by Ariela Keysar, Associate director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and associate research professor of public policy and law at Trinity College & Barry A. Kosmin, Founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and research professor of public policy and law at Trinity College
Secularity, like religion, takes many forms in American society. Also like religion, it varies in intensity along the trajectories of what are often referred to as the “Three B’s,” belonging, belief, and behavior. Our recently published book, Religion in a Free Market, shows that the American public does not subscribe to a binary system—religion or secularity. Our research found self-identifying Catholics and Lutherans who say they don’t believe in God, Mormons who claim a secular outlook, and religious people who, despite their religiosity, are comfortably married to people of other faiths or no faith at all.
by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel
Certain similarities can be observed in secularization processes across societies. Secularization is always gradual and relative, moving continually to a pronounced decline in common religious beliefs and behaviors while maintaining many rituals surrounding rites of passage. Life cycle rites, directly tied to individual identity, survive even in highly secularized societies. Individual claims to identity labels (i.e. I am Catholic) often persist in the absence of any beliefs or behaviors. If religiosity is measured as a continuous variable, and an individual can be assigned a score of zero to 100 based on commitment to religious beliefs and rituals, secular individuals are those with scores at or close to zero.
by Ashgar Ali Engineer, Chairman of the Centre for the Study of Secularism in Society, editor of the Indian Journal of Secularism, and director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Mumbai, India
Secularism in India has unique implications and meaning. In the Indian context the word secularism has never been used in the way in which it is often used in Western countries (i.e. a purely this-worldly approach, rejecting other-worldly beliefs).
McGill Teaching Fellow in International Studies at Trinity College
In a country where honest responses to simple questions such as “Are you a Muslim? Do you believe in God? Is the Holy Koran the word of God? Do you pray and read the Holy Koran? When you were growing up did your father pray, fast, and read the Holy Koran?” led to mass executions in the late 1980’s, it is very difficult to know who is secular and to what extent. In this kind of situation people do not trust each other easily and often deny their true identity. It is infinitely more complicated to conduct a survey that asks questions like “What is your religion, if any?” Therefore, this assessment of religious identification among Iranians has shortcomings in terms of a quantifiable evaluation.
by Lars Dencik, Professor of social psychology at Roskilde University, Denmark, and director of the Social and Cultural Psychology Program at the Danish Graduate School of Psychology
Denmark, like Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries, is today a highly developed society, fully committed to progress and modernization. Individuals, as in the other Scandinavian countries, are granted extensive social rights. Denmark is also characterized by being a stable democracy organized as a comprehensive and well-functioning welfare state.
by Nathalie Caron, Maître de conférence(associate professor) in American Civilization in the Department of English and American Studies at the Université de Paris 10-Nanterre
The American notion of “being secular” has no easy translation in the French language and context. Part of the difficulty stems from the ambivalence of the use of the term secular in the United States. Under the influence of politics and culture wars, the words “secular,” “secularist,” and “secularism” are undergoing a semantic shift that tends to narrow and polemicize their meanings. The situation has lately been exacerbated, possibly by the tragedy of 9/11, undoubtedly by the so-called “religion gap” that determined voting patterns in the 2004 elections, as well as by recent controversies over the nature of American identity in a changing social and political environment.
David Voas, Simon Research Fellow at the Cathy Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester, England & Abby Day, Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex, UK
There is probably no common understanding of the term “secular” among ordinary people, or even among scholars. Britain is formally a religious country in a way that many modern states are not, having (different) established churches in England and Scotland. There is also a willingness to countenance religious involvement in the machinery of government: the Church of England is represented by a number of its bishops in the upper house of Parliament, and in 2000 the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords even recommended that other religions should be represented as well, increasing the number of religious seats. The Labour government under Tony Blair did not accept the proposed extension of religious representation, but neither did it suggest eliminating the bishops.
by Andrew Singleton, Lecturer in the Sociology Program, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
In 2006, the Australian federal government announced that it was funding a program to place school chaplains in all Australian schools, at a total cost of Aus$90 million. This was met with both praise and derision in the mainstream
press. For example, a columnist in one major metropolitan daily noted that the plan potentially contravened the Australian constitution, while others fretted that Christian philosophy would be taught to the exclusion of other perspectives. The presidents of various rationalist and humanist societies wrote a joint letter to one newspaper warning that the plan favored “zealous evangelical/fundamentalist/Pentecostal groups.” Others applauded the initiative. One wrote a letter thanking all the politicians involved and concluded: “I give all thanks to God, who makes all things possible.”
by William A. Stahl, Professor of sociology at Luther College, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Is anyone in Canada secular? A facetious question. Obviously the answer is yes, but exactly how many is diffcult to determine. There are two problems inherent in the question. A great deal depends, of course, on what one means by “secular,” a problematic term inextricably bound with 19th-century ideology. The second problem is that Canada is paradoxical. On the one hand, self-identifcation with a religious organization is very high and “belief” in God is even higher. On the other hand, few Canadians today attend a place of worship regularly and religion is conspicuously absent from most of public life.
by Ariela Keysar, Associate director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and associate research professor of public policy and law at Trinity College.
Atheists and Agnostics are fringe populations in U.S. society. Considered by many to be deviant, Atheists are a distrusted group. According to a Gallup Poll from September 2006, a vast majority of the public (84 percent) thinks that Americans are not ready to elect an Atheist as president. Although Atheists and Agnostics are tiny minority groups, the attention they attract, particularly from the religious right, warrants a better understanding of exactly who they are in terms of social characteristics such as gender, age, educational level, ethnicity and political preferences.