ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Secularism: Its Content and Context

Secularism is sometimes said to consist merely in a state's neutrality and equidistance between different religions. Charles Taylor has influentially argued for such a position for some time. This paper presents reasons to reject such an understanding of secularism. But, as a result of this alternative conceptualisation, the paper makes two further arguments. First, for the conclusion that secularism is not a general political truth, suited to all historical contexts, but rather apt only in some contexts, such as, for instance, when there is an implicit and pervasive threat of "majoritarianism". And second, for the conclusion that any justification and implementation of secularism in contexts which are not fully modernist - in a sense of "modern" that was articulated first in western Europe - must turn on an appeal to the conceptual vernacular.

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Secularism: Its Content and Context

Akeel Bilgrami

Secularism is sometimes said to consist merely in a state’s neutrality and equidistance between different religions. Charles Taylor has influentially argued for such a position for some time. This paper presents reasons to reject such an understanding of secularism. But, as a result of this alternative conceptualisation, the paper makes two further arguments. First, for the conclusion that secularism is not a general political truth, suited to all historical contexts, but rather apt only in some contexts, such as, for instance, when there is an implicit and pervasive threat of “majoritarianism”. And second, for the conclusion that any justification and implementation of secularism in contexts which are not fully modernist – in a sense of “modern” that was articulated first in western Europe – must turn on an appeal to the conceptual vernacular.

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