Faith, Society and the State: Towards a (Re)Definition of the Secular

Georgina Clarke, Renae Barker

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemera


Numerous of States identify as secular states. However, they exhibit vastly different state-religion relationships. This presents a challenge to defining the term secular in a way encompasses the variety of sates which identify in this way. The ambiguity of the secular is also apparent in relevant scholarship and case law, neither of which comprehensively examine the meaning of secular. As a result, there are no clear indicia to determine the authenticity of a State’s claim to be secular. The question of what it means for a State to be secular therefore demands academic attention. This paper resolves this question in two parts. First, three overarching definitional approaches are identified: ‘historical’, ‘substantive’, and ‘characteristic’. We argue that these approaches are inadequate as they are not transferable to the legal context or capable of accounting for the plurality of legal systems the secular embodies. Second, a new workable legal definition of the secular as it relates to the interaction between States and religion is presented based on a spectrum approach. We contend that religiosity is not inconsistent with the secular State. Rather, we assert that the defining factor of the non-secular State is an overtly anti-religious or religious attitude that purposefully excludes competing belief system(s). Between these two extremes, we present a definition that is designed to accommodate various manifestations of the secular
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - May 2023
EventSecularism as a Value - Princeton University, United States
Duration: 3 May 20234 May 2023


WorkshopSecularism as a Value
Country/TerritoryUnited States

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