Institute for Social Justice

Questions of Secularism and Religion

Religion and secularism are complex ideas, and their usefulness for making sense of religiously and culturally diverse societies widely contested. How capacious are notions like secularism and religion? Do they help us understand the complexities and dynamics of state-religion-society relations in different historical times and different social contexts? Is the concept of “religion’ applicable to Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, or does calling them religions distort what they are? Can a genealogical approach clarify the meaning and significance of these concepts? Are there multiple forms of secularism? Is secularism the best name for them? Are there other ways to conceive of secularism, religion, and spirituality in ways that reveal new possibilities for living with them in complex democratic societies, and their own democratic potentials?

Romand Coles elaborates a theoretical critique of political liberal secularism, offers dialogical ethics and receptive generosity as an alternative approach to political negotiations of religious differences, and explores relationships between radical democracy and Christian theology in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and contemporary broad-based community organising. Rajeev Bhargava discusses problems surrounding mainstream conceptions of secularity and democracy developed in largely religiously homogenous societies. He explores possibilities of shifting away from the doctrines underpinning Western – or Western-inspired – secular states towards the normative practices of historically diverse models of secularity from ancient and modern India. Nikolas Kompridis is working on conceptions of public reason and critique, freed from narrowly secularist presuppositions. Allison Weir is engaging secular feminisms in dialogue with Islamic feminisms and Indigenous spiritualities, to develop connections between secular and spiritual and religious understandings of freedom. Akeel Bilgrami questions the universal reach of secularism and offers the possibility of a more conceptually minimalist and thoroughly historicist account of political secularism. Naser Ghobadzadeh surveys alternative conceptualizations of secularity and democracy among Muslim thinkers who are engaged in re-interpretation of Islamic scriptures. Ghobadzadeh’s research blurs the boundary between the religious and the secular and challenges the religious-secular dichotomy through highlighting the relevance and possibility of harmonizing religious and inclusive secular democratic principles.