Understanding Secularism arises from a simple, but compelling, observation.
In order to make informed decisions as citizens and leaders around the world, we all must become more knowledgeable about competing ideologies and institutions–our own and others’.
Religious belief-systems and institutions have garnered a substantial amount of attention and study, but apart from the intellectual thread called secularization, systematic and coherent focus on the many and diverse forms of secularism and secularity has just begun to emerge. This makes Understanding Secularism both a timely and unique endeavor.
Just recently, there has been an influx of information about the rise of secularism in the world. Our own study, the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, found that the percentage of secular Americans (as indicated by those who report no religious identification) almost doubled from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008, or from 14 to 34 million people.
Yet, despite the importance of secularism in contemporary discourse and society, there is little information gathered in one place and readily available to the public about what secularism is and how it manifests itself in everyday life. Understanding Secularism aims to fill this gap.
The approach in Understanding Secularism is intellectual, scientific, journalistic, and critical. Our aim is understanding, critical analysis, and education, not advocacy.
The topic of secularism is inter-disciplinary and spans many fields. As a result, we hope to entertain contributions and exchanges that cut across cultures, ideologies, and scholarly fields and perspectives.
Understanding Secularism will offer diverse media and materials. These include academic course syllabi, articles, bibliographies, and essays by ISSSC-affiliated scholars and other experts that may be used as learning and teaching tools. Audio, photographic, and video materials that help enliven and elucidate the forms and roles of secularism worldwide will also be offered.
It is our hope that Understanding Secularism will become a vital space for the exchange of information, materials, and critical analysis from various points of view, as well as a resource for educators, researchers, journalists, policy-makers, and concerned citizens across the globe.