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Table of ConTenTs

Table of Figures ................................................................................................i Preface........................................................................................................... iii Eileen Barker Introduction: Contemporary Secularity and Secularism..................................................1 Barry A. Kosmin

I. SeCular PoPulaTIonS
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. The Freethinkers in a Free Market of religion ................................17 Ariela Keysar and Barry A. Kosmin Putting Secularity in Context .........................................................27 Bruce A. Phillips Who are america’s atheists and agnostics? ....................................33 Ariela Keysar The “nonreligious” in the american northwest .............................41 Frank L. Pasquale Is anyone in Canada Secular? .........................................................59 William A. Stahl The north american Pacific rim: a response to Frank Pasquale and William Stahl............................73 Patricia O’Connell Killen “People Were not Made to Be in God’s Image”: a Contemporary overview of Secular australians ..........................83 Andrew Singleton Secularity in Great Britain ..............................................................95 David Voas and Abby Day



II. VarIeTIeS oF SeCularISM

laïcité and Secular attitudes in France .........................................113 Nathalie Caron

10. The Paradox of Secularism in Denmark: From emancipation to ethnocentrism? ........................................125 Lars Dencik 11. Secularism in Iran: a Hidden agenda? .......................................................................139 Nastaran Moossavi 12. Secularism in India .......................................................................149 Ashgar Ali Engineer 13. The Secular Israeli (Jewish) Identity: an Impossible Dream?..................................................................157 Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi

Contributors ...............................................................................................167



or decades commentators assumed that secularization was inevitable. By the latter part of the 20th century, however, it was being argued that religion was changing rather than declining. Yet just as there are many ways of being religious, so there are many ways of not being religious. What is becoming abundantly clear is not only that religiosity but also that both secularity (as a description of individual orientations) and secularism (as a description of society) are far more complicated, even paradoxical, than had been recognized. While more than 80% of Danes are formally members of the established state religion, less than 5% attend church on a weekly basis—and there are fewer official members of the Church of England (26%) than non-members who feel they belong (29%). Depending on what is understood by the concept, between one and 46% of the population of the United States can be defined as “secular,” yet 67% of Americans who say they have no religion believe in the existence of God—and, at the same time, there are self-identifying Lutherans and Roman Catholics professing that they do not believe in God. This book presents a fascinating account of the inconsistent evidence as it valiantly struggles to chart the diversity to be found among the neglected variables of disbelief and unbelief. We have recently become familiar with the category “spiritual but not religious” without really knowing what this means to those who identify themselves as such. We are less familiar with the range of beliefs that include ideologically inspired atheism, agnosticism, apathy, indifference and what Voas calls the muddled middle between the religious and the secular. At the social level, comparative analyses reveal even more variation than we find at the individual level. One widely accepted definition of secularization has been “a process whereby religious thinking, practice and institutions lose social significance.”1 This can happen almost absent-mindedly, as in England. In countries such as Canada, Australia and most of Western Europe, individuals may engage in religious and/or spiritual practices, but this is as a private, leisure pursuit; institutionalised churches no longer play the central role they once did in education, welfare or politics, and secular values of maximization of profit or consumerism have been replacing concerns about salvation. But few processes are irreversible—and desecularization can also appear in a variety of forms, one

SeculariSm & Secularity apparently being revivals of dormant Christian consciousness in parts of Europe as a result of growing immigrant Muslim populations. Sometimes secularization has been the result of state-imposition. There is, however, a world of difference between Albania during the rule of Enver Hoxha when no religious observance whatsoever was permitted, and the laïcité of France where a variety of religious and secular worldviews may flourish. India’s secular position has been described as more of a political arrangement than a secular philosophy—and in Israel, an avowedly secular state, marriage and divorce are possible only within a recognised religion. Important issues are broached: To what extent, for example, does our unprecedented globalization result in the fear of loss of identity and, hence, the strengthening of national or local religions? Can secular (enlightenment) values be incorporated into the sort of theocratic regime that Iran has experienced since its 1979 revolution? When the 3Bs (belonging, belief and behavior) cease to be religious, does nothing—or anything—fill the gap? This book may not give us a definitive picture of what the situation is in the contemporary world but it offers us a much fuller one than most of us had before—and if it raises more questions than it answers, that is not a bad thing.

Dr. Eileen Barker Professor Emeritus of Sociology with Special Reference to the Study of Religion London School of Economics

1. Bryan R. Wilson, 1966. Religion in Secular Society. London: Watts p. 14



Contemporary Secularity and Secularism
Barry A. Kosmin


ecularism and its variants are terms much bandied about today, paradoxically, as a consequence of religion seeming to have become more pervasive and influential in public life and society worldwide. This situation poses a number of questions. First, a definitional question: What are the spheres of secularity and secularism today? According to our understanding in this volume, secularity refers to individuals and their social and psychological characteristics while secularism refers to the realm of social institutions. Then some sociological questions: Who is secular today? How much of the American or other national population is secular? What do those people who are secular believe? How is a secular preference manifested on the personal level by individuals in their ways of belonging, their personal beliefs, and their social behaviors? These are the questions the authors in this volume attempt in different ways to answer for a number of diverse, contemporary societies. Since Secularity, the first category in the binary typology, involves individual actors’ personal behavior and identification with secular ideas and traditions as a mode of consciousness, it lends itself to empirical analysis. Secularity’s manifestations in terms of general trends can be measured and compared, as our authors demonstrate in the first half of this volume, with regard to the larger English-speaking nations—Britain, Canada, Australia and the U.S. Secularism, the second category, involves organizations and legal constructs that reflect the institutional expressions of the secular in a nation’s political realm and public life. By their nature, these variables are much harder to quantify, especially when viewed globally. Forms of secularism can be expected to vary with the religious configuration in which they develop. This volume’s authors, and consequently its readers, face the difficult task of qualitatively evaluating  

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the symbolic and cultural encoding of the religious legacies of Hinduism (India), Judaism (Israel), Islam (Iran), Catholicism (France), and Protestantism (Denmark, U.S. and British Commonwealth countries) in national public institutions and mentalities. Another distinction must be offered, between “hard” and “soft” forms of secularity and secularism. This relates to attitudes towards modes of separation of the secular from the religious and the resulting relationship between them. In what follows, a typology is presented (Figure 1) that combines these two sets of distinctions. This typology may be used for analysis and policy formulation.

The Secular Tradition
The terms “secular,” “secularism,” and “secularization” have a range of meanings. The words derive from the Latin, saeculum, which means both this age and this world, and combines a spatial sense and a temporal sense. In the Middle Ages, secular referred to priests who worked out in the world of local parishes, as opposed to priests who took vows of poverty and secluded themselves in monastic communities. These latter priests were called “religious.” During the Reformation, secularization denoted the seizure of Catholic ecclesiastical properties by the state and their conversion to non-religious use. In all of these instances, the secular indicates a distancing from the sacred, the eternal, and the otherworldly. In the centuries that followed the secular began to separate itself from religious authority. But has the world now gone further in creating an autonomous existence for the secular? Since the 780s, on the reverse of the U.S. national seal, and since the 930s, on the reverse of the one-dollar bill, the phrase Novus Ordo Seclorum has appeared. My interpretation of the adoption of that Latin phrase is that the founders of the American Republic viewed the “new order of the ages” quite deliberately as a new era in which the old order of King and Church was to be displaced from authority over public life by a secular republican order. The two revolutions of the 8th century, the American and the French, produced two intellectual and constitutional traditions of secularism. One, associated with the French Jacobin tradition, was unreservedly antagonistic to religion, and promoted atheism. This situation arose from the historical reality of the revolutionary experience, which involved a joint struggle against despotism and religion, the monarchy, and the Roman Catholic Church. This essentially political construction continues under the regime of laïcité bound up with La Loi de 1905 (see chapter 9). This tradition has only a marginal place in

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American public life. The reason, of course, is that the United States was heir to the Protestant heritage of the Reformation, whereby religious individualism and autonomy predated any concept of political autonomy. The result was that the Americans adopted a more moderate approach, characterized by indifference towards religion or encouragement of religious pluralism as promoted by the Deists and Liberal Protestants of the early republic.

A Typology
In light of this sketch of the historical background it is possible to devise a typology based on a binary model of hard and soft secularism. Bifurcation of secular perspectives on religion comprises only one dimension of this typology. The second dimension is based on the distinction between individuals and institutions. Here the individual aspect primarily pertains to states of consciousness while the institutional aspect relates to social structures and their cultural systems. The typology based on these two dimensions is presented in Figure 1. In actual fact these are not closed cells but ranges stretched between the polarities of the dimensions. There can exist between soft-soft and hard-hard secularism a range of intermediate positions.

Figure 1

A Typology of Secularism
Khomeini; Theocracy Locke; Liberal Religionists Jefferson; Deists Hobbes; Agnostics Marx, Dawkins; Atheists







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Various thinkers and their associated ideologies are listed in the top row to illustrate these gradations. In the bottom row, countries are listed in a hierarchy that relates to their approximate degree of constitutional or institutional secularism. In addition, the boundary between the individual and the institutions is not firm in real life. There is an interplay that involves social expectations and constraints originating from institutions on the one hand and extreme subjective mental states that are individually based on the other. For example, the sociological concept of role refers to both structural constraints and personal sentiments and beliefs. With Figure 1 as a model or guide, it is possible to classify and examine whether and how the various secular traditions operate in different realms of life—society, economics, politics, education, and culture. Who are today’s proponents of the two different traditions stemming from the revolutions of the 8th century? Where do they have influence in the contemporary world? How should such questions be investigated in the st century, in a much more integrated and compacted world? A contemporary cross-cultural analysis of secularism poses particular challenges, as the essays on India, Israel, and Iran illustrate, since Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam vary not only in their theologies and traditions with respect to the state, but also in their approaches to how they perceive the role of the individual in society.

In modern sociological theory, secularization is associated with differentiation. Differentiation describes the growing division of labor in modern society as life goes through a process of fragmentation into numerous spheres, each operating according to its own laws and principles. As a result, there is no master, integrating principle or narrative that holds social life, institutions, ideas, and ideals together. Since the end of the 9th century, there has been a growing recognition among students of religion that the theologies and institutions embodying religion have been transformed by the process of secularization. Max Weber described secularization as the “disenchantment of the world”—a characterization of the process of rationalization he adopted from the poet Friedrich Schiller. By this process, Weber sought to capture the psychic and cultural transformation in which magical elements of thought and symbolism are progressively displaced by empiricism and rationality. Harvey Cox described secularization as the “deliverance of man ‘first from religious and then from metaphysical control over his reasons and his language’… the dispelling of all closed worldviews, the breaking of all supernatural myths and sacred symbols.” On the wider societal

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level, Peter Berger defined secularization as “the process by which sectors of society are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols.”3 It is now widely recognized that the process of secularization is dialectic: the more that hearts and minds become “disenchanted,” the more institutions that have specialized in the promotion of the “enchantment” process lose plausibility and authority. The more such institutions lose plausibility and authority, the less the psycho-emotional processes of “enchantment” are inculcated in the hearts and minds of individuals. How far the process of secularization has progressed in different societies since the end of the 9th century, whether the process is unidirectional or not, and what its consequences are for social and political organization and human welfare, is the subject of ongoing debate among sociologists and theologians, as well as politicians and social planners. In fact, the current state of the debate for the nations of the English-speaking world is well represented in this volume.
Soft and Hard Secularism

Modernity has been the trigger for differentiation, with its attendant process of secularization. It freed the spheres of cultural life, such as art, law, politics, learning, science, and commerce, from their embeddedness in a comprehensive Christian culture and allowed them to pursue their own paths of development. Thus, the U.S. Constitution set politics on a new course by wisely prohibiting a “religious test for public office.” This is an example of a political initiative to establish soft secularism at the societal level of institutions that leaves matters of conscience to individual choice. Politics, in the modern secular understanding, now had its own immanent principles and values. Religious principles and values were to be more or less differentiated from political ones. This does not imply that religious principles and values can have no role in politics and public life in American democracy. It only implies that, in terms of the perspective of the constitution and the law, religious institutions and governmental institutions are differentiated. The philosophical term for this condition of differentiation is pluralism. Its opposite is monism (i.e. theocracy and totalitarianism). Most Americans, regardless of whether they are liberal or conservative, Christian or Jew or other, adhere to epistemological fallibilism and so are pluralists and, hence, soft secularists. They accept at a fundamental level that law, politics, art, and learning should not be controlled by religious institutions or clergy but have their own traditions, spheres, and dynamics. In the socialstructural sense, although there are evident strains, America has been and remains a soft secular republic. Reinhold Neibuhr, one of 0th-century America’s leading Protestant theo- 

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logians, observed almost half a century ago that Americans are “at once the most religious and the most secular of nations. How shall we explain this paradox? Could it be that [Americans] are most religious partly in consequence of being the most secular culture?” In his book Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Will Herberg wrote about the paradox of “pervasive secularism and mounting religiosity,” a mind-set involving thinking and living within a broad framework of reality that is far from one’s professed religious beliefs. This apparent paradox still exists today because it is part of the American cultural tradition. As soft secularists, most Americans want government to accommodate religious behavior, even within the domain of government itself. For example, they accept that institutionalized persons or military personnel should have access to religious services, guidance, or leadership and that these may be paid for, as in the case of military and prison chaplains, with taxpayer dollars. They did not balk when the law allowed for religious pacifists, such as Quakers or Mennonites, to be conscientious objectors. The mainstream consensus is that it is crucial to a free society to respect the religious convictions of its citizens; it is crucial to a pluralistic, differentiated, secular political order to carve out a sphere for freedom of religion and to let that sphere be autonomous, to the greatest extent possible, of pressures emanating from government. The existence of religion within its proper sphere, alongside the other differentiated spheres of a modern pluralistic society, is an exemplification of differentiation, not a rejection of it. This is why America can be said to subscribe to a soft secularism. Interestingly, that other great democracy, India (see chapter ), also has an official ideology of political secularism that is similarly interpreted as pluralism and tolerance of religious differences. Hard secularism is a term that can be associated with Weber’s transformation of consciousness. It is usually more purely intellectual and personal than social or political. A precursor can be found in the writings of Hobbes, who claimed that those who followed the light of reason are bound to discard faith as intellectually unreliable and therefore morally dangerous. Following Hobbes and other like-minded philosophers, Marx suggested that faith was an ideology in contradistinction to knowledge, which was used by regimes for the purpose of political control. Weber saw the process of secularization as the culmination of the process of rationalization and as the ultimate disenchantment of the world by modern science. In this sense, secular refers to a worldview, a system of beliefs, or a modality of sense-making that is determinedly non-religious. A disenchanted universe is a purely physical and material one. It gives no support to either moral ideals—

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which are the result of evolutionary processes—or to religious beliefs—which are the perversely lingering products of more naïve ages, eventually to be swept away by the triumph of a properly scientific outlook. Disenchantment refers to an emptying out of magic, mystery, hints of transcendence, or a faith in realities, entities, or forces unseen but intuited and believed to be essential to human welfare and flourishing. Today’s spokesmen include Richard Dawkins and Paul Kurtz, or California’s activist doctor-lawyer, Michael Newdow. They all take hard secularism to its logical conclusion, Atheism—the belief in the meaninglessness and irrationality of theism. Such hard secularists are few and far between in America, although more common in Western and Eastern Europe. The soft secularist individual is neither a convinced Atheist nor a principled materialist, and may not be hostile to religious beliefs and institutions. In fact, the majority are liberal religionists. The soft secularist is willing to take a liveand-let-live attitude toward religion as long as it doesn’t impinge on his freedom of choice or seek control of American public institutions. For the soft secularist, religion is properly a private lifestyle option, which must not threaten liberty and social harmony in a differentiated and pluralistic society. The majority of America’s self-described identifiers with No Religion, the so-called “religious nones,” also fit this profile of soft secularists. Their level of secularity shows that they are by no means hard-core Atheists or even Agnostics, who together constitute less than  percent of the population (see chapter 3). Sixty-seven percent of Nones believe in the existence of God;  percent agree that God intervenes personally in their lives to help them; 7 percent believe that God performs miracles. The upshot of such findings is that, in America, the majority of secularists are religious in a sense. Even those who do not belong to religious institutions or identify with religious communities have theistic beliefs and concerns. Thus, although the self-described secular population of the U.S. has doubled since 990, it cannot be said that American society has become more irreligious or anti-religious, only that there is less identification with religious groups per se.

American Exceptionalism
Secularity, like religion, takes many forms in American society. Also like religion, it varies in intensity along the trajectories of belonging, belief, and behavior. Religion in a Free Market shows that the American public does not subscribe to a binary system. In America, secularity is one option among many in a freemarket-oriented society. The boundaries between religion and secularity, and between different religions, are not clearly fixed (see chapter ). This confusion


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is to be expected. Secularism, like religion, has developed in various forms at different levels and in different realms. By way of institutional differentiation, modernization has involved a degree of secularization. As societies modernize, their religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions can change in many different ways. This can include forms that are a reaction to secularism, both hard and soft, that are embedded in modernization. Religious fundamentalism, which must not be confused with pre-modern traditional religion per se, is an adaptation to conditions of modern secularization (see chapters  and 3). The contemporary United States, by contrast, exhibits both high modernity and substantial religiosity among the populace and so shows that secularization has not been sweeping, thorough and total. This situation is just what many “soft secularist” thinkers of the Enlightenment, such as John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson, both desired and predicted. Institutional soft secularism, combined with endeavors to revitalize religious consciousness at the individual level, was exemplified in the American tradition of religious liberty. Created by Roger Williams, William Penn and James Madison’s theologically charged “Memorial and Remonstrance” it was a product of the moral and religious imagination of dissenting Protestantism. The very phrase, separation of church and state, which Jefferson used in his 80 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, derives from Roger Williams, who sought to keep the garden of the church separate from the politics of the world. Religious liberty as a constitutional principle arose in a world where many people believed that their duties to God were more primary than their duties to the state; that the state had to make room for its citizens to conduct a higher business than the business of citizenship. Thus the achievement of a secular political order was in service to the religious imperative. Constitutionally, the Establishment Clause was to serve the Free Exercise Clause, and from this perspective social-structural secularization was not meant to further the secularization of consciousness, but to inhibit it. Or, to put it more sociologically, social-structural “soft secularization” was meant to accomplish in part religious ends. The secular end was democracy as against theocracy, as well as the unfettered progress of science. Religion was to have an instrumental role in disciplining individual behavior and making a free society and a democratic, federal republic a viable collective reality. This is emphatically not the case in some other countries where separation of church and state—in our terms, social-structural secularization—has been instituted in order to further the secularization of consciousness. The prototype for this hard secularism was the French Revolution in its Jacobin phase, but

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perhaps the most radical instance was the former USSR and the remaining Communist countries today. The Marxist-Leninist ideology was based on the conviction that science was superior to religion from an epistemological perspective and that the progress of science would inevitably lead to the elimination of religious consciousness. The ensuing secularization at the social and political levels was designed to assault and eradicate religion using the state apparatus, often in the most brutal ways, in order to bring about a thorough and consistently hard secular society. Contemporary France and Turkey also separate religion and state in order to advance a secular ideology of republicanism or laïcité. The interesting ancillary feature in such polities is that they have developed a highly centralized, statist trajectory particularly in the social and educational realms. The state demands loyalty in terms of consciousness. Its goal is a standardized and homogeneous, relatively hard secularist society. In contrast, in the U.S. and India, the polity encourages pluralism among the people. So America is much less secularized at the level of consciousness, as well as in the worldview and the moral sensibilities of the majority of its citizens, than is France. Any social configuration has its benefits and costs. The main virtue of this constellation is undoubtedly the peaceful co-existence of diverse religious and non-religious individuals and groups. This regime has avoided both religious wars and theocracy. What then are the costs or problems associated with U.S. secularism as we enter the st century? The most obvious political problem in recent years is that the public sphere has become a battlefield for those who do not accept the status quo of soft secularism, notably the hard secularists and the radical religious movements and theocrats. One cost is that the majority that accepts the traditional American constellation of soft secularism lacks morale and adequate tools, both intellectual and organizational, with which to defend and revitalize this constellation. A major public policy issue is that hard and soft secularism compete particularly in the arena of jurisprudence. In the mid-0th century, strict separation made the running and succeeded in removing the daily prayer and Bible reading from the public schools, and set greater distance between religious practices and governmental settings than had previously been the case in American history. The conservative political reaction after 970 limited the trend towards achieving a purer standard of social-structural secularization. Numerous court decisions since 990 have reversed the locomotive of hard secularization of the public square, or at least complicated the course of this mode of secularization. The use of public monies to provide tuition vouchers at 


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private, predominantly religious schools; the failure of legal challenges to arrest the progress of faith-based initiatives—federal funding for religious social service providers; or the symbolic retention of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the public display of the Ten Commandments under certain circumstances, all illustrate the willingness of the present secular order to allow an institutional intimacy with the sacred order. Popular sovereignty and the decisions of the Supreme Court reflect the recently enhanced religiosity of the American people and so the limits of American hard secularism. From the point of view of the hard secular population these legal decisions are setbacks. An additional challenge to secular institutions in the public square is that in the minds of most of the American public and electorate the perceived social ills, dilemmas and challenges to family life and values brought by modernity, science, and a free market economy have paradoxically convinced them to desire a greater accommodation between church and state and a broader role for religion in society such as faith-based initiatives. The trend appears towards a “procedural secularism,” whereby religions converse in public discussions over sensitive issues of value and the state authority takes on the job of legal mediator or broker to balance and manage real differences. In other nations, in countries as different as France, Israel, India, and Iran, the tension between religion and secularism is more pronounced than it is in the United States, where secularism and religion regularly use and redefine each other. They lack a tradition whereby religion, as in the United States, frequently sanctifies the goals of a basically secular society, and the secular society affects and influences the very meaning of religious identification and association. It is therefore not surprising that America can appear to be growing more secular precisely at a time when religious identification is highly pronounced. Moreover, faced with a myriad of religious options, Americans are aware that not all religion is narrowness and fanaticism. The answer to the conundrum of how there can be a secular state for a religious people lies in the typology formulated in Figure 1. This can be seen throughout American history. Two historical facts stand out. First, America was the first post-feudal Western society and therefore a nation that had not experienced the conflict between ecclesiastical and temporal power. Second, the U.S. was also the first Protestant nation—ab initio a Protestant society—where the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches and their hierarchies never held sway. Paradoxically, because of the deeply religious nature of a significant proportion of the American public, pure pragmatism suggests that they require a secularist state and public life. Firmly held but divergent religious beliefs and ties need a neutral playing

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field. Today, as much as in 790, if there is to be an American nation and republic there cannot be a national church or religion.

An International Perspective
Since secularism and secularization developed differently in America from Europe, and of course Asia, some cross-cultural variation must be expected in how terms are interpreted. In the U.S. secularism means opposition to an established religion and religious hegemony in the political or public arena. Yet even where constitutionally there are still established churches, as in Britain (chapter 0) and Denmark (chapter ), the secularism that has emerged clearly rejects their total authority over society and its collective institutions. Opening up a new field like the study of secularism, which lacks common language or tools of analysis, is a learning process. This volume provides an opportunity to explore Inglehart and Wenzel’s recent thesis that national values and cultures have a direct impact on political institutions and so on the emergence of democracy or pluralism. Since secular values are closely associated with this process and, as can be observed, differ across cultures, it can be expected that variant forms of secularism will emerge. The validity of the claim that secular values are part of the heritage of freedom, tolerance and democracy is amply illustrated in the negative by the essay in this volume on the Islamic Republic of Iran. This contemporary example of a “fundamentalist” theocratic state demonstrates the importance of the achievement of the American and French revolutions, whereby political autonomy was affirmed in relation to the authority of any religious standard imposed from above. These revolutions forced religion’s exit from government and led to the invention of political sovereignty, giving rise to a set of standards governing collective life that was dictated by the people. Secularism in this regard can thus be thought of as a political project in a broad sense that deploys the concept of the secular. The cases of India and the U.S. demonstrate that this can occur regardless of the distribution of religious beliefs among the citizenry—the actual level of secularity exhibited by the public. This non-linear relationship also operates in reverse so that a high degree of secularization and levels of secularity among the public can occur alongside a low degree of secularism (i.e. an established state religion as for example in Denmark [chapter 0] and Israel [chapter ]). However, church-state separation is only one aspect of secularism. Though it is difficult, and perhaps unwise, to define secularism in one sentence, there appears to be a consensus among the authors in this volume about the common characteristics and principles of the phenomenon they 

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investigate. The commonality of the secularism they unravel involves legal recognition of individual liberty and autonomy, freedom of thought and religion, peaceful coexistence of social groups, aspiration for consensus in much of the public space, respect for the social contract, and a general acceptance that religious laws should not take precedence over civil ones. This model or definition of secularism suggests that not only is there a theoretical boundary with theocracy at the edge of soft secularism but also one at the edge of hard secularism. The latter excludes states that construct monist conceptions of political institutions via dogmatic, totalitarian ideologies such as Marxist-Leninism. Such communist regimes demand that both individuals and social institutions (both rows in Figure 1) subscribe to an anti-religious viewpoint and propound atheism. Such policies of state-enforced secularization reflect a rejection of the values that many would maintain are part of the essence of secularism. Society and culture in every continent are constantly evolving, yet alongside new issues, old questions return. The fact is that even the United States is not a finished product because American society and the Constitution are both works in progress that continue to evolve. This truism applies in every nation. Thus, the understanding of the role of secular values and the process of secularization needs continually to be re-defined. The task of ISSSC and its prime motivation in publishing this collection of essays is to study secularism in all its forms in the st century, not as the mirror image of religion but as an intellectual and social force in its own right. This volume’s ultimate goal is to insure that secularism per se does not go unstudied and under-researched in academia.

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. . 3. . . . 


Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 98). Cox, Harvey. The Secular City (New York: The Macmillan Co., 9). Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Doubleday, 97). Neibuhr, Reinhold. Pious and Secular America (New York: Scribners, 98). Herberg, Will. Protestant, Catholic, Jew (New York: Doubleday, 9). Inglehart, Ronald and Christian Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 00).

Secular Populations

1. The Freethinkers in a Free Market of Religion
Ariela Keysar and Barry A. Kosmin


ecularity, 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. In America, secularity is one option among many in a free-market-oriented regime that has operated for two centuries. The boundaries between religion and secularity, and between different religions, are not clearly fixed because, to quote from Religion in a Free Market, “the government has found it is not equipped or inclined to provide a precise definition of what constitutes a religion or religious belief or practice....This laissez-faire attitude by the state means there is plenty of organized religion around for Americans to consume and numerous options and places to do so.”1 Secularity and secular people in America have gone largely unresearched until now. Manifestations of secularity are difficult to distinguish and isolate in the U.S. because people are not compelled to opt into or out of “religion.” Many countries still operate either legally or in practice under a binary system that offers very limited choices between a monopolistic supplier of established religion and outright irreligion. In contrast, in a free market, secularism and manifestations of secularity can take both positive (pro-secular) and negative (anti-religious) forms. It can offer a range of alternative non-theistic belief systems as well as levels of irreligion and indifference to religion across the realms of belonging and behavior. Thus in the U.S. we can observe populations of “freethinkers” of different types, sizes and


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proportions according to the variable or issue being examined. This chapter measures the secularization of the American public along the three dimensions of belonging, belief, and behavior. Each dimension contributes to understanding secularization because the three are by no means strictly collinear: Americans who appear to be secular by belonging may appear religious by belief, or vice versa. Others may appear religious by belonging and belief, but not by behavior. And so on. Statistics are drawn from the findings of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001, a nationally representative telephone survey of more than 50,000 respondents. The data is based on self-reporting and an openended question: What is your religion, if any? This methodology incorporates pluralistic and democratic values and so is better geared than most to tease out the freethinking population and the various dimensions of secularism with which they are associated. The ARIS 2001 documented a doubling from 1990 to 2001 in the number of American adults who reported that they had no religion. But secularity is more than just a rejection of religion and religious authority or a default option. It involves positive attributes such as rationalism and a belief in human possibilities, and has its own moral values.2 Yet the exigencies of the ARIS research design, like nearly all others in this area, necessitate beginning with the concept of “belonging” to a religious group or to a religious institution.

One obvious social manifestation of secularity is being distant from or out of touch with religion. This can be measured by a lack of affiliation with organized religion. The causes or reasons for this unwillingness or inability to “belong” can vary widely, from ideological attitudes to physical access issues. Nevertheless, the actual population of those who do not presently “belong” to a religious congregation or institution is very large. The ARIS found that, in 2001, 46 percent of American adults, or nearly 100 million people, did not regard themselves as or claim to be members of a religious group. An alternative measure of “belonging” with which to identify the freethinking population is the response to the key ARIS question on religious identification: What is your religion, if any? The responses categorized as “No Religion” amounted to 14 percent of the national adult population, or 29.5 million people. The most common “secular” response, given by 13 percent of the population, was “None.” An additional 1 percent offered a “positive secular” response. The total population estimates derived from the sample were 991,000

1. the FreethinkerS in a Free market oF religion
Figure 1-1


Belief that God Performs Miracles: Identifiers by Religious Tradition
RELIGIOUS TRADITION/ Group CatholiC Mainline Christians Methodist Lutheran Presbyterian Episcopalian United Church of Christ Baptist Christian GeneriC Christian unspecified Protestant unspecified Evangelical/ Born Again Non-denominational penteCostal Assemblies of God Church of God Pentecostal unspecified protestant DenoMinations Churches of Christ Jehovah’s Witnesses Seventh Day Adventist MorMon Jewish eastern reliGions Buddhist MusliM new & other reliGions nones/no reliGion U.S. TOTAL ADULTS BELIEF SCALE Disagree Strongly 1 3 2 4 4 3 1 1 2 2 3 0 1 2 0 2 2 3 5 5 0 1 16 16 16 4 21 19 4 Disagree Somewhat 5 6 5 6 4 8 14 1 5 4 8 0 2 1 1 0 1 2 2 4 3 4 26 16 24 7 14 19 7 Agree Somewhat 22 21 18 21 24 28 30 8 15 13 23 4 14 4 1 9 3 12 15 13 1 7 23 22 23 13 15 22 16 Agree Strongly 70 68 73 68 66 58 53 90 78 80 64 96 82 93 98 89 94 81 77 74 96 87 32 43 34 70 45 35 70 ADULT POPULATION 50,873,000 35,788,000 14,150,000 9,580,000 5,596,000 3,451,000 1,378,000 33,830,000 22,546,000 14,150,000 4,647,000 1,032,000 2,489,000 7,831,000 1,106,000 944,000 4,407,000 5,949,000 2,593,000 1,331,000 724,000 2,697,000 2,837,000 2,029,000 1,082,000 1,104,000 1,170,000 29,481,000 208,000,000

(Rows may not tally to 100% as Refused & Don’t Know responses excluded from table)


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Agnostics, 902,000 Atheists, 53,000 Seculars (so stated) and 49,000 Humanists. In addition, over 5 percent of the sample refused to answer the question. As we state in our book, there are indications to show that this group was mainly irreligious; certainly it did not feel a compelling need to assert a religious identity. This means we can extrapolate a “No Faith” population of adults, who either profess no religion or refuse to answer the question, of 19 percent of adult Americans, or over 40 million people.

Disbelief does not correlate with a secular identification as much as might be expected. “Non-theistic freethinkers” are a small minority. Only 5 percent, or an estimated 10 million adult Americans, disagree either “strongly” or “somewhat,” that God exists. (Though it must be stated that this group is five times the number of self-designated Atheists and Agnostics.) Surprisingly, the rate of disbelief is only 21 percent among the Nones, which is very close to that among the Buddhists (20 percent). A level of skepticism about the Divine is also found among a significant number of those who identify with some other religious groups; 14 percent among Jews, 9 percent among the New Religious Movements, and 3 percent among Lutherans. A specific question about the ability of the Divinity to intervene in the world and perform miracles reveals even more freethinkers. Overall, 11 percent of Americans disagree, either strongly (4 percent) or somewhat (7 percent), that “God performs miracles.” As Figure 1-1 shows, the proportion of skeptics amounts to 38 percent of Nones but is even greater among Jews (42 percent) and Buddhists (40 percent). A solid proportion of skeptics regarding the supernatural powers of the Divine are also found among adherents of some Mainline Protestant denominations, such as the United Church of Christ (15 percent) and Episcopalians (11 percent), and even among Muslims (11 percent).

One caveat to bear in mind with the No Religion population is that it is diverse. As the statistics on belief show, this category contains theists and believers, many of whom are indeed religious but have not found a religious group with which to identify. Yet we can distinguish a sub-group of those who have consciously rejected religion. One clear behavior that identifies a freethinker is apostasy or a willingness to give up a previously held religious identity. The ARIS investigated the level of “switching” among the population and recorded the movement from a previous religious identity to the No Religion category. Over 6.6 million adults made this change during their lifetime. These

1. the FreethinkerS in a Free market oF religion


“new freethinkers” comprise 23 percent of the total No Religion population. Figure 1-2 explores the point of origin in religious terms of the switchers, namely the 6 million who in 2001 chose the no religion category, yet previously professed a religion. These “new freethinkers” are predominantly former Catholics, as nearly 2.6 million adults who self-identified as Catholics at one point in their lives switched to the no religion option. Tolerance of and respect for individuals holding alternative beliefs are characteristics of liberal free societies. A willingness to live alongside others who do not hold the same opinions is a form of secular behavior. It is certainly not a value that most religious fundamentalists hold. So the population that resides with a spouse or partner who holds a different religious identity could also be regarded as part of the freethinking population. These mixed-religion couples number over 14 million (28 million adults), account for 22 percent of American couples, and fall into the category of “open minded or pluralist thinkers.”

Figure 1-2

Previous Religious Identification of “New Nones”
(Weighted estimates)
Previous Religion Catholic Baptist Christian Methodist Lutheran Presbyterian Protestant Pentecostal Mormon Jehovah’s Witness Episcopalian/Anglican Jewish Other Religious Groups Refused TOTAL Number of Adults 2,599,000 815,000 420,000 394,000 264,000 138,000 134,000 115,000 114,000 80,000 56,000 53,000 61,000 163,000 6,045,000 Percent 43 14 7 7 4 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 11 3 100 %


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Secular Outlook
One innovative approach of the ARIS was to introduce the concept of religious or secular “outlook.” This goes beyond questions of group belonging, belief, and behavior. It is a measure of world view or world outlook—what the Germans call Weltanschauung. The question posed offered a four-point scale and was rotated proportionately among the sample to avoid bias. When it comes to your outlook do you regard yourself as secular, somewhat secular, somewhat religious or religious? The national poll result, shown in Figure 1-3, was 10 percent secular, 6 percent somewhat secular, 38 percent somewhat religious, and 37 percent religious. This shows that a generally secular outlook is held by 16 percent of American adults, or 33 million people. Cross tabulating the results on the outlook and religious identification questions brings the complexity associated with this topic to the fore. Unsurprisingly, the secular outlook scores were highest among the No Religion category: 51 percent described themselves as secular or somewhat secular. But, as Figure 1-4 (page 24) shows, scores were also high among several non-Christian traditions: 42 percent among Jews, 37 percent among the New Religious Movements, 26 percent among Eastern religions, and 15 percent among Muslims. Among Christians, the highest secular score was 12 percent, among Catholics. The Protestant scores showed some slight evidence of a liberal-conservative continuum. Mainline Protestants scored 9 percent, Mormons 8 percent, Baptists 6 percent, Protestant sects 5 percent, and Pentecostals 4 percent. These results, especially the overall ordering of the scores across the religious traditions, suggest that the ARIS tapped into attitudes and concerns relating to church-state separation and minority-group anxiety about what “religious” actually means in practice in the contemporary U.S. It appears that some who called themselves secular were expressing a civic or political concern that constituted support for a secular state that guarantees freedom of expression and worship to minority faiths.

How Big Is the “Freethinking” Population?
The actual size of the secular or freethinking population is open to interpretation, depending on the criteria one uses to measure or identify secularity. The variables considered so far show it can be claimed to be anywhere from 1 percent (Atheists and Agnostics) to 46 percent (anyone unaffiliated with a religious congregation) of Americans. If one counts as freethinkers those who have a secular or somewhat secular outlook and say they have no religion then more than one in five adult

1. the FreethinkerS in a Free market oF religion
Figure 1-3


Outlook of U. S. Adult Population

“When it comes to your outlook, do you regard yourself as religious or secular?”
Don’t know, unsure, refused secular



somewhat secular




somewhat religious


Americans can be included, or about 46 million individuals. Interestingly, some corroborating statistics for the size of the freethinking population have recently appeared in a Gallup Poll on attitudes to the Bible, which found that 19 percent of Americans think the Bible is a “collection of fables.”

Who Is the Typical American “Freethinker”?
An interesting socio-demographic profile or typology of the “classic freethinking American” emerges when we look across a range of variables to search for those most associated with the No Religion identity category and the secular outlook population. This population is more male than female. It is young: the most common age category is 18-35 years. It is more likely to be never married. Among ethnic groups it is more Asian than the general population. Geographically it is more Western, as seen in Figure 1-5 on page 25. So, the picture that emerges is that of a young, never-married, Asian male living in, say, Washington State. An interesting sub-group is composed of the “new freethinkers”—that is, people with no religion who say they professed a religion at some time in their lives. Figure 1-2 showed a plurality of former Catholics among them. A sociodemographic profile of these former Catholics who switched to no religion shows that they are predominantly young or middle-aged; three-quarters were under


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Figure 1-4

Outlook of Identifiers by Religious Tradition
RELIGIOUS TRADITION/ GROUP CatholiC Mainline Christians Methodist Lutheran Presbyterian Episcopalian United Church of Christ Baptist Christian GeneriC Christian unspecified Protestant unspecified Evangelical/ Born Again Non-denominational penteCostal Assemblies of God Church of God Pentecostal unspecified protestant DenoMinations Churches of Christ Jehovah’s Witnesses Seventh Day Adventist MorMon Jewish eastern reliGions Buddhist MusliM new & other reliGions nones/no reliGion U.S. TOTAL ADULTS OUTLOOK SCALE Secular 6 4 3 3 6 7 4 3 6 4 8 7 10 2 0 0 3 2 0 5 3 2 26 15 7 9 28 39 10 Somewhat Secular 6 5 5 6 6 7 4 3 6 6 7 1 5 2 2 5 2 3 3 2 4 6 16 11 15 6 9 12 6 Somewhat Religious 50 48 48 48 46 52 55 37 37 37 46 19 34 26 18 29 27 24 30 18 19 20 41 42 46 46 21 28 40 Religious 33 41 42 41 40 32 34 54 45 47 32 70 46 63 72 65 61 69 65 73 73 68 11 27 24 32 25 8 38 ADULT POPULATION 50,873,000 35,788,000 14,150,000 9,580,000 5,596,000 3,451,000 1,378,000 33,830,000 22,546,000 14,150,000 4,647,000 1,032,000 2,489,000 7,831,000 1,106,000 944,000 4,407,000 5,949,000 2,593,000 1,331,000 724,000 2,697,000 2,837,000 2,029,000 1,082,000 1,104,000 1,170,000 29,481,000 208,000,000

(Rows may not tally to 100% as Refused & Don’t Know responses excluded from table)

1. the FreethinkerS in a Free market oF religion
Figure 1-5


Percentage of No Faith in Each State

no Faith
25-31% 20-24% 0-19%
Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, 2006, Religion in a Free Market: Religious and Non-Religious Americans, Who, What, Why and Where, Paramount Market Publishing, Ithaca, NY

50 in 2001, compared with 51 percent of adult Catholics. Second, they are well educated by national standards and slightly better educated than Catholics overall; over 37 percent had graduated college, compared with 32 percent among Catholics in general. Geographically, they tend more to reside outside the historic areas of Catholic settlement; 27 percent live in the West and 21 percent in the South; as opposed to the general Catholics population, with 24 percent living in the West and 15 percent in the South.

Social and Political Implications
In Religion in a Free Market we demonstrated how in the civic realm “freethinkers” have distinct political loyalties. They have a strong tendency to be independent of the two main political parties. Thus their reluctance to join or identify with institutions holds for both religious affiliation and political party. If the young cohorts maintain their religious preferences as they get older it could have major consequences for societal and political issues at the heart of current debates within U.S. society. Since there is less “class politics” than at other times in the past, “values” are the new battlefield and the religious divide is more central to politics. This is particularly so where ethical or moral issues are involved, such as on stem cell research, science teaching, assisted suicide,


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homosexual marriage, the death penalty, and gun control. One current and topical example of a “culture war” divide between the more secular and more religious forces is support for stem cell research. According to a survey conducted in August 2004 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “white Evangelicals” and “seculars” were the most polarized groups on the importance of conducting stem cell research. Whereas only 33 percent of “white Evangelicals” said that it was more important to conduct stem cell research than to not destroy embryos, 68 percent of “seculars” expressed this view. Interestingly, there was little movement in either group’s opinions over two years; a similar survey in March 2002 had found 26 percent versus 66 percent respectively. One consequence of a free market in beliefs and ideas is a proliferation of choices and a wide distribution of individuals across those choices. Unlimited and unregulated options inevitably give rise to the complexity that is observed regarding the multiple dimensions of secularity and secularism. In a free society freethinking stretches into all spheres of existence and reduces the pressure to be logical and consistent in opinions or behaviors. This makes delineating the boundaries between secularism, religion, and spirituality very difficult. Indeed, without any obligation to be coherent and follow normative patterns some people exercise their choices in idiosyncratic ways. In his Wealth of Nations, the 18th-century free-market economist Adam Smith postulated that just as with tangible goods in the economy so in a “natural state” of religion there is no fixed limit to the number of suppliers or their ability to formulate and offer philosophies, religious culture, and spiritual goods and services.3 And so today in America there is no limit on the ways in which the sovereign consumer can and does reformulate or consume ideas, loyalties, and rituals. This situation is an essential marker of secularization. An environment that offers freedom to exercise liberty of conscience and the pursuit of personal happiness is an important legacy of secularism in the political domain.

1. Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, Religion in a Free Market: Religious and Non-Religious Americans, Who, What, Why and Where, Paramount Market Publications, Ithaca, NY, 2006 p. 7. Susan Jacoby, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2004. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book Five, Chapter 1, Part 3, Article III, The Modern Library, New York, 1965 [1776]

2. 3.

2. Putting Secularity in Context
Bruce A. Phillips


t has been correctly asserted that “Secularity and secular people in America have gone largely unresearched until now.” Indeed, Kosmin, Mayer, and Keysar have put secularism back on the scholarly agenda.1 The qualifier “largely” is important, however. Secularism did not entirely disappear from the sociology of religion, and putting these most recent findings in the context of previous research raises a number of analytic challenges. In this chapter I look at these findings in the context of previous research and suggest that the re-emergence of secularism in America needs to be understood in specific analytic contexts.

The Disappearance and Re-Appearance of Secularism
In 1965 the Protestant theologian Harvey Cox published The Secular City.2 Although it was a theological work that discussed the emergence of “post religious” modernity, it was widely read as announcing the triumph of secularization. A decade later this certainty was challenged by Dean M. Kelley, who observed that “the conservative churches are growing.”3 This observation became important to the country as a whole when the Christian Coalition was founded in 1988 by Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed to make the “Religious Right” an important force in American politics and a leading voice in the “culture war.” As Kevin Christano has observed in the introduction to a recent text book, the revival of American religion gave the sociological study of religion a new importance and vitality.4 It showed religion was a vital force in America and led to new thinking on how to explain it. One such intellectual development was the market model borrowed from economics introduced by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke.5 A related model has come to be known as “rational choice” theory, which draws on a variety of economic models such as the existence of “free riders.”6 In a seminal article, R. Stephen Warner grouped these and other works under the rubric of a “new paradigm” that focused on explaining religious vibrancy.7


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Studies of secularization receded to the background, but an important exchange on secularization took place in 1989-1990. Mark Chaves argued that, contrary to conventional wisdom, secularization was on the rise.8 Michael Hout and Andrew Greeley challenged Chaves’ conclusion, debating the role of age, period, and cohort effects.9 Chaves then rebutted their analysis, noting that period effects revealed a sharp drop in church attendance between 1959 and 1980.10 No consensus emerged on whether or not the decline in church attendance was evidence of secularization. Kosmin, Mayer, and Keysar’s American Religious Identification Survey11 (ARIS) has revived interest in secularization in two ways. First, rather than looking at church attendance, they looked specifically at Americans who classify themselves as Atheists, Agnostics, or as having no religion. Second, they explored attitude related to a “secular outlook.”12 The ARIS was the first study in over 20 years to look at secular as self defined, and a comparison with the early research is instructive. In 1985 Condran and Tamney13 compared the 1957 Current Population Survey (CPS), which included a question on religion, with the combined results of the General Social Survey (GSS) for 1970-1982. They discovered that the percentage of people reporting “no religion” grew from 2.7 percent in the 1957 CPS to 7.1 percent in the 1970-1982 combined GSS. The ARIS puts that figure currently at 19 percent. This clearly shows that self-professed “seculars” or “religious nones” has grown six-fold over the past half-century, and doubled over the past 20 years. More instructive, however, is the consistency in the demographic profile of seculars between the Condran and Tamey study and ARIS. Condran and Tamney found that “religious nones” were more likely than religiously identified Americans to be: • Young • Single • Educated • Geographically mobile • Raised Catholic Kosmin, Mayer, and Keysar found the identical profile of their “seculars,” with the addition of residence in the Western United States. These remarkable consistencies suggest that the increase in seculars may be related to both structural changes and cultural trends within American society.

2. Putting Secularity in context


Explaining the Rise of Secularism
Condran and Tamney proposed that explanations for the increase in “religious nones” are both structural and cultural. The consistent association between being secular and being young and single is a structural explanation. It suggests that secular identification is a transitory phenomenon related to family formation. There is evidence from other studies that religious identification increases when families are started.14 There is also evidence that Americans are staying single longer, and some may never marry at all.15 To what extent is secular identification a reflection of changes in the American family structure in general and of the “retreat from marriage” in particular? There are cultural explanations for the rise of secularism as well. Secularization was associated with those raised Catholic in the 1970s and in the 21st century. Greeley has argued that the rise in secularism has been essentially a Catholic phenomenon;16 ex-Catholics rebelling against the Church’s teachings on birth control and abortion. Wade Clark Roof has long associated secularization with individualism. Referring to Bellah’s notion of the “sovereign self,” Roof has noted parallels between having “no religion” and defining one’s own religion.17 Roof and McKinney explained that “no religion” is most prominent in the West because of its individualistic regional culture. They observed that Western states could be called the “unchurched belt” because church attendance has long been lower in this region. Their explanation was the individualism so central to the cultural climate.18 Roof has also related secularism to individualism in the context of the atomistic disengagement described by Robert Putnam in his Bowling Alone.19

Is Secularism Disengagement or a Residual Category?
Respondents rarely identify themselves as “secular.” The majority of “seculars” say that they have “no religion.” A minority identify themselves as Atheists or Agnostics. Because the last two categories are rarely mentioned, they get thrown in with “no religion” respondents, thereby obfuscating important differences. Atheists are organized. They form societies. They file lawsuits. They are the few, the proud, the assertive. Hout and Fischer have inferred from their data that alienation from the religious right has been a contributing factor to the increase in religious nones, although they do not suggest these respondents have become ideologically anti-religion.20 Condran and Tamney have suggested that religious nones are isolated from religious institutions and therefore have no religious preference. Along the same lines, Roof has suggested that religious disengagement may be part of a larger pattern of disengagement from all institutions. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater


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in reverse, secularism may be an echo, not a choice. It is more of a residual category than an ideological position. Jews who claim “no religion” tend to be the offspring of Jewish-Christian intermarriages. Many of them were raised as Christians and “no religion” represents a safe middle ground that avoided choosing between parents.21 This possibility could and should be investigated for non-Jews whose parents were religiously intermarried.

Understanding the Meaning of Secularism
Kosmin and Keysar have convincingly documented the increase in secular selfidentification. Putting their findings in the context of other research suggests three questions for further investigation: 1. 2. 3. To what extent are “religious nones” different from “principled secularists” such as Atheists and Agnostics? (see chapter 3) To what extent is secularism a religious phenomenon, and to what extent is a reflection of larger patterns of social disengagement? To what extent is the increase in secular self-identification explained by changes in family structure such as the “retreat from marriage?

1. American Religious Identification Survey, 2001. < Academics/AcademicResources/values/ISSSC/research/ARIS+2001.htm>. Kosmin, Barry A. and Ariela Keysar, Religion in a Free Market: Religious and Non-Religious Americans (Ithaca, Paramount Market Publishing, 2006); Kosmin, Barry. “As Secular as they come.” Moment. June, 2002, pp. 44-49. Cox, Harvey. The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. (New York, Macmillan Company, Collier Books, 1965). Kelley, Dean. M. Why conservative churches are growing: A study in sociology of religion. (New York, Harper & Row, 1977). Christiano, Kevin, J., William H. Swatos, Peter Kivistos. Sociology of Religion: Contemporary Developments. (Walnut Creek, Calif, AltaMira Press, 2002). Finke, Roger and Rodney. Stark. The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. (New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 1992). Iannaccone, Laurence. R. “Why Strict Churches are Strong.” American Journal of Sociology 99(5): 1180-1211. Warner, R. Stephen. “Work in Progress toward a New Paradigm for the Sociological Study of Religion in the United States” American Journal of Sociology 98(5): 104493.

2. 3. 4. 5.

6. 7.

2. Putting Secularity in context


Chaves, Mark. “Secularization and religious revival: evidence from the U.S. church attendance rates, 1972-1986.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 28(4): 464477. Hout, Michael and Andrew Greeley “The cohort doesn’t hold: comment on Chaves (1989).” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29(4): 519-524.


10. Chaves, Mark. “Holding the Center: Reply to Hout and Greeley.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29(4): 525-530. 11. American Religious Identification Survey, 2001. <>. 12. Mayer, Egon. The Rise of Seculars in American Jewish Life. Contemplate, The Center for Cultural Judaism (2003). 13. Condran, John and Joseph Tamney. “Religious ‘Nones’: 1957 to 1982.” Sociological Analysis 46(4): 415-423. 14. Tilley, James R. “Secularization and Aging in Britain: Does Family Formation Cause Greater Religiosity?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42(2): 269; Glenn, Norval. “The trend in ‘no religion’ respondents to U.S. national surveys, late 1950s to early 1980s.” Public Opinion Quarterly 51(3): 293-314; Greeley, Andrew M. and Michael Hout. “Musical Chairs: Patterns of Denominational Change in the United States, 1947-1986.” Sociology and Social Research 72(January): 75-86. 15. Goldstein, Joshua R. and Catherine T. Kenney. “Marriage Delayed or Marriage Forgone? New Cohort Forecasts of First Marriage for U.S. Women.” American Sociological Review 66(4): 506-519; Schoen, Robert and Yen-Hsin A. Cheng. “Partner Choice and the Differential Retreat from Marriage.” Journal of Marriage and Family 68(1): 1-10; Thornton, Arland and Linda Young-DeMarco (2001). “Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes Toward Family Issues in the United States: the 1960s Through the 1990s.” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(4): 1009-1037; Doyle, Rodger. “By the Numbers: The Decline of Marriage.” Scientific American 1999(36). 16. Greeley and Hout; Hout, Michael and Claude S. Fischer. “Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations.” American Sociological Review 67(2): 165-190. 17. Greer, Bruce A. and Wade Clark Roof (1982). “‘Desperately Seeking Sheila’: Locating Religious Privatism in American Society.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 31( 3): 346-352. 18. Roof, Wade Clark and Williame McKinney. American Mainline Religion: Its Changing Shape and Future. (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1987). 19. Putnam, Robert. D. Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community. (New York, Simon and Schuster, 2000); Roof, Wade Clark. “Religious Borderlands: Challenges for Future Study” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37(1): 1-14. 20. Hout and Fischer. 21. Phillips, Bruce A. “American Judaism in the Twenty-first Century” in Dana Evan Kaplan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to American Judaism. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 397-415.

3. Who Are America’s Atheists and Agnostics?
Ariela Keysar

Atheism: from Greek atheos, godless, a disbelief in the existence of a deity. Atheist: one who denies the existence of God. Agnostic: from Greek agnostos, unknown, one who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable. (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary)


theists and Agnostics are fringe populations in U.S. society. Considered by many to be deviant,1 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.2 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. This chapter provides a demographic and social profile of three distinct groups: self-identified Atheists, self-identified Agnostics, and those who answered “none” to a survey question, “What is your religion, if any? ” The first two groups are quite small, together amounting to about 1 percent of the U.S. adult population. The third group, called the no-religion group, is about 13 percent of the population. All are growing. Together, the three groups increased from about 14 million in 1990 to over 29 million in 2001, according to Religion in a Free Market: Religious and Non-Religious Americans, Who, What, Why, Where.3 It takes a very large sample of the population to develop a reliable portrait of minority groups as small as Atheists and Agnostics. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001 is perhaps the only survey large enough.


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With its random sample of 50,281 adult respondents, it estimated the number of American adult Atheists as 900,000 and adult Agnostics as 990,000. This data set presents a unique opportunity to distinguish between three groups previously lumped together—Atheists, Agnostics, and those professing no religion. Drawing on the fine detail available from the ARIS, this chapter is the first to show the differences as well as the similarities among these three distinct groups.

Both Agnostics and Atheists are predominantly male. In the U.S. population as a whole, 48 percent of adults are male, as are 47 percent of Catholic adults. By comparison, males account for 56 percent of the no-religion group, 70 percent of Atheists, and 75 percent of Agnostics, as shown in Figure 3-1. This may reflect men’s greater tendency to disbelieve and reject authority.

Atheists are young. Fully 55 percent are under age 35. Only 20 percent are 50 and over, as opposed to 37 percent of all Americans. Interestingly, Agnostics are older than Atheists, though still younger than the general population, as shown in Figure 3-2. Beyond the numbers shown here, ARIS data show that one-third of Atheists are under age 25. Half of them are age 30 or under. This age structure has major demographic consequences. It helps explains their marital status—41 percent are singles never married and only 40 percent are married. Among Agnostics and “no religion” adults, about 30 percent are singles never married and about 50 percent are married. Once again, the Agnostic and “no religion” are similar to one another while the Atheists’ marital status is more distinct. Comparing this 2001 data with the 1990 National Survey of Religious Identification (NSRI)4 provides clear evidence of a recent trend towards secularization among the younger American population. The diffusion of secular messages aimed at young people on TV and over the Internet may explain the correlations between popular youth culture and the demographic characteristics revealed by the ARIS. Of course, it is possible that this is an “age” rather than a “generational” effect, so that some of these young people may “convert” and become believers as they get older, and thus reassert the belief patterns of their parents and grandparents.

3. Who are america’S athieStS and agnoSticS?
Figure 3-1


Percent Male Among Atheist, Agnostic and No Religion Adults
U.S. Total 48

No Religion















percent Source: American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001 Figure 3-2

Age Composition of Atheist, Agnostic and No Religion
18-34 80 70 60 50 35-49 50-64 65+


40 30 20 10 0

55 40 24 9 11 Atheist 29 18 13 Agnostic 46 30 16 No Religion 8 U.S. Total 32 31 21 16

Source: American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001


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Agnostics clearly have the highest educational attainment, with 42 percent being college graduates or having post-graduate education. This is far higher than Atheists and the “no religion” group, as shown in Figure 3-3. The relatively low educational level of Atheists may come as a surprise, because various researchers have argued that Atheists are concentrated among the intellectual elite. BeitHallahmi has called academia and science “the Atheist bastions.” Youth may be one reason that fully 47 percent of Atheists have no more than a high school diploma, vs. the national average of 41 percent. Some Atheists may not yet be old enough to have earned a college or post-graduate degree. Atheists may also have a bimodal distribution in terms of education, with large proportions at the top and the bottom of the educational ladder. The attribute of high educational level among Agnostics sets them apart from Atheists and adults who profess no religion. One possible explanation is that “Agnostic” is a sophisticated technical term; thus for someone to selfidentify5 as such suggests a well-educated person. Overall, Americans who profess no religion or self-identify as Atheist or Agnostic are more likely to be white non-Hispanic or Asian and less likely to be African American, as compared to the general adult population. The small sample size by ethnicity precludes detailed tables.

Where are Atheists, Agnostics, and people who profess no religion to be found? Atheists concentrate in the West and the Northeast and are scarce in the South. Agnostics and the no religion group also concentrate in the West, but are comparatively less common in the Northeast, as seen in Figure 3-4. The Pacific Northwest has been identified as the “None zone” by Killen and Silk.6 Pasquale7 focuses on a special group of religiously unaffiliated Americans, which includes but is not restricted to Atheists or Agnostics. He calls them “Nots” and finds they are most common in the Pacific Northwest.

Political Party Preference
The general U.S. population is about evenly distributed among Democrats, Republicans, and independents. In contrast, a clear majority of Atheists are politically independent, as seen in Figure 3-5. Atheists are far less likely than the general public to be Republicans. The percentage who are Democrats is about the same as that among the total U.S. population for all three of the irreligious groups under discussion. Agnostics and the no-religion group lie between

3. Who are america’S athieStS and agnoSticS?
Figure 3-3


Educational Level of Athiest, Agnostic, and No Religion
High School Grad or Some College 80 70 60 50 College Graduate or Post Grad


40 30 20 10 0

68 58 42 32

66 34

66 34



No Religion

U.S. Total

Source: American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001 Figure 3-4

Regional Distribution of Atheist, Agnostic, and No Religion
Northeast 60 50 40 North Central South West


30 20

36 27 19 18 17 23 28

32 19 24

28 29

36 19 23 22

10 0



No Religion

U.S. Total

Source: American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001


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Atheists and the general public in their political leanings, but are considerably closer to Atheists. Not only are Atheists disenchanted by the divine power, but they are also the most likely to detach themselves and so be alienated from the two main political parties.
Figure 3-5

Party Political Preferences of Atheist, Agnostic and No Religion
Republican 80 70 60 50 Democrat Independent Don’t Know & Refused


40 30 20 10 0

50 26 10 Atheist 11 33 16

43 30 17 6 Agnostic

43 30 32 30 8 U.S. Total 7

No Religion

Source: American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001

Both academic research and public opinion polls have a tendency to blur distinctions among Atheists, Agnostics, and what has come to be called the no-religion group, or Nones. But the large sample from the 2001 ARIS allows distinctions to be made. ARIS data show that Atheists are by far younger, more likely to reside in the West, and more politically independent than Agnostics. Both Atheists and Agnostics are predominantly male. And Agnostics are by far the most educated group. In political preferences, age composition, and geographical residency, Agnostics and Nones are similar. On educational attainment, on the other hand, Atheists are more similar to Nones than Agnostics. By gender, Atheists and Agnostics are more male than the Nones. This illustration of clear inter-group distinctions should discourage the practice of lumping together Atheists, Agnostics, and the “no religion” population into an undifferentiated mass.

3. Who are america’S athieStS and agnoSticS? EndnotEs


Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin. Atheists: A Psychological Profile. In M. Martin (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. For comparison, 38% of the public believes Americans are not ready to elect a woman as president, 42% to elect a Jew and 91% to elect a gay or lesbian (the only other group to attract more negative feelings). Kosmin, Barry A. and Ariela Keysar. Religion in a Free Market: Religious and NonReligious Americans, Who, What, Why, Where. New York: Paramount Market Publishing, Inc, 2006. See, Kosmin, Barry A. and Seymour P. Lachman, One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society. New York: Harmony Books, 1993. Note, ARIS 2001 methodology was based on self-reporting and an open-ended question: What is your religion, if any? Respondents chose their own category of religion and were not read a list of pre-coded religious groups. Killen, Patricia O’Connell and Mark Silk. Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone. Alta Mira Press, 2004. Pasquale, Frank. The Non-Religious in the American Northwest. In Secularism and Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives, 2007.



4. 5.

6. 7.

4. The “Nonreligious” in the American Northwest
Frank L. Pasquale


ecular” and its cognates signify a range of phenomena, including

a) the “mere” absence of any direct reference to transcendental or super­ natural ideas or phenomena (as in the “purely” economic or political or technological) b) recession or minimization of the visibility or role of “religion” in society as an institution or a general social force, or restriction of its formal influence or role in the administration of government c) personal indifference to or neglect of matters transcendental, supernatural, or metaphysical d) affirmative or hostile rejection of transcendental, supernatural, or meta­ physical ideas, phenomena, or religious institutions e) lack of personal identification or affiliation with “religious” traditions or institutions (regardless of personal metaphysical stance) f ) subordination of metaphysical to other considerations in selected contexts or in general. In survey research, “seculars” has been a variable category encompassing distinguishable types of individuals (“c” through “f ”). There is an ever­increasing amount of data emerging from survey work on “seculars” and Nones (those who profess no explicit religious identity or affiliation). There has been less direct or detailed attention to the subset of Nones that might be characterized as “quintessential seculars”—the substantially or affirmatively non­transcendental/ not­religious, or “Nots.” These are people who:



SeculariSm & Secularity • eschew theistic, transcendental, or supernatural ideas or worldviews, • do not identify with traditions or institutions that embrace such worldviews, • may be indifferent to “ultimate” or metaphysical questions and concerns, or hold affirmatively non­transcendental worldviews, and • substantially avoid public or private behavior associated with transcen­ dental ideas (prayer, worship, incantation or conjuring, interaction with spiritual entities, etc.).

I have begun to take a closer look at Nots in the American Northwest. This would seem to be a natural laboratory for this purpose, since it is the least religious region in the United States based on such measures as percentage of the population that is “unchurched,” professes no religious preference or identity, identifies as “nonreligious” or “secular,” and reports limited behavior or beliefs associated with religion or transcendentalism. This work was stimulated, in part, by the volume edited by Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk on Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest.1 Although the comparatively “secular” character of this region is acknowledged in the volume’s subtitle—The None Zone—resident Nots make nary an appearance in these pages. Indeed, it is suggested that all but a negligible number of Nones are, in one way or another, “religious” or “spiritual.” This prompted a closer look through • in­depth interviews with both affiliated and unaffiliated Nots (n=49 to date)2 • membership surveys of irreligious organizations in the region (the first of 15 planned surveys completed and analyzed; secular humanist; n=105 of 150 listed members) • participant observation at the surveyed organization (one of the larger nonreligious organizations in the region) • meeting attendance, newsletter monitoring, and collection of organi­ zational histories at other regional groups. The following are some preliminary observations. Estimated Numbers Most survey research does not break out the Pacific Northwest from the much larger Western region. Available data are far from definitive, but suggest a sub­ stantial presence of Nots in the Northwest. Although regional samples are small,

4. the NoNreligiouS iN the americaN NorthweSt


the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 3 data indicated that 2.8 percent of respondents in Oregon and Washington strongly disagreed that “God exists,” and another 3.8 percent disagreed somewhat. This compares with 2.4 and 2.2 percent of the national sample. Similarly, 14.5 percent considered themselves “secular” and 9.4 percent more “somewhat secular,” compared with 10 percent and 6.2 percent in the national sample. Based on a population of 9.7 million (per 2004 Bureau of the Census estimates), this suggests some 640,000 individuals in these states who strongly or somewhat disagree that God exists, and 1.4 million who consider themselves “secular” (whatever this may mean). Data on Nones who are Atheist or Agnostic from the ARIS and General Social Survey (GSS)4 yield similar numbers. The ARIS data showed that 21 percent of Oregonians and 25 percent of Washingtonians were Nones (pro­ fessing no explicit religious affiliation or identity). Data from the GSS showed that 31.2 percent of Nones were “not spiritual.”5 In several surveys, 13.8 percent of Nones did not believe in God (Atheist) and 18.7 percent did not know and don’t think there is anyway to find out (Agnostic). Applying these numbers to the regional population data,6 some 700,000 Oregonians and Washingtonians are likely Atheist or Agnostic Nones and a similar number are “not spiritual.” In the most direct study of religious beliefs and behavior in the region— unfortunately more than 20 years old (1985)—The (Portland) Oregonian commissioned a telephone survey of 600 Oregon residents. Selected results are presented in Figure 4-1:
Figure 4-1

Religiosity Among Oregon Residents, 1985
Belief in “God or a Universal Spirit?” (No indication of “don’t know” as an offered or volunteered option) Belief in “life after death” Belief in “heaven as reward for those who led good lives” Religious faith is the most important influence in my life Do you pray? Neither No Don’t know No Don’t know 4% 18 % 12 % 27 % 11 %

Completely untrue 5 % Mostly untrue 18 % Not at all 9%

Response rates would likely be somewhat different today. National data from the GSS show that those professing no religious preference increased from


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7.1 percent in 1985 to 14.4 percent in 2004, much as the ARIS found between 1990 and 2001. Those giving atheistic or agnostic responses concerning belief in God have also increased from 5.3 percent in 1988 to 7 percent in 2002. In general, these data suggest that at least 500,000 residents of Oregon and Washington are substantially or affirmatively not religious with respect to beliefs, identity, affiliation, and behavior. How Nots and Nones Describe Themselves There is a widespread tendency to refer to the substantially or affirmatively nonreligious as Atheist(s) or Atheist(s) and Agnostic(s). In interviews, however, many express concern about popular associations with Atheist, or uncertainty about its precise meaning, and avoid it for these reasons. Some use “humanist” as a euphemistic substitute for Atheist or Agnostic. Some use atheist(ic) in describing their way of thinking, but not as an identity label. For some, it is simply considered an inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading characterization of their worldviews. Many avoid Agnostic as ambiguous or a sign of ambivalence. The descriptive terms used by Nots, and their combinations, vary considerably. The serviceable acronym, SUNINSHARFAN, helps to keep the principal terms in mind: Skeptic, Unbeliever, Nonbeliever, Irreligious, Nonreligious, Secular, Humanist, Agnostic, Rationalist, Freethinker, Atheist, and (philosophical) Naturalist or Non­transcendentalist.7 Complexity of usage is suggested by secular humanist survey respondents (n=105), who were asked to choose any of eight terms they would or do use to describe their ways of thinking, as shown in Figure 4-2. While self­described religiosity is consistently low, choices of descriptive terms vary considerably, as do the specific combinations among respondents.
Affiliated and Unaffiliated Nots

Most Nots are unaffiliated with organizations pertinent to their metaphysical worldviews. Using 4 percent as a conservative baseline estimate, at least 10 million Americans are substantially or affirmatively not religious. At best, affiliates of the principal irreligious organizations number in the low hundreds of thousands.8 Similarly, compared with an estimated 500,000 Oregon and Washington Nots, at best, members of irreligious organizations number in the low thousands.9

4. the NoNreligiouS iN the americaN NorthweSt
Figure 4-2


Self-Descriptions Among Humanist Group Members
Descriptors respondents apply to themselves Humanist(ic) Atheist(ic) Scientific Secular(ist) Skeptical Naturalistic Agnostic Anti-religious Affiliated Nots Percentage of respondents who chose the term 89 55 54 53 42 36 32 26 Mean self-description as “religious” (0=not at all; 8= very) .97 .81 .95 .89 .86 .84 1.03 .78

There is a representative array of relevant groups and organizations in the Northwest, although memberships are small (in the tens or hundreds for each): • Corvallis Secular Society (Oregon) • Humanist Association of Salem (Oregon) • Humanists of Greater Portland (Oregon) • Humanists of The Rogue Valley (Oregon) • Kol Shalom, Community for Humanistic Judaism (Portland) • Oregonians for Rationality • United States Atheists (Portland) • Ethical Culture Society of Puget Sound (Seattle, Washington) • Humanist Society of South Puget Sound (Washington) • Humanists of North Puget Sound (Washington) • Humanists of Washington (Seattle) • Secular Jewish Circle of Puget Sound (Washington) • The Society for Sensible Explanations (Washington) • Inland Northwest Freethought Society (Spokane, Washington) • similar groups on some college and university campuses in the region • “humanist” subgroups in selected Unitarian Universalist fellowships.


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A distinction between “soft” and “hard” forms of secularism has been suggested by Peter Steinfels10 and Barry Kosmin.11 These terms are sometimes used by Nots. There is general recognition that groups fall along a continuum, from “soft” to “hard,” with respect to worldviews, degree of irreligiosity or anti­ religiosity, congregational culture or its absence, criticism, and so on. As such, these groups address a range of interests, styles, sensibilities, and preoccupations, as shown in Figure 4-3. Each position on the continuum presents particular issues. “Humanists” in Unitarian fellowships generally shun “God­talk,” supernaturalism, or substantive transcendentalism. A shift in Unitarian Universalism toward increased “God­ talk” and “spirituality” has prompted some to move to (secular) humanist or other groups. Among Humanistic Jews, an emphasis on “congregational” participation in Judaic ritual (sans supernaturalism) prompts recurring debate—both locally and nationally—about whether, and in what ways, “HJ” is or is not “religion.” The degree to which participants do or do not wish to speak of “spirituality” becomes a point of contention in some of the “soft” groups. At the other end of the spectrum, philosophical stances and sensibilities may be more definitive, but at a price. The place and character of criticism (of religious, supernatural, or paranormal beliefs and related behavior) prompts debate and tension in some atheistic and skeptical groups. Some self­identified Atheists consequently distinguish between “positive” and “negative” forms. There is general regard among members of these groups as nonreligious comrades­in­arms. There is shared concern about misrepresentation or mis­ understanding of nonreligious people, erosion of church­state separation, public and political influence of conservative religion, and aspects of American domestic and international policy. But there are also notes of irreligious sectarianism. In a meeting of secular humanists, one audience member proclaims, “We have our fundamentalists, too. They’re called Atheists.” In an Atheist meeting across town, derisive asides make reference to “a lack of spine” or “going soft on religion” among “the humanists.” These groups struggle for public recognition and legitimacy. Most hold regular meetings, maintain Web sites, and produce newsletters and other publications. Many sponsor lecture series. Some produce media programs (e.g., for community access cable television). Some sponsor psychological and counseling services for the irreligious (“Humanist Counseling Services” in Portland, Oregon, and SMART [Self­Management And Recovery Training] support groups for non­religious individuals struggling with alcoholism or other addictions—an alternative to 12­ Step programs. Regional symposia and conferences that bring together members of many of these organizations have been held.

4. the NoNreligiouS iN the americaN NorthweSt
Figure 4-3


Group Characterizations from “Soft” to “Hard”
“Soft” UU humanists Atheism Humanistic Judaism Skepticism/rationalism12 Ethical Culture CSH/CFI-style secular humanism13 AHA-style “H”umanism14 “Hard”

A Secular Humanist Group

Data from the first of several planned surveys of organizational memberships in the region are fairly representative. Most would agree that this group lies in the center of the “hard­soft” continuum. • There is a strong age skew: mean and median age is 65, with a range of 28 to 91. • There are more males (65) than females (40). • The cultural/ethnic/racial profile is overwhelmingly “white,” European­ American, with 14 percent of Jewish heritage. • The group is well­educated, with 85 percent holding undergraduate or graduate degrees. Most respondents report religious backgrounds, with • only 4 percent of mothers and 10 percent of fathers described as “no religion,” • 9 percent describing their upbringing as “not at all religious,” and • 70 percent reporting some form of early religious instruction. Of those who received religious instruction, for 57 percent this was Christian/Protestant, for 32 percent it was Roman Catholic, and for 11 percent it was Jewish/Judaic. Although most decided they were not religious early in childhood or adolescence, a substantial number did so later in life: 38 percent before the age of 18; 18 percent during the college years; 30 percent between 21 and 40, and 7 percent between 41 and 75. Interview data suggest that some shifting late in life may be attributable, in part, to increased discomfort with a resurgence of public


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religiosity and conservative religion in the U. S. in recent years.15 The most frequently cited reasons for membership or participation in an irreligious organization were that this provides: • a source of information and intellectual stimulation, • a place for nonreligious people to meet and socialize, and • a place where nonreligious people can feel at ease. There is far greater ambivalence concerning public education and advocacy of humanist philosophy or collaborative community and human service work (as an organization). Groups vary in this regard. For example, Atheist groups may be unreservedly involved in activism concerning church­state separation. Consonant with a long­standing emphasis on social responsibility and tikkun olam (repairing the world), Humanistic Judaic groups may have active social action committees that lead the general memberships in addressing local, national, or global issues. The overwhelming majority of respondents consider themselves “not at all religious” (mean=.94 on a 0­8 scale). To one degree or another, nearly 90 percent consider religion “a harmful force in human affairs” and 70 percent are angry about “the role, dominance, or effects of religion in the world.” Even so, less than one­third apply the term “anti­religious” to themselves. Other research consistently shows a relationship between low (or no) religiosity and social or political “liberalism.” This is true here. The secular humanist survey respondents, for example, overwhelmingly describe themselves as “liberal,” with 75 percent identifying themselves as Democrats, 25 percent as “independent,” and no Republicans. The most frequently cited concerns are consistent with this: environmental issues, the Bush administration and U.S. policy, war and conflict, overpopulation, human/civil rights, and religion (conservatism, fundamentalism, extremism, political influence, and erosion of church­state separation). Content of meeting discussions and newsletters indicates much the same in other regional groups.
Unaffiliated Nots: Salons, Social Networks, and Cause-Specific Collaboration

Among unaffiliated Nots, less formal patterns of affiliation and social partici­ pation are evident. “Salons” refer to scheduled gatherings of people with shared interests or perspectives (for example, book discussion and topical lecture­and­ discussion groups). Substantial numbers of avowedly “nonreligious” or “secular” individuals in the region may be found, for example, in “Great Books,” church­ state separation, “Death with Dignity,” global development, environmental, and other cause­ and interest­specific groups.

4. the NoNreligiouS iN the americaN NorthweSt


The Internet has become a medium for stimulating and maintaining networks, “virtual communities,” and face­to­face groups of Nots. On­line Atheist, humanist, or skeptical “meet­ups” and chat­rooms may give rise to friend­ ship networks, social clubs, and discussion or advocacy groups. In Seattle, Atheist “meet­ups” have coalesced into groups that organize social, sporting, cultural, and civic activities. In Portland, there is a weekly pub­gathering and network of active and retired journalists, writers, scholars, development and government workers, and other interested individuals. Its initiator and coordinator, a retired academic, characterizes the “membership” as “secular.”16 Groups of regular, frequent, and occasional participants—drawn from an email list of more than 300—appear each week at the same corner of a local pub (recently refurbished by the proprietor to meet the group’s needs). Essays and brief topical exchanges— typically concerning national and global politics and economics—are shared among participants in a growing international email network. A recent essay, for example, spoke of the value of collaborating with the liberal religious on issues of common cause. Even less formal, but more prevalent, are networks of friends and acquaintances who share nonreligious worldviews. Nots are generally aware of one another in their social circles and communities, even if they do not associate specifically on this basis. Consistent with their worldviews, Nots generally view human problems and their solutions in social, cultural, political, economic, technological, or scientific terms. Rather than address such issues en masse on the basis of their irreligious identities, this is more often done as concerned citizens in issue­ specific collaborative groups or organizations. A secular humanist affiliate interviewee observed: I have thought own frustration that we, as an organization, do not do more to make ourselves more visible and offer more to the community [as a group]. But, as I looked at who joins...and what we do as a group, I finally came to the conclusion that an organized group of do­gooders is not what [we are] about. We have a member who volunteers her time at Outside­In, counseling youth in matters of sexuality; we have a member who organizes and gets [a gender­ rights] group off the ground; we have a member who is a legislator... attempting to positively influence our state laws; we have a member who is a psychologist who heads a volunteer alternative program to Alcoholics Anonymous; we have a couple who spends their vacation at [a voter education and registration group]; we have a member who puts


SeculariSm & Secularity in...time and energy in a cable TV show to provide an opportunity for those who are out there doing the work to be heard. I could go on and on. I realized that [this organization] is where we all come together to be renewed, and to find encouragement and strength to continue what we do individually, every day.

Societal Skepticism

Metaphysical skepticism is, of course, a defining theme among Nots. An equally pervasive theme in interviews might be called “societal skepticism.” The destructive potential of human beings in groups and institutions, and how to overcome this, is a pervasive preoccupation. Theirs is often a conscious and critical posture toward uncritical group or institutional participation or immersion. This is equally true among both affiliated and unaffiliated Nots, but while the former direct this attitude more toward the religious, the latter often direct it toward both religious and irreligious (or other ideologically based) groups. Interviewees make frequent reference to “brainwashing,” “demagoguery,” “mind control,” “the psychology of groups,” “tribalism,” “herd behavior,” “totalitarianism,” and so on. “Religion” (or metaphysical thinking in general) is viewed as one of the more powerful forces in human affairs that fosters uncritical group participation or immersion. Some are monolithic in this view of “religion;” others discriminate among distinguishable forms, some of which are held to foster “blind” group immersion more than others. Societal skepticism is often obscured by reference to individualism or low sociability or social need. Among some, societal skepticism may well be an ideological rationalization for limited sociability, but this is by no means true of all. Most interviewees and survey respondents describe active family and social lives, as well as organizational involvement.17 In response to a query about the most important sources of meaning in life, secular humanist survey respondents most often cited family, friends, and general social relations. Even among the most socially and organizationally active Nots, however, one finds notes of societal skepticism. One interviewee, a community leader and self­described life­ long Atheist with an impressive record of formal organizational roles and one of the most extensive friendship and acquaintance circles in his city, stated that: [Despite all my involvements] it may be that my nature is such that I’m not somebody who is a true believer in anything that I join....I may just have a skeptical turn of mind that goes back to an early age. I can be enthusiastic, but not committed to do something on the basis of a doctrine.

4. the NoNreligiouS iN the americaN NorthweSt
Reasons for Nonaffiliation


What limits organizational affiliation among Nots on the basis of their irreligiosity? One answer is that they personally see no need to; another answer is that many are averse to this in principle. Societal skepticism is a factor. While many affiliated Nots direct their skepticism outward, most acutely toward anything they deem to be “religion,” the unaffiliated often direct this to groups organized on the basis of religion or irreligion. An unaffiliated interviewee, for example, described her father and his colleagues (in both humanist and Atheist groups) as “too dogmatic,” and as such, “no different from the very religious groups they criticize.” Other non­affiliates who are familiar with such groups point to an ironic and uncomfortable unanimity of political and ideological views among members. As one interviewee, an 86­year­old self­described Atheist (female), said of Atheists gathering in organized groups: I think it defeats its own purpose. Once you get into a group, then you want everyone to think the same way, and then one thing comes [to another]. I mean, we started with twelve apostles and look what’s happened....I just can’t imagine being part of a group and saying, “We’re all Atheists. Aren’t we swell.” You see, that’s the next thing that happens. We’re smarter than the rest of these guys. And if only they thought like us, there wouldn’t be all these wars, and all this trouble. See what happens!? Limited interest in matters metaphysical or philosophical may also discourage affiliation on this basis. Interviewees frequently say that the interviews are personally rewarding since they prompt more systematic reflection than is typical. Even among the affiliated, there is evidence that despite an ideological or philosophical basis for affiliation, direct focus on philosophical self­reflection has limited appeal. For example, in one humanist group, weekly lectures focus on “four broad areas relevant to Humanism: human well­being, science and reason, secularism, and humanities, culture, and morality.” The philosophy of humanism is not explicitly listed and, indeed, whenever member opinions have been solicited in recent years, this topic garners the least amount of interest. Greater interest lies with politics, economics, science, topical news issues, and global affairs rather than humanist philosophy: what are human challenges and what can be done about them. A habitual question put to lecturers is “What can we do about it?” Ambivalence about, or aversion to, public promotion of labeled philo­ sophies or “proselytizing” is also involved. Many interviewees stress a “live and let live” attitude regarding matters metaphysical. The notion of participating in


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an organization whose objective, in part, is to promulgate a specific metaphysical stance flies in the face of a prevalent feeling that this simply should not matter in human affairs as much as it seems to. Many prefer to downplay metaphysics and religiosity or irreligiosity altogether, and relegate all of this to quiet personal preference. In this connection, there is ambivalence in some quarters about children’s philosophical education. On the one hand, many express an interest in expanding the ranks of the “rational” (i.e., nonreligious) over time. On the other, there is resistance to explicit irreligious “inculcation” or “brainwashing.” All but a few are apostates: they have emerged (or “escaped”) from religious backgrounds. Many vow not to repeat the mistake of “blind culture transmission” with their own, or others’, children. There is great store placed on “free choice” in matters metaphysical. When asked about the importance of a children’s program the response pattern among humanist survey respondents was notably ambivalent (with a mean of 3.3 and a median of 3.0 on a 5­point scale, from “not at all” to “very important”). Some of this is attributable to the fact that most members are past their child­rearing years. But it is also the case that opinion is divided concerning whether or how (much) to explicitly promote nonreligious worldviews, and there is general aversion to “proselytizing” in a “religious” manner.18 Some interviewees profess ignorance of the metaphysical views of their grown children, suggesting that this is as it should be. “Spirituality” and “Religiosity” Among Northwest Nones and Nots In Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone,19 it is suggested that neither the unaffiliated religious nor the “nones proper” in the region “is without religion.” Even among the ‘Nones’ only a small minority identify as atheist or agnostic. In fact, the vast majority of ‘Nones’ claim beliefs and attitudes more like than unlike those of persons inside churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques.20 The sociologist Mark Shibley suggests that [w]hile many Northwesterners are institutionally unencumbered, there is no reason to believe they are a­spiritual. Most people in the region who claim no religious preference...are, it can be argued, secular but spiritual. They encounter the sacred and cultivate spiritual lives outside mainstream religious institutions.21

4. the NoNreligiouS iN the americaN NorthweSt
Figure 4-4


“Spirituality” and “Religiosity” Among Humanist Group Members
Descriptors respondents apply to themselves Naturalistic (n=38) Agnostic (n=33) Scientific (n=58) Humanist(ic) (n=89) Secular(ist) (n=56) Atheist(ic) (n=58) Anti-religious (n=27) Skeptical (n=44) Mean self-description as “spiritual” (0=not at all; 8=very much) 2.46 2.09 2.05 2.03 1.97 1.60 1.56 1.43 Mean self-description as “religious” (0=not at all; 8=very much) .84 1.03 .95 .97 .89 .81 .78 .86

“Spirituality” is defined as “an individual’s personal experience with sacred things (e.g., God, a divine being, a transcendent reality) and the beliefs and practices that express that experience.” As evidence, Shibley describes “three clusters of alternative spirituality” that are “prevalent in the Pacific Northwest”—New Age spiritualities (e.g., paganism), apocalyptic millennialism (e.g., survivalists and white supremacists), and the environmental movement (characterized as “nature religion”). While survey data consistently show that a majority of those professing no religious preference exhibit some religious ideas and/or behavior, substantial minorities do not. As noted earlier, GSS data suggest that roughly one­third do not believe in, or do not think it is possible to know about, the existence of God. An equal number rejects “spiritual” as a self­description. There is no reason to conclude that this is substantially different in the Northwest. On available measures of nonreligiosity, Northwest residents generally equal or exceed national estimates. There is good reason, as suggested here, to suspect that substantial numbers of Nots in the region do not use the terms Atheist or Agnostic to describe themselves or their ways of thinking. Further, some may use “spiritual/ity,” but in explicitly non­transcendental or “nonreligious” senses. Taking another look at self­descriptions among secular humanist survey respondents (n=105), “spirituality” ratings were higher than “religiosity,” but still quite low, as shown in Figure 4-4.


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Nonetheless, some respondents seemed willing to use “spiritual/ity” in restricted ways. In written comments, six said they did not understand what this means. Among 40 who supplied substantive comments or definitions, 35 explicitly avoided or rejected theistic, supernatural, or transcendental content.22 The pervasive meaning was that of appreciation for existence or emotional connection with people, humanity, all living things, or nature. Superficially, it might be said that many of these people are “spiritual.” But what does this mean? Their use of the term surely does not reflect the transcendental intent or worldview of an Evangelical Christian or Wiccan. Representative comments were: • “ awe of natural processes, not spiritual in a religious sense” • “...awe and wonder, but I don’t believe there is a conscious spirit or being” • “Just a vague feeling of being connected to humanity and nature” • “Making connections with others is ‘spirituality’” • “Interest in astronomy” or “ a variety of social issues” • “Music and nature can move me in a way I can only describe as ‘spiritual’” • “Music and emotion” • “Spirit means ‘breath.’ I enjoy breathing.” Unaffiliated interviewees who make reference to “spiritual/ity” are equally careful to parse their meanings so that there is no suggestion of super­ naturalism. This raises broader questions about the meaning and accuracy of terms used both by social scientists and the people we study. In both popular and scientific discourse “spirituality” and “spiritual but not religious” typically signify unchurched or “alternative” religiosity in some (often undefined but clearly suggested) transcendental sense. If and when Nots refer to “spiritual/ity,” however, this is likely without reference to supernaturalism, trancendentalism, or religiosity in ideological, identity, behavioral, or affiliative terms. This would seem to reflect a limitation of language. English does not provide clear and simple means to convey a cognitive or emotional sense of “connectedness” or appreciation for existence sans transcendentalism or its suggestion. Unpackaging Customary Categories The more closely one looks at people’s metaphysical worldviews (and related behavior), the more customary categories seem inadequate. To comprehend, of course, it is necessary to simplify and categorize. This said, our understanding

4. the NoNreligiouS iN the americaN NorthweSt


of such matters may be unreasonably constrained by simple dichotomies and a tendency to “claim” individuals for one side or the other: the “secular” or the “sacred,” “nonreligious” or “religious,” “atheist” or “theist,” “nonspiritual” or “spiritual.” As has been observed many times before, “religious” and “secular” or “nonreligious” represent a continuum (or multiple continua) rather, or more, than discrete categories. Some of my interviewees defy simple categorization. One is vehemently “atheist” and “anti­religious” (with regard to supernatural or “irrational” ideas), but participates in Buddhist group meditation (as a form of cognitive­behavioral therapy with no acceptance of transcendental ideas). Another, trained as a research scientist, is “skeptical” or “agnostic” about metaphysical questions that cannot be subjected to empirical discovery. But he also employs Buddhist/Hindu concepts (e.g., samsara and karma) “metaphorically” (i.e., without accepting their ontological reality) to frame his ethical philosophy and approach to life. Another describes herself as nonreligious and skeptical about transcendental ideas, but she occasionally joins in eclectic “pagan­like” rituals created by relatives and friends for the enjoyment, social bonding, and colorful celebration of life they offer. While substantially naturalistic or non­transcendental in orientation, and so, hardly “religious” or “spiritual” in substantive terms, neither are such individuals thoroughgoing “nots.” They might be considered “soft” rather than “hard secularists.” Forms of human existential and metaphysical wondering, and related behavior, exhibit a rich mosaic that well­worn dichotomies fail to capture. There is a great deal going on behind and within customary survey or self­ identification categories. Study of the “secular” and “secularism” seems to be a broad point of departure for understanding worldviews, ways of living, and social phenomena that have limited or no reference to supernatural or (ontologically) transcen­ dental ideas. Greater understanding requires that we carefully unpackage the contents and describe them in ways that fairly reflect their character, complexity, and diversity.

1. 2. Killen, Patricia O’Connell and Mark Silk, eds., Religion & Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone. (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2004). Sample characteristics: 24 male, 25 female; age range: 16­87; mean age = 62.4 years; 25 unaffiliated “nots.”

56 3. 4. 5. 6.

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American Religious Identification Survey 2001, < AcademicResources/values/ISSSC/research/ARIS+2001.htm>. General Social Survey Codebook, 1998. The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. May 1, 2006 <>. The GSS only provides data for the “Pacific” region, which includes California. There are, of course, challenges in applying national data to regional estimates. However, available data on measures indicating substantial absence or rejection of religious ideas or behavior in Oregon and Washington generally equal or exceed those from national samples. This is by no means exhaustive. Less frequently heard terms include “empirical/em­ piricist,” “objectivist,” “materialist,” or “monist.” “Bright(s)” is of recent coinage and is promoted by some in an effort to change public perceptions of “nots” much as “gay(s)” has done for “homosexuals.” Based on an estimate of 178,000 members of U. S. atheist, humanist, and freethought organizations in Williamson, William B., “Is the U.S.A. a Christian nation: Pluralism in the U.S.,” Free Inquiry (Spring 1993), 8(3): 32­34, and circula­ tion figures for principal publications or membership estimates (2004­2006) for the American Ethical Union, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Council for Secular Humanism, Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Society for Humanistic Judaism, and The Skeptic Society. Detailed estimation is hampered by many factors, such as variation in membership categories, questionable membership claims or reluctance to disclose membership information, and lack of documentation on individuals with memberships in mul­ tiple organizations.




10. Steinfels, Peter, “Hard and soft secularism,” Religion in the News (Winter 2006 sup­ plement), 8(3): 8, 11. Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture and The Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Trinity College. 11. Kosmin, Barry A., “Hard and soft secularists and hard and soft secularism: An intel­ lectual and research challenge.” Paper presented at the meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Portland, Oregon, October 21, 2006. 12. Members of skeptical associations (e.g., The Skeptic Society or the Committee for Scientific Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal) present a complex picture. There are “soft” or “selective” types whose skepticism is focused specifically on ideas or phenomena that may be subjected to scientific inquiry and may be questioned or dismissed with available evidence. These, however, may embrace metaphysical ideas that lie beyond scientific inquiry. By contrast, “hard” or “thoroughgoing” types direct their skepticism broadly at both purported paranormal and metaphys­ ical phenomena. Michael Shermer found in a survey of Skeptic Society members that 35 percent thought the existence of God likely or possible; 67 percent thought this unlikely or impossible. Shermer, Michael. How we believe: The search for God in an age of science. (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2000). Reference here is to thoroughgoing skeptics or rationalists.

4. the NoNreligiouS iN the americaN NorthweSt
13. American Humanist Association. 14. Council for Secular Humanism, under the umbrella of the Centers for Inquiry.


15. As suggested by Hout, Michael and Claude S. Fischer. “Why more Americans have no religious preference: Politics and generations,” American Sociological Review, 67 (2002): 165­190. 16. Although discussion content and Internet exchanges suggest that many or most participants are “nots,” there is a noticeable reluctance to discuss personal philo­ sophical, metaphysical, or (ir)religious stances. While the irreligiosity of some is readily apparent in discussion, such matters are generally, as one participant said, “off­table topics.” Here, “secular” reflects a subordination more than rejection of matters metaphysical. 17. A check of GSS cumulative data suggests different rather than substantially less social and organizational involvement among those giving a­theistic and agnostic responses compared with believers in God. For example: Don’t believe Average memberships reported % of category with membership in: Professional societies Sports clubs Literary or art groups Youth groups School service groups Political groups Service groups 24.6 20.0 15.4 10.8 7.1 4.6 4.6 29.4 20.5 11.8 7.1 15.1 10.2 9.5 22.9 23.8 17.5 7.1 11.2 4.6 15.9 16.7 23.3 8.3 10.0 9.2 7.5 7.6 17.9 24.7 6.9 10.4 14.2 4.1 11.9 13.5 16.2 9.9 10.4 15.0 2.9 10.6 1.66 Don’t know 1.72 Some power 1.87 Some­ times 1.50 Believe with doubts 1.85 Know God exists 1.79

18. There are some notable differences concerning children’s education among nonre­ ligious organizations. Great store is placed on children’s guidance in Humanistic Judaic groups. Paralleling their ritual emphasis, this focuses on Judaic heritage and ethical guidance sans supernaturalism. Other regional humanist groups vary: one has emphasized humanistic children’s education in the past, but this has faded as the founders’ children have aged; others have not pursued such programs due to disin­ terest or divided opinion. The rise of humanist and atheist summer camps in the U.S. has rekindled interest in educational programs among members of local groups. There seems to be general agreement among most nonreligious groups on the value of educating for ethics and critical thinking, but I know of no formal programs in the region. 19. Killen and Silk.

58 20. Ibid., 17.

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21. Shibley, Mark. “Secular but spiritual in the Pacific Northwest.” Religion & Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone. Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk Eds. (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2004), 140­141. 22. The five whose comments suggested transcendental meanings present complex re­ sponse patterns: Comment Religiosity Spirituality Self-descriptions

Scale: 0 = not at all; 8 = very much “Pantheistic” “Only in a kind of pantheistic way” “I pray when I’m troubled” “Reality is in essence spiritual” 1 2 3 4 Humanist, Scientist Agnostic, Humanist, Scientist Agnostic, Humanist Atheist, Humanist, Scientist Atheist, Humanist, Scientist, Skeptical

3 4

2 4

“I believe there is a collective spirit”

(no response)


5. Is Anyone in Canada Secular?
William A. Stahl


s anyone in Canada secular? A facetious question. Obviously the answer is yes, but exactly how many is difficult 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, selfidentification 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. Note that the question is “is anyone in Canada secular?” rather than “is Canada a secular society?” The focus of this chapter is on people’s behavior and not on institutional orders, and “secularization” is taken to mean a decline in people’s religious beliefs and practices, and not institutional differentiation. In order to understand the Canadian paradox, it is necessary to briefly sketch the social and historical context of religion in Canada, which differs profoundly from that of the United States. The chapter then presents a profile of religious “dropouts” in Canada, paying particular attention to those who infrequently attend religious services or who tell the census taker that they have “no religion.” The chapter concludes by arguing that “secular” is a concept that does not describe Canada very well but that “disembedding,” as developed by Giddens1 and Taylor,2 more adequately describes the Canadian situation.

The Canadian Religious Context
One can only understand the paradoxical situation of religion in Canada today by looking at the social and historical context. Many people assume that because Canada and the United States have an integrated economy, share large elements of popular culture, and both contain a denominational institutional structure, religious dynamics in the two countries are similar. This assumption is not


SeculariSm & Secularity

correct. In historical context, religion is where the United States and Canada most differ,3 while Adams4 documents major—and growing—differences in values between Canadians and Americans. Both the United States and Canada are pluralistic, but their dynamics have always been different. The United States has constitutional separation of church and state. Canada has not had a state church since 1857, but neither does it have constitutional church-state separation (which allows churches to maintain a prominent role in education, for instance). American pluralism was grounded in an underlying, religiously based consensus.5 By contrast, John Porter described religion as “one of the major bases of political conflict”6 in Canadian history. Up until World War I, religion was the foremost badge of identity in Canada—people thought of themselves first as Protestant or Catholic (a role played since then by language). Religious conflict, together with the chronic lack of resources inherent in a small population spread over an enormous land, has bequeathed to Canada a relatively strong institutional emphasis. The religious entrepreneurs so prominent in American history have been rare in Canada. A large majority of Canadians identify with one of only three churches: Roman Catholic, United Church of Canada, or Anglican (65 percent in the 2001 census,7 down from the historical average of 75 percent). And Canadians have always been overwhelmingly Christian. In the 2001 census, only 6 percent of Canadians identified with a religion other than Christianity8 (by contrast the figure in 1871 was 2 percent). On the other hand, this should not obscure a significant amount of what James9 calls religious dimorphism, the situational blending or cobbling together of different spiritual traditions, especially among First Nations people, immigrants, or in “mixed” marriages. Religion in Canada has always manifested strong regional variations, with Roman Catholics dominating Quebec and the unchurched being most numerous in British Columbia. At the end of World War II church attendance in Canada was extremely high. It fell steadily until the 1990s. Currently, only 32 percent of Canadians over 15 attend their place of worship at least monthly, while 19 percent claim no religious affiliation at all, as seen in Figure 5-1. In response to the question “Where have all the people gone?” Reginald Bibby10 has argued convincingly that they have not gone anywhere at all. Canadians continue to maintain strong religious self-identification. Relatively few switch churches, and then usually to a denomination close to their religious “family.” Evangelical Protestants have not increased their percentage of the population (about 8 percent) since Confederation. Sects and cults remain marginal. People are not dropping out, Bibby frequently quips, they are only dropping in.

5. iS anyone in canada Secular?
Figure 5-1


Religious Affiliation and Attendance Among Canadians 15 and Older
1985 Population aged 15 & older No religious affiliation 100 12 1990 100 12 1995 100 15 2000 100 20 2004 100 19 7 % change 1985-2004

Frequency oF attendance
Not in last 12 months Infrequently At least monthly 19 28 41 23 28 37 27 24 33 21 28 31 25 25 32 5 -3 -9

Data: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey From: Clark & Schellenberg, 2006: 2

Drop Outs, Drop Ins, and Religious Nones
Do falling levels of church attendance and rising levels of those who say they have no religion mean that Canada is becoming more secular? Not necessarily, because these figures measure only two dimensions of religious behavior. There is some discussion in the literature11 that attendance figures may be skewed by over-reporting in cultural circumstances where respondents perceive religious activity to be “expected.” It is also quite possible that at times in Canada when one’s religion is thought to be “none of your business” attendance or other practices may be under-reported. Furthermore, James12 chastises sociologists for uncritically accepting as normative a monotheistic exclusiveness—as reflected by focusing upon weekly church attendance—that may miss more individualized, eclectic spirituality. Indeed, focusing exclusively on this one dimension of religiosity could be compared to trying to understand the importance of hockey in Canada by only counting season-ticket holders. Fortunately, many sociologists recognize the need to look at additional aspects of religiosity. Clark and Schellenberg13 measure four dimensions: affiliation, attendance, private religious practices, and the importance of religion in a person’s life. They conclude their study by developing a Religiosity Index which combines all four of these dimensions.

62 Affiliation

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Canadians have been asked their religious affiliation by the census since 1871 and by Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey (GSS) since 1985. This records people’s self-identification with a religious group, a figure that is usually significantly higher than the churches’ own membership records as reported in their Yearbooks. Until the 1960s, however, the Dominion Census or Statistics Canada did not allow a response of “no religion.” Since then, the “religious nones” have grown from 4 percent in 1971 to 7 percent in 1981, 12 percent in 1991, and 16 percent in 2001. The GSS puts the figure at 19 percent of Canadians over 15 in 2004, as seen in Figure 5-1. In addition, 25 percent of Canadians reported they had not attended services in the previous year, up 5 percent in the past two decades. People in these two categories are disproportionately young, as shown in Figure 5-2, disproportionately live in British Columbia, as shown in Figure 5-3, and are more likely to be native-born Canadians than immigrants, or, if an immigrant, to be from China or Japan.14 In part, the low levels of affiliation in British Columbia are affected by the disproportionate numbers of immigrants from China and Japan in the Greater Vancouver Area. Also note the anomaly in Quebec, which in 2004 had the largest number of people who never attend services (35 percent), but the lowest number of people who claim “no religion” (9 percent). In his Project Canada surveys, Bibby looked more closely at those who claim “no religion.” Of those in the “no religion” category, he found that 75 percent are under the age of 40,15 and that 63 percent come from a home with at least one religious parent, as seen in Figure 5-4 (page 64). For most of these people, “no religion” is a temporary designation, with about one third becoming reaffiliated within five years and two-thirds within ten years. Desire for religious rites of passage has remained extremely high for the past twenty years. For example, in 2000, 89 percent of teenagers nationally wanted a church wedding, including 79 percent of those claiming “no religion.”16 Nor does “no religion” equate with unbelief. Bibby17 found that 40 percent of adults and 35 percent of teenagers in that category say they believe in God, and 35 percent of adults and 30 percent of teenagers say they pray privately. About half express interest in spirituality, he reports,18 but 98 percent of that interest is in less conventional forms.

Attendance is the most widely used measure of religiosity. But here too the data are equivocal. Regular attendance (usually defined as weekly attendance) has declined sharply over the past 50 years for mainline Protestants (United, Anglican,

5. iS anyone in canada Secular?
Figure 5-2


Young Adults Are Most Likely to Have No Religious Affiliation
No religious affiliation 60 50 40 30 20 19 10 0
12 15 19 27 25 21 23 30 13 17 28 23 28 20 20 16 7 10 14 24 28 27 23 18 4 8 8 24

Has a religious affiliation but does not attend services


1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004

15 and over




60 and over

Data: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey From: Clark & Schellenberg, 2006: 3

Figure 5-3

British Columbians Are Least Likely to Be Religious
No religious affiliation 60 50 40 30 20 19 10 0
12 15

Has a religious affiliation but does not attend services

28 26 27 25 23 19 13 5 6
atlantic canada


22 19 11 4

36 35

23 22 18 12 17 18


25 20 29 31
23 18





19 23

1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004 1985 1995 2004


British columbia

Data: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey From: Clark & Schellenberg, 2006: 3


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Figure 5-4

Mother’s Religion of Religious Nones
None Catholic 3% Protestant Other




Lutheran, Presbyterian) and Roman Catholics in Quebec, with smaller declines for Roman Catholics outside Quebec. Conservative Protestants have tended to hold their own, with some groups gaining and others declining over the years. Clark and Schellenberg19 use monthly (rather than weekly) attendance as a more valid measure.20 They show that overall attendance has leveled out over the past 10 years at about one-third of the Canadian population, as seen in Figure 5-1 (page 61). Looking at weekly attendance, Bibby21 shows a plateau at 24 percent through the 1990s, dipping to 21 percent in 2000 and then rebounding to 26 percent in 2003. As we saw above, non-attendees are disproportionately young, reside in British Columbia (and in this case, Quebec), and are more likely to be native-born Canadians.
Private Religious Practices

Private religious practices consist of various forms of spirituality, such as prayer, meditation, or reading sacred texts or praying on one’s own. In everyday discourse it is not uncommon to hear people say that they are “spiritual” but not “religious.” Clark and Schellenberg22 found that 53 percent of Canadians engage in such activities at least monthly, and an additional 11 percent a few times a year, as seen in Figure 5-5.

5. iS anyone in canada Secular?
Figure 5-5


Frequency of Religious Practices on One’s Own, Canada, 2002
Frequency of religious Practices on one’s own, canada, 2002 A Few Times Not in Past 12 Weekly Monthly No Religion a Year Months

Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

Men Women

43 34 51 32 39 44 58 48 43 44 41 35

11 10 11 12 11 10 9 13 11 11 11 8

11 13 10 12 12 11 8 13 14 10 10 8

18 23 14 19 19 19 17 19 24 17 16 14

17 20 15 25 19 15 9 8 7 17 22 36

15 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 59 60 or older Atlantic Quebec Ontario Prairies British Columbia Canadianborn Immigrated before 1982 Immigrated in 1982-2001 At least monthly Infrequently Not in last 12 months No religious affiliation

region oF residence

immigration status
40 51 50 11 8 9 12 8 8 20 17 12 17 16 21 100 100 100

Frequency oF attendance at religious services or meetings
75 37 27 13 17 8 5 25 13 6 21 51 100 100 100 100 100

Data: Statistics Canada, Ethnic Diversity Survey, 2002 From: Clark & Schellenberg, 2006: 5


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What was most significant for Clark and Schellenberg was that 37 percent of those who attended services infrequently and 27 percent of those who did not attend services at all engaged in private religious practices on a weekly basis, “representing 21 percent of the adult population.”23 Unfortunately, those who had declared they had no religious affiliation were not asked this question in the GSS, but as seen above, Bibby 24 found that approximately a third of those in the “no religion” category engaged in some private religious practices at some time during the year. The profile here matches what is seen above, with private religious practices highest among those over the age of 60, who live in Atlantic Canada, and who are immigrants, and lowest among the young, those who live in British Columbia and who are native-born Canadians. These practices are not necessarily those of conventional religion, however. James 25 points out that many of these private practices may be quite divergent from the “orthodox” practices of the group with which the person identifies. Bibby 26 found that of the 73 percent of Canadians who said they have spiritual needs, 47 percent expressed an interest in less conventional forms of spirituality. For the 54 percent of Canadians who claim “no religion” but who say they have spiritual needs, 98 percent are interested in less conventional forms. Obviously interest does not automatically lead to practice.

The Importance of Religion in a Person’s Life
The fourth dimension of religiosity is the importance of religion in a person’s life. Clark and Schellenberg ranked people’s responses to this question as high, moderate or low, based on a five-point Likert Scale, as seen in Figures 5-6 and 5-7. Again, those who declared “no religion” were not asked this question. They found that overall, 44 percent of Canadians ranked the importance of religion as “high” and 19 percent as “low.” For those who did not attend services regularly but who engaged in private religious practices at least monthly, 45 percent ranked religion as “high.” Among those who engaged in neither public nor private religious practices, 15 percent still ranked the importance of religion in their lives as “high.” For those rating the importance of religion as “low,” the profile remained the same: more men than women, more young than old, more in British Columbia than elsewhere, and more native born than immigrants.

5. iS anyone in canada Secular?
Figure 5-6


The Importance of Religion to One’s Life, Canada, 2002
High importance of religion to you* Moderate Low No Religion 20 21 20 20 23 22 16 22 26 19 19 15 19 23 14 22 20 20 13 17 26 16 17 15 17 20 15 25 19 15 9 8 7 17 22 36 Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

Men Women

44 36 51 34 39 43 62 54 41 47 42 34

15 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 59 60 or older

region oF residence
Atlantic Quebec Ontario Prairies British Columbia

immigration status
Canadianborn Immigrated before 1982 Immigrated in 1982-2001 40 55 57 22 15 12 21 15 10 17 16 21 100 100 100

*Importance of religion to you is scored from 1 (not important at all) to 5 (very important). High importance is defined as a score of 4 or 5, moderate importance as a score of 3, and low importance as a score of 1 or 2. Those reporting no religious affiliation were not asked this question. Figures are percentages. Data: Statistics Canada, Ethnic Diversity Survey, 2002 From: Clark & Schellenberg, 2006: 6


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Figure 5-7

The Importance of Religion to One’s Life by Attendance and Private Religious Practice, Canada, 2002
religious Practices attendance at religious services
At Least Monthly At Least Monthly Infrequently or Never Infrequently or Never

importance of religion to you High
87 60 45 15

Private religious Practices
At Least Monthly Infrequently or Never At Least Monthly Infrequently or Never

11 27 36 31

2 12 18 54

Data: Statistics Canada, Ethnic Diversity Survey, 2002 From: Clark & Schellenberg, 2006: 6

The Religiosity Index
As a final measure, Clark and Schellenberg combined all four dimensions into a Religiosity Index, as seen in Figure 5-8. Affiliation was scored as 0 or 1, and each of the other three dimensions ranked from 0 to 4. The combined score ranges results in low religiosity (0-5), moderate (6-10) or high (11-13). Overall, 40 percent of Canadians ranked “low,” following the familiar pattern. Of particular significance is the importance of religious upbringing. When neither parent was religious, 85 percent of the children scored a “low” degree of religiosity. Clark and Schellenberg conclude: “even when other forms of religious behavior are considered, almost half of Canadians aged 15 to 29 still have a low degree of religiosity.”27

Secular or Disembedded?
What do these trends say about secularity in Canada? Given the ambiguous and paradoxical nature of the data, interpretation becomes dependent upon theory. Unfortunately, the two theories most discussed in the literature, secularization and rational-choice, are both ideological and neither describes the Canadian situation adequately. As Beyer says, “If a central problem with secularization theory be that it falsely universalizes the European experience (at least to “Western” countries), then religious market theories run the same risk, except that their provincialism would be American.”28 The argument that religion is declining is hard to sustain when eight of ten Canadians self-identify with a religious group, even if only three in ten attend

5. iS anyone in canada Secular?
Figure 5-8


Religiosity Index, Canada, 2002
degree of religiosity Low (0-5) Moderate (6-10) 31 28 33 30 32 31 30 35 37 30 28 22 32 27 25 34 28 6 High (11-13) 29 24 35 22 25 30 44 36 24 33 31 25 26 40 41 33 22 10 Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

Men Women

40 48 32 48 43 39 26 29 39 37 42 54 41 33 34 32 50 85

15 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 59 60 or older

region oF residence
Atlantic Quebec Ontario Prairies British Columbia

immigration status
Canadian-born Immigrated before 1982 Immigrated in 1982-2001

religion oF Parents
Both parents same religion Parents from different religions Neither parent religious

Data: Statistics Canada, Ethnic Diversity Survey, 2002 From: Clark & Schellenberg, 2006: 7


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services regularly. Attendance decline leveled out a decade ago, and Bibby29 reports that a rebound has begun. Private religious practices are widespread. And of the nearly 20 percent of Canadians who say they have no religion, 40 percent say they believe in God, a third engage in private religious practices, and two-thirds eventually reaffiliate with a church. The number of people in Canada who would fit the “classical” definition of being secular is quite small. A concept that may better describe the Canadian situation is what Anthony Giddens30 and Charles Taylor 31 call disembedding. Giddens defines disembedding as “the ‘lifting out’ of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time-space.”32 Both he and Taylor see it as a central and ongoing characteristic of modernity. In traditional society individuals were embedded in their communities; that is, people’s identities were shaped within the bounded context of religion, authority, and view of the cosmos. As Taylor puts it, “From the standpoint of the individual’s sense of self, [embeddedness] means the inability to imagine oneself outside a certain matrix.”33 The long, complex process of modernization is in large part a process of disembedding, which according to Taylor “involved the growth and entrenchment of a new self-understanding of our social existence, one that gave an unprecedented primacy to the individual.”34 Disembedding is thus not just the loss of community or the decline of religion. It is the substitution of one moral order for another, complete with new forms of solidarity, authority, and trust. Looked at through this theoretical perspective, the Canadian data indicates that cultural boundaries are being redrawn and the nature of religious practices has changed. Canadians are less embedded in their religious communities, but a large majority of Canadians seem to be unwilling to abandon their religious identities. Individual spirituality, a good deal of it eclectic, has become more important and large numbers of Canadians engage in private religious practices. Canadians have not abandoned the church, but what they want from it has changed. Most people want the church to provide rites of passage and a holiday experience, many still look to it for meaning and spirituality, but few are any longer committed to the church as a total life style. What at one time may have been considered normative behavior, such as weekly attendance, is now a virtuoso performance. These changes in religious behavior have consequences for the organizational and institutional dimensions of religion as well. The church is no longer the center of the community, nor is it the sole arbitrator of morality or legitimacy. Many churches, whose top-heavy structures have been slow to adapt, now face financial problems. But change is not the same thing as decline.

5. iS anyone in canada Secular? EndnotEs
1. 2. 3.


Giddens, Anthony, The Consequences of Modernity, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990). Taylor, Charles, Modern Social Imaginaries, (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004). cf. Beyer, Peter, “Religious Vitality in Canada: The Complementarity of Religious Market and Secularization Perspectives.” Religion and Canadian Society, Ed. Lori Beaman, (Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press, 2006), 71-90; Grant, John Webster, “The Church in the Canadian Era,” A History of the Christian Church in Canada, Eds. Terrance Murphy and Roberto Perin. Vol. 3 (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1972); Lipset, Seymour Martin, Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada, (London: Routledge, 1990). Adams, Michael, Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2003). cf. Bellah, Robert, 1975, The Broken Covenant, (New York: The Seabury Press, 1975); Handy, Robert, A Christian America, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971); Mead, Sidney, The Nation With the Soul of a Church, (New York: Harper & Row, 1975). Porter, John, The Vertical Mosaic, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), 512. Statistics Canada, 2001 Census, February 13, 2007, Ibid. James, William Closson, 2006, “Dimorphs and Cobblers: Ways of Being Religious in Canada,” Ed. Lori Beaman, Religion and Canadian Society, (Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press, 2006).

4. 5.

6. 7. 8. 9.

10. Bibby, Reginald, Fragmented Gods, (Toronto: Irwin Publishing, 1987); Bibby, Reginald, Unknown Gods, (Toronto: Stoddard, 1993); Bibby, Reginald, Restless Gods, (Toronto: Stoddard, 2002); Bibby, Reginald, 2004, Restless Churches, (Toronto: Novalis, 2004). 11. cf. Hadaway, C. Kirk and Penny Long Marler, “How Many Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 44(3): 307-322; Reimer, Samuel H., “A Look at Cultural Effects on Religiosity: A Comparison Between the United States and Canada,” Ed. Lori Beaman, Religion and Canadian Society, (Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press, 2006), 54-70. 12. James, pp. 119-131. 13. Clark, Warren and Grant Schellenberg, “Who’s Religious,” Canadian Social Trends (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Summer 2006, Catalogue No. 11-008). 14. Clark and Schellenberg.

72 15. Bibby, 2004. 16. Bibby, 2002, 2004. 17. Bibby, 2004. 18. Bibby, 2002. 19. Clark and Schellenberg.

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20. see also Bibby, 2002, 2004. 21. Bibby, 2004, p. 23. 22. Clark and Schellenberg. 23. Ibid. 2006, p. 4. 24. Bibby, 2004 25. James. 26. Bibby, 2002, pp. 180-182. 27. Clark and Schellenberg, p. 7. 28. Beyer, p. 71. 29. Bibby, 2004. 30. Giddens. 31. Taylor. 32. Giddens, p. 21. 33. Taylor, p. 55. 34. Ibid. p. 50.

6. The North American Pacific Rim:
A Response to Frank Pasquale and William Stahl
Patricia O’Connell Killen


approach the Pasquale and Stahl chapters as an historian of religion, primarily of Christianity in North America, who has been working for some time on understanding the religious dynamics of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.1 Most recently, as part of the Religion by Region project of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, I co-edited Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone 2 with Mark Silk. The volume provides a first take on two questions: 1) What is the religious configuration on the ground in the Pacific Northwest? 2) What difference does it makes for public life in the region? As the volume’s subtitle suggests, the Nones, those whom the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found claimed no religious identification, are prominent in this region. They make up 25 percent of the adult population in Washington and 21 percent in Oregon, combining to give this region the largest proportion of Nones of any in the United States.3 Further, according to Census Canada, 36 percent of the adult population in British Columbia identifies itself as having no religion.4 The North American Pacific Rim region and the questions of the Religion by Region project, then, are germane to the goal of exploring who is “secular” today by considering comparative geographic perspectives on the topic. Not only are the majority of the people in this part of the U.S. and Canada outside the doors of church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or any other conventional religious institutions; a substantial portion of the adult population has moved beyond even identifying with a religious family/heritage of any kind. Here the


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significant population of Nones, coupled with the demographic thinness of conventional religious groups, displays the erosion of the religious institutions and forms of individual religiosity that have shaped religious life in the West since the early modern period. Equally importantly, it signals the emergence of new forms of religiosity and more fluid forms of religious organization. The religious configuration and dynamics of this region, then, demand thinking anew about individual religiosity and about religion as a social and cultural force.

Frank Pasquale: “The Nonreligious in the American Northwest”
Frank Pasquale’s chapter offers a report on current ethnographic research he is carrying out in the Portland and Seattle metropolitan areas. He is exploring the beliefs, attitudes, and behavior of a group of adults whom he characterizes as the “affirmatively nots,” adults whom he understands to be explicitly irreligious and to hold explicitly secular worldviews. Pasquale’s Nots comprise approximately one-third of the Nones in Oregon and Washington, or about 500,000 adults out of a total adult population of slightly more than 7.4 million (a total population of 9.7 million). His larger estimate of 640,000, reached by taking percentages of adult respondents from ARIS and calculating an actual Not population from a figure for the total, not the adult population, seems a bit high. Further, as Pasquale himself notes about his own calculations, it is problematic to extrapolate from surveys that use the U.S. Pacific census region, which includes California, or from national surveys, to Oregon and Washington as a separate region.5 Disagreements with his calculations aside, Pasquale’s ethnographic research on the Nots makes a contribution to an understanding of the Nones by dint of his hard work on the ground: ferreting out an availability sample, identifying and counting groups, observing and interviewing their members, describing how Nots think, as well as their attitudes, the nature of their social relationships, and their public presence. His preliminary research shows that most Nots do not affiliate with “organizations pertinent to their metaphysical worldviews,” are reluctant to identity themselves with a label, though whatever description they give of their worldview emphasizes that it is naturalistic, and are ambivalent about committing to organizations lest they give away their independence of thought and action. They share concern “about misrepresentation or misunderstanding of nonreligious people, erosion of church-state separation, public and political influence of conservative religion, and aspects of American domestic and international policy.”6 The small minority who are in secular humanist groups, says Pasquale, “struggle for public recognition and legitimacy,” yet do not want to engage in recruiting or in forcing their views onto their children.7 Most participate

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publicly as citizens in “issue-specific collaborative groups or organizations.”8 They tend to be more action and issue oriented than they are interested in reflection on metaphysical topics.9 What is striking about Pasquale’s description of the Nots is how congruent it shows their attitudes and behavior to be with other Nones in the region, and in many ways, with the religious style of the region generally. This is true especially of two features of the Nots that his research highlights: their intense, ethically construed individualism and their “social skepticism,” defined as their “pervasive preoccupation” with “the destructive potential of human beings in groups and institutions, and how to overcome” it. They exhibit the strong impulse to free and unfettered activity and the ambivalence about social connections that has rendered conventional social institutions relatively weak in this region since earliest European-American settlement.10 Keysar and Kosmin report similar findings about individualism and loose institutional connections for Nones nationally.11 Where some of the Nots differ from the majority of Nones and the general population of the region is in their self-conscious insistence on articulating their worldviews in naturalistic terms.12 They consider worldviews that include a “supernatural” dimension highly problematic and define themselves over against people who hold this position. Whether and how to understand the Nots’ reflective construction of their worldviews as in some way “religious” or “spiritual” is at the center of Pasquale’s disagreement with the treatment of Nones in Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest. In the chapter “Secular but Spiritual,” Mark Shibley focused on the majority of the Nones, the 67 percent who agree strongly or somewhat that God exists.13 He argues that while all Nones are disconnected from conventional religious institutions both by identification and affiliation, the majority of Nones, the two-thirds who are religious by at least one conventional measure—belief—are spiritually open and so religious. Shibley proposes that, for the None majority, “Perhaps religious matters are simply experienced and expressed differently” in the region and goes on to employ a broad interpretive framework to “better illuminate the core values, ritual practices, types of transcendent experience, and forms of community that engage non-church-going Northwesterners.”14 Pasquale’s difference with Shibley over his choice to explore the majority of the Nones who are spiritually open rather than the minority of Nones who are affirmatively secular, even materialist, rests partly on Pasquale’s claim that the latter are distinctively and importantly different from other Nones. It also, however, raises an issue of definition. Specifically, in discussions of secularization, should naturalistic worldviews be considered religious or spiritual? Is reflective meaning-making a spiritual activity?


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Historically in the academic study of religion some naturalistic and nontheistic forms, such as Buddhism, have been included in the category of religion. In the academic study of spirituality, naturalistic worldviews also fit under the widely accepted definition of spirituality as a total, embodied response to life.15 Further, as Yves Lambert has noted in his “Religion in Modernity as a New Axial Age: Secularization or New Religious Forms,” summarizing the work of Karl Jaspers, Joseph Kitagawa, and Robert Bellah, a radical demythologization, collapse of dualistic worldviews, and impulse to find meaning within history and the natural world are key features of the modernization process in which we live and affect religion.16 It is not accurate, today, to presume even that theists construe the world in terms of the natural and supernatural. Most forms of theism today are characterized by notions of this-worldly salvation. It seems, then, that establishing firm distinctions between the worldviews of the Nots, the spiritually open Nones, and many theists is more difficult than Pasquale suggests. His adoption of Kosmin’s categories of hard and soft secularism suggests that he himself recognizes the difficulty.17 Pasquale’s research and his disagreement with the treatment of Nones in Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest point up the complexity of the relationship among “meaning-making” and the categories of belief, participation, identification, and behavior in understanding individual religiosity. With regard to public life, as noted earlier, Pasquale’s Nots, like other Nones both regionally and nationally, as well as many theists in the Pacific Northwest, are reluctant to join civic or political organizations. They do so, primarily, to move forward an agenda regarding a specific issue that carries ethical import for them. As Keysar and Kosmin note, these specific issues increasingly are ideologically charged.18 This pattern of episodic public engagement on the part of even the most institutionally aversive, we argue in Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest, contributes to a larger individual and institutional religious sensibility that shapes the region, including less recognized dimensions of public life. Based on his research to date, Pasquale’s Nots differ little from other Nones or even most theists in the Pacific Northwest. His research on the Nots is most valuable as a study of a limit case that sheds light on broader emerging trends and shifts across religion and culture. I hope he will carry the monograph that results from his research in that direction, perhaps along the lines of what the anthropologist Michael Brown did in approaching the deeper meanings of shifts in spirituality in the U.S. through channeling as a limit case. 19

6. the North americaN Pacific rim


William Stahl: “Is Anyone in Canada Secular?”
William Stahl’s chapter shifts attention from close ethnographic research to much broader, complex national considerations, a take on secularization in Canada. Using both national and comparative provincial data on religious belonging, belief, and behavior, he argues that the contemporary Canadian situation is paradoxical. He notes that “self-identification with a religious organization is very high and ‘belief ’ in God is even higher,” but at the same time, “few Canadians attend a place of worship regularly and religion is conspicuously absent” from most of Canadian public life.20 His emphasis in the chapter is not on institutional secularization, the process by which religious institutions lose control over successive areas of human social life, but on the behavior of the people, and so he defines secularization as “a decline in people’s religious beliefs and practices” which he distinguishes from “institutional differentiation.”21 While acknowledging differences among provinces, Stahl argues that nationally, religious identification, religious practice, albeit frequently in nontraditional forms, and interest in spirituality remain high in Canada. Census Canada shows that in 2004, 81 percent of Canadians claimed a religious identification, the vast majority Christian. The relative market share of the three major denominations—Roman Catholic, United Church of Canada, and Anglican—and of the smaller set of evangelical churches has remained quite steady. Thirty-two percent of Canadians over the age of 15 “attend a place of worship at least monthly.” Nineteen percent of Canadians claim no religious identity.22 Those who claim no religion, Stahl points out, are primarily under age 30 and reside in British Columbia. Further, says Stahl, according to studies by Reginald Bibby, two-thirds re-affiliate with a religious body within ten years.23 Despite the growth in the number who claim no religion, Stahl argues that when affiliation and attendance are supplemented with data on private religious practices and the importance of religion in an individual’s life, the Canadian picture shows a relatively robust religiousness, albeit one that is increasingly disconnected from conventional religious institutions. He cites research showing that nearly 65 percent of Canadians engage in private religious practices at least a few times a year, with most of this group doing so at least monthly. Thirtyseven percent of those who attend services infrequently or not at all, engage “in private religious practices on a weekly basis.”24 Nearly three quarters of Canadians express having “spiritual needs.” One half of the Canadians who have no religion express spiritual needs. Those who do are interested overwhelmingly in “less conventional forms” of spiritual practice.25


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Bringing his data together, Stahl argues that, while the “number of people in Canada who would fit the ‘classical’ definition of being secular is quite small,” there is a significant shift occurring in religion in Canada. This is a shift, however, that in his judgment neither secularization theory nor rational choice theory adequately explains. Both of these theories are too rooted in specific historical settings, the former in Western Europe with its history of contest between political and religious institutions, and the latter in the United States, with its history of religious voluntarism and separation of church and state. Instead, argues Stahl, the data show a process of religious “disembedding” in Canada, a term he borrows from Anthony Giddens. Quoting Giddens, Stahl defines “disembedding” as “the ‘lifting out’ of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time-space.” This process, Stahl says—following Charles Taylor—expresses “a central and ongoing characteristic of modernity.”26 It is best understood not as “the loss of community” or the “decline of religion” but rather as “the substitution of one moral order for another, complete with new forms of solidarity, authority, and trust.”27 Stahl’s conceptualization of the Canadian data situates the religious change going on there squarely within the larger frame of modernization theory, a move that advances the understanding of secularization by highlighting its multiple dimensions and the particular way that the process ensues in very specific historical, cultural contexts. His caveat that change in religious belief, identification, and participation does not equal secularization, is well taken. At the same time, I think Stahl may be underestimating the significance of institutional secularization for the trajectory of individual religious identification and practice over time. Canada may well be undergoing a process of secularization not only institutional but also individual. To advance this consideration I note the difference in the religious history of Canada and the United States, a difference that Stahl also emphasizes. As he says, the U.S. experience of religious “pluralism was grounded in an underlying, religiously based consensus.” In Canada, however, while there has not been “a state church since 1857,” neither is there “constitutional church-state separation.” Rather, religion in Canada has been a major point of political conflict and a foremost badge of identity. As Stahl puts it, “Religious conflict, together with the chronic lack of resources inherent in a small population spread over an enormous land, has bequeathed to Canada a relatively stronger institutional emphasis.”28 That emphasis, however, existed in part because religion, for the reasons Stahl noted, remained closely woven in with other ascriptive factors in individuals’

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lives until at least the 1960s. The strength of religion as part of a web of ascriptive factors was supported by the cooperative relationship between political and religious institutions. My question: what is the relative weight and staying power of Canadians’ institutional emphasis, including the current residual religious identification that is uncoupled from regular participation, when religious institutions themselves have contributed significantly to the secularization of the public sphere in Canada during the past fifty years? The historian Mark Noll, drawing on the work of Canadian historians and sociologists, including Reginald Bibby, notes that in Canada during the past forty years the ideology of pluralism replaced the traditional Christian ideologies of French and English Canada. “The social cohesion that the churches once provided is now offered by political and economic loyalties, an ideology of toleration, personal growth, and multiculturalism.”29 It is not clear to what kind of social cohesion these forces will lead. It does seem, however, with its “no religion” population overwhelmingly young—under age 30—and with only two-thirds of those re-affiliating within a decade, that we must consider whether Canada may be undergoing a slow process of individual secularization. That process may be the combined fruit of Canadian religious institutions having advanced a religiously inspired, but now independent, ideology of multiculturalism and the process of “disembedding” with its reconfiguration of belief, belonging, and valuing.

Frank Pasquale’s and William Stahl’s chapters point up sharp changes in individual religious sensibility and practice that complicate and push a refinement of the understanding of who is “secular” today. Change, as Stahl notes, cannot be equated with secularization. At the same time, “disembedding”—the separation of religious belief, identification, and participation from a nexus of ascriptive factors—radically expands religious individualism and religious voluntarism. The more individualistic religion becomes, the more stretched the historic concepts of the secular and secularization. Three more theoretical questions arise from these chapters: • How should the nature of religiosity among the Nones, a population that construes its philosophical, metaphysical, or “religious” meaning-making as the project of individuals elaborating a worldview, primarily in naturalistic terms, and doing so mostly disconnected from religious institutions, be understood? • How should the patterns of public participation, the public presence


SeculariSm & Secularity and effect, if any, of a population with a heightened sense of “social skepticism” and reluctance to make long-term institutional commitments, be understood? • And what is the public, political, social presence and power of religion in relation to other social and cultural forces when its connections within a web of ascriptive factors are weakened or severed and it is “disembedded”?

Beyond these specific questions, however, is a larger possibility to be considered. Perhaps the Nones on the North American Northern Pacific Rim exhibit what Ernst Troeltsch argued would be the dominant form of religion at the end of the industrial period, inner-worldly mysticism.30

1. I want to thank Professor Mark Shibley, Department of Sociology, Southern Oregon University, for providing his sociological expertise in conversation about the two papers. I am responsible for any errors in the interpretation of the sociological data in this response. Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk, eds., Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone [henceforth RPLPNW] (AltaMira Press, 2004). See Ibid. at 28-29. See William Stahl, “Is Anyone in Canada Secular,” Figure 5-3. See Frank Pasquale, “The Nonreligious in the American Northwest,” p. 42-43. Pasquale, p. 46. Pasquale, p. 46, 52. Pasquale, p. 49. Pasquale, p. 50-51.

2. 3 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

10. Pasquale, p. 49-52; “Introduction,” RPLPNW: 10-14. 11. Ariela Keysar and Barry A. Kosmin, “The Freethinkers in a Free Market of Religion,” p. 24, 26. 12. Pasquale, p. 49. 13. Mark Shibley, “Secular but Spiritual,” in RPLPNW: 143. 14. Shibley in RPLPNW: 139. 15. Joan Wolski Conn, “Dancing in the Dark: Women’s Spirituality and Ministry” in Robert J. Wicks, ed. Handbook of Spirituality for Ministers volume 1 (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995).

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16. Yves Lambert, “Religion in Modernity as a New Axial Age: Secularization or New Religious Forms?” Sociology of Religion 60/3 (Fall 1999), quoted from <>, 3-4. 17. Pasquale, p. 46. 18. Keysar and Kosmin, p. 24, 26. 19. See for example Michael Brown’s trenchant analysis of broader trends in U.S. culture in The Channeling Zone (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997). 20. Williams Stahl, “Is Anyone in Canada Secular?,” p. 59. 21. Stahl, p. 59. 22. Stahl, p. 60 and Figure 5-1. 23. Stahl, p. 62. 24. Stahl, p. 64. 25. Stahl, p. 66. 26. Stahl, p. 70, quoting Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990): 21. 27. Stahl, p. 70. 28. Stahl, p. 60. 29. Mark Noll, “What Happened to Christian Canada?” Church History 75:2 (June 2006): 258, 261. 30. Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches, reprint ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992).

7. “People Were Not Made to Be in God’s Image”:
A Contemporary Overview of Secular Australians
Andrew Singleton


n 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.” Debate about the school chaplain plan constitutes just one instance in which secular and religious perspectives on ethical, legal, civic and legislative matters have been aired in public. Other notable examples include legislation on stem-cell research, the availability of the abortion drug RU 486, and gay marriage. And yet, as the responses noted above testify, various attempts to “Christianize” public life continue to meet strong resistance, usually from a committed few “secularists.” Most objectors seek to defend the secular character of the Australian state, which is enshrined in the constitution.1 Debates about religion’s role in society have been part of public life since the Australian colony’s inception. However, contemporary discussions are taking place against the backdrop of some significant recent changes to Australia’s religious demography. Australian census data reveal that over the past fifty years, the percentage of the population affiliating with the major Protestant denominations has declined, while the percentage identifying with religions apart from Christianity (particularly Islam and Buddhism), alternative religions


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(including witchcraft), neo-Pentecostal Christian groups, and those not affiliating with any religion, have all grown significantly.2 Arguably, what it means to be either religious or secular is different in a society that is now post-industrial, multicultural, and religiously diverse and in which one’s religious identification is increasingly a matter of personal choice rather than social obligation. In these changing times, it is the religiously committed or the spiritually inclined who are accorded the most public attention, rather than the secular. After the 2001 Australian census many newspaper articles on Paganism appeared, featuring lines such as: “Nature religions, including witches, druids, are Australia’s fastest growing religious group,” “The Neo-pagans move from strength to strength,” and “It’s the fastest-growing religion in Australia.” Secular people have always been an important part of Australia’s social fabric. Yet there remain a number of questions about who secular Australians today are. • Are they younger or older? • Are most former believers in God? • Do they hold different values compared to religious Australians? This chapter attempts to answer these questions. Drawing on data from various Australian national censuses and the national Spirit of Generation Y (SGY) research project,3 it presents a contemporary overview of the secular members of contemporary Australian society. These are people who reject religious and spiritual beliefs, practice, and affiliation. For them, religion has little salience in their daily lives and their life orientation is abidingly “this-worldly.”4 This chapter begins by describing recent changes in Australia’s religious profile, which provides a context for understanding contemporary secularity. Secularity cannot be identified and explained without a discussion of religion, for the secular are those who are not religious. Next is an examination of levels of religious and spiritual belief and non-belief in Australia, which is used to identify the resolutely secular portion of Australian society—14 percent of the 13-59-year-old population (the age range of the SGY survey respondents). This is followed by a socio-demographic profile of the secular, and then an exploration of the ways in which this group differs from religious Australians.

The Context of Contemporary Secularity: Australia’s Changing Religious Profile
In order to understand the context of Australian secularity, this section describes changes in Australia’s religious profile from 1901 until 2001. The best picture of

7. “PeoPle Were Not made to Be iN God’S imaGe”


religious change in Australia can be obtained by examining religious affiliation data from various national censuses. Not affiliating with a religion is a partial indicator of secularity. Figure 7-1 presents selected national census data on Australian’s religious affiliation from 1901 to 2001. The most significant changes have taken place over the past thirty years.
Figure 7-1.

Religious Affiliation Among Australians for the Years 1901-2001
Religious AffiliAtion
Census Year 1901 1933 1947 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001 Anglican % 39.7 38.7 39.0 34.9 31.0 26.1 23.8 20.7 Catholic % 22.7 19.6 20.9 24.9 27.0 26.0 27.3 26.6 other Christian % 33.7 28.1 28.1 28.4 28.2 24.3 22.9 20.7 total Christian % 96.1 86.4 88.0 88.3 86.2 76.4 74.0 68.0 other religions % 1.4 0.8 0.5 0.7 0.8 1.4 2.6 4.9 no religion % 0.4 0.2 0.3 0.4 6.7 10.8 12.9 15.5
not stated/ inadequately described %

2 12.9 11.1 10.7 6.2 11.4 10.5 11.7

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Year Book Australia 2003. Table based on one presented in the 2003 Year Book.

Bouma notes that until 1947 “Anglicans [previously known as the Church of England], Presbyterians, and Methodists together comprised 60 percent of the population, dominating Australian religious life” 5 (1947 being the first postwar census). Between 1901 and 1947, Catholics constituted about 20 percent of the population, and religions apart from Christianity generally totaled less than 1 percent of the population. Those affiliated with no religion also accounted for less than 1 percent. Among the most significant postwar shifts in Australia’s religious profile is the sharp decrease in the percentage who affiliate themselves with the major Protestant denominations, particularly the once-dominant Anglican Church, whose percentage of adherents halved between 1947 and 2001. Other Protestant groups, including the Presbyterians, have also experienced a decline: the total of “other Christian” has fallen from 33.7 percent in 1901 to 20.7 percent in 2001.


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But within this category, some Christian groups have improved their market share, particularly the Pentecostals.6 These more fundamentalist groups are now a conspicuous presence in Australia’s religious landscape. The largest congregation in Australia is Sydney’s Hillsong Assemblies of God. Their annual national conference has been attended in recent years by the Prime Minister, Treasurer, and the state Premier, while an album of Hillsong worship music reached the number-one position on the national (secular) album chart.7 The other major Christian group, the Catholics, have fared much better than the Anglicans, having increased by 6 percentage points since 1947. Large numbers of postwar immigrants to Australia were Catholic, originating first from Southern Europe and later from Asia.8 Other contributing factors include the higher birth rate among Catholics in the 1950s and 1960s.9 Postwar migration has altered Australia’s religious profile in other important ways, notably the percentage who affiliate themselves with religions apart from Christianity. Adherence to Islam increased by 40 percent between 1996 and 2001, while adherence to Buddhism grew by 79 percent during the same period.10 The most notable pattern in Figure 7-1 is the increase in those declaring that they have no religious affiliation, which grew from 0.3 percent of the population in 1947 to 15.5 percent in 2001. The large increase between 1961 and 1971 occurred in part because in 1971 the instruction “if no religion, write none” was first introduced.11 Between 1981 and 2001, the proportion of the population declaring no religious affiliation increased by almost 5 percentage points. Many of those now identifying as “no religion” probably once would have identified with one of the previously stronger Protestant groups.12 Between 1996 and 2001, the number who identified as Agnostics increased by 100 percent, while the number of self-identified Atheists increased by 226 percent.13 However, the numbers who identify themselves on the census this way are very few: 24,000 Atheists and 18,000 Agnostics were counted in the 2001 census. People who choose not to answer the religion question on the census, or who provide inadequate answers, are categorized as “not stated” and “inadequately defined.” Apart from a sizeable dip in 1971, these two categories have represented more than 10 percent of the population in censuses since 1933. The contemporary picture that emerges from these census data is one of religious differentiation and diversity, notably characterized by a “decline in the hegemony of the English Protestant establishment,”14 and the growth of other religious and spiritual groups. The religious marketplace in Australia is now more segmented and less centralized than in any previous time. The spiritually interested have more choices open to them, both from world

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religions and newer alternatives. Significantly, amid these patterns of religious growth, decline and differentiation, census data affirm that a sizable portion of the Australian population is comfortable declaring that they have no religious affiliation and that this preparedness not to affiliate has increased markedly in the last thirty-five years.

Who is Secular?
While many who indicate on their census form that they have no religion are probably secular in their life orientation, a declaration of “no religious affiliation” seems an inadequate measure of how religious or secular someone is. Indeed, defining who is secular or not is a difficult task. Can someone who does not believe in God, does not identify with a religion, but believes in a higher power and takes her horoscope very seriously be accurately described as secular? Or someone who attended church when he was younger, is now “unsure” about the existence of God, but still very open to the possibility that “something” is “out there”? In both cases, there is not an unequivocal rejection of religion or spirituality. To be secular, however, is to be neither religious nor spiritual: rejecting religious and spiritual beliefs, supernatural superstition, and religious practices, like prayer or worship. How many Australians are like this? Drawing on data from the national Spirit of Generation Y study, Figure 7-2 shows the extent of non acceptance of religious and spiritual beliefs in Australia for those aged 1359.15 This table features three age groups: 13-29 year-olds, 30-44 year-olds, and 45-59 year-olds. The beliefs in this figure can be characterized as either Christian-derived beliefs or alternative-spiritual beliefs. Christian-derived beliefs are listed in the top half of the table and include belief in God, belief in the existence of angels, and belief in the existence of demons and evil spirits. Alternative spiritual beliefs are listed next. These are: astrology (i.e. that stars and planets affect people’s fates; the possibility of communicating with the dead directly or in a séance); reincarnation (i.e. that people have lived previous lives); and the power of psychics or palm readers. The figure also includes percentages for those who have ever seriously got into esoteric practices: yoga; Eastern meditation; tai-chi; and Tarot. “Seriously” was defined as “regular practice of the activity over an extended period of time, study of the activity, meeting with others who practice the activity or the purchasing of equipment associated with the activity.” When assessing who might or might not be secular, it is important to consider the uptake of alternative spiritual beliefs and esoteric practices. Given the recent changes in Australia’s religious profile, those who are spiritually


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interested are free to search widely for spiritual meaning. Some sociologists describe the contemporary context, full of choices, as the “spiritual marketplace” or “spiritual supermarket.”16 Figure 7-2 shows that approximately one fifth of 13-59 year-olds reject a belief in God, while similar numbers hold that there is very little truth in religion, and do not believe in life after death. Levels of unbelief in angels and demons is even higher, almost 50 percent of those aged 13-59. The levels of unbelief are similar across the three age groups for most categories, except a belief in life after death, where those aged 45-59 are more likely to reject this belief. This is because those aged 13-29 have higher levels of belief in reincarnation and many of those who believe in reincarnation also believe in life after death. Looking at alternative spiritual beliefs, the number who reject these outright is considerable, with half the 13-59 year-old population rejecting belief in astrology, the possibility of communicating with the dead, reincarnation or in the power of psychics and palm readers. There is little age difference when it comes to rejecting belief in astrology, but those aged 45-59 are significantly more likely to reject the other alternative spiritual beliefs. The non-participation rate in various esoteric practices is even higher still, with almost three-quarters of the population aged 13-59 never having seriously gotten into yoga, tai-chi, Tarot or Eastern meditation. Overall, these data show that a substantial portion of the population reject Christian-derived beliefs, while more than half of 13-59 year-olds reject alternative spiritual beliefs. Among these, who is “secular?” According to SGY data, 14 percent of 1359 year-olds definitely do not believe in God; do not believe in the existence of angels or demons; do not hold any of the alternative spiritual beliefs listed in Figure 7-2, and do not affiliate with any religion. By the strictest understanding of the term, these are the most decisively “secular” members of Australian society. They reject superstition, religious affiliation, or a belief in the transcendent. For the remainder of this chapter they will be referred to as “seculars,” a term that indicates that their worldview and life orientation is non-theistic.1 7 The other members of the population can be considered to some degree “religious,” “spiritual,” or merely “unsure” in their orientation. They range from those who are nominally Christian (believe in God, still affiliate with a religion, perhaps attend services of worship only once or twice a year), to those who are committed Christians (those who attend services at least once a month, definitely believe in God and Jesus, and pray at least once a month), those who follow other world religions, Paganism or Wicca, to those who are seriously or

7. “PeoPle Were Not made to Be iN God’S imaGe”


moderately into alternative spiritualities, to those who simply believe that there is something “out there” and engage in one or two esoteric practices.18 While some might choose to identify the nominal Christians as secular, these people are not so secular as to have rejected a belief in God or some transcendental reality. Such a claim about the extent of extreme secularity—just 14 percent are seculars—may seem incongruous given that Australia is generally regarded in the public mind as a “secular” nation, is secular according to the constitution, and given that only 14 percent of the population aged 13-59 are committed Christians (according to the criteria specified above). However, 68 percent of the population at the last census identified with a Christian denomination.
Figure 7-2.

Selected Religious/Spiritual Beliefs and Practices Among Australians Aged 13 - 59
Age gRoups seleCted beliefs And pRACtiCes
Believe in God No Unsure Yes There is very little truth in any religion Does not believe in life after death Does not believe in the existence of angels Does not believe in the existence of demons Does not believe in astrology Impossible to communicate with the dead Does not believe in reincarnation Does not believe in psychics and palm readers Never got seriously into yoga Never got seriously into Eastern meditation Never got seriously into tai-chi Never got seriously into Tarot cards Never got into any esoteric practices 13-29






All (13-59)


19 32 48 22 24 37 47 55 52 46 54 89 94 96 94 80

22 27 52 21 23 34 46 57 53 45 51 85 88 91 91 70

18 25 56 18 34 43 55 57 68 58 64 83 90 90 92 68

20 28 52 21 26 38 49 56 57 49 56 86 91 93 92 73

Source: Spirit of Generation Y Survey 2005. Note: Percentages of belief in God may not add to 100 because of rounding and unreported refused/“can’t say” answers.


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Clearly, many more Australians than just the very religious are affected by religion, even if their only point of connection is a belief in God or identification. According to the 1998 Australian Community survey, 70 percent of the adult population attended one religious festival, memorial service or rite of passage in the previous 12 months.19

What is the background of the typical secular Australian? This person is more likely to be male than female (65 percent are male). In comparison, the most committed Christians (those who attend services at least once a month, definitely believe in God and Jesus, and pray at least once a month) are more likely to be female. This finding is not surprising; Australian research consistently shows that women are more likely to be religious than men.20 Seculars are fairly evenly spread among the three age groups (34 percent are 13-29; 35 percent are 30-44; 32 percent are 45-59). This finding is perhaps unexpected, given that fewer young people believe in God, as seen in Figure 7-2. However, young people are more open to alternative spiritual beliefs, and thus many non-believers did not fit the strict criteria used to classify seculars. Most seculars are Australian-born, as are the most committed Christians. However, seculars are more likely than the most committed Christians to have an Australian-born mother and father. This suggests that secularity is more closely aligned with the dominant Anglo-Celtic culture. Indeed, the postwar growth of denominations such as the Catholics is attributed in large part to migration.21 Ninety percent of seculars live in an urban area, although this is similar for committed Christians, largely because Australia is one of the most urbanized nations on earth.
Not Believing in God

None of the group referred to in this chapter as seculars currently believe in God. Of these, 53 percent have never believed, while 47 percent believed at some stage in their lives. What is known about these former believers? Many once identified with a religion: 37 percent of former believers once identified as Catholics, 20 percent once identified as Anglicans, the remainder with other Protestant denominations, non-Christian religions, or have never identified. The largest group of these non-believers who once believed are 30-44. It is also interesting to consider why these people no longer believe. In the Spirit of Generation Y survey people were asked to provide open-ended reasons why they no longer believed. The most common reasons for no longer believing

7. “PeoPle Were Not made to Be iN God’S imaGe”


include: “doing further study, especially science” (16 percent of responses); “no convincing evidence or proof ” (13 percent of responses); “disillusionment with the churches” (11 percent of responses); and a category called “can’t accept that God allows suffering” (9 percent of responses). Below is an example of each: “Having learned some things about science and evolution I can see that people were not made to be in God’s image and that led me to realize that I don’t believe.” (18-year-old male) “There’s all these images of what God might be like, but there are no photographs. And how did Mary ever get with God, and how did God’s son come to Earth?” (14-year-old female) “The church is into making a lot of money, one of the biggest businesses in the world.” (22-year-old male) “Can’t believe that there would be a God who would allow tragedies.” (30-year-old female)
Values, Purpose in Life, and Social Concern: Are Seculars Different?

In an age characterized by religious differentiation and choice, it is worth inquiring into the ways seculars might differ from those who are more religious, particularly with respect to values, ways of achieving peace and happiness, and the purpose and meaning of life. SGY respondents were questioned about these areas. “Values” surveyed included the importance to respondents of things like having an “exciting life,” money, ways of achieving peace and happiness included listening to music, being in nature, taking drugs, etc; questions about the meaning and purpose of life included the extent to which one feels life has meaning, and feeling like one belongs. The following analysis considers the responses of young Australians (those aged 13-29). The data indicate that there are differences between the very religious and the secular. When it comes to the ways in which people obtain a sense of peace and happiness, young seculars (aged 13-29) are just as likely as the committed Christians (those who attend services at least once a month, definitely believe in God and Jesus, and pray at least once a month) to rate work or music as being important or very important to them. Seculars are more likely than committed Christians to rate “being in nature” as important or very important to them. Seculars give a much lower rating to meditation as a source of peace and happiness. Unlike committed Christians, who largely eschew recreational drugs or drinking, a minority of seculars rate drinking or taking drugs as being


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moderately important for a sense of peace and happiness. Young seculars and committed Christians are fairly similar when it comes to questions about life’s meaning and purpose, with the most notable differences being that seculars are less certain that their lives fit into “some sort of great scheme of things,” and much more likely to agree with the statement that it is important to enjoy “life here and now.” Clearly, enjoying life here and now will be important if one believes that this is “all there is.” When it comes to values, having an exciting life is more important to young seculars than the committed Christians, while values such as having friends, caring for the environment, and social justice are rated highly by all. The most notable area of difference is the value placed on the importance of leading a spiritual life; young seculars do not rate this as important whereas the young committed Christians do—an entirely expected outcome given the seculars’ this-worldly orientation. Overall, secular and religious young people appear different in ways consistent with being religious or not religious: on valuing a “spiritual life,” feeling part of the scheme of things, and rejecting drugs and alcohol.22

This chapter has presented a profile of Australians whose worldview and set of beliefs can be characterized as abidingly secular. The data suggest that this is about 14 percent of the 13-59-year-old population. Rather surprisingly, the most secular Australians are not more or less likely to be younger or older. About half are former believers in God. Although scholarly interest in secularity is often concerned with its growth, it is equally interesting to ponder the question of how seculars and the religious will coexist in the future. While the percentage of Australians identifying with a Christian denomination is decreasing, the Christian groups who are growing are typically vigorous in their proselytizing and fundamental in their theology. These groups have also shown a proclivity to try to influence public morals and values, as evidenced by recent political debates. Whether the increasing efforts of the religious to influence public life provokes more impassioned responses from seculars remains to be seen.

1. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states: “The Commonwealth of Australia shall not make any law establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious tests shall be required as a qualification for any public office or public trust under the commonwealth.”

7. “PeoPle Were Not made to Be iN God’S imaGe”
2. 3. Every Australian census has had a question about religious affiliation.


The Spirit of Generation Y (SGY) is a national study of spirituality among Australian young people in their teens and twenties conducted between 2003-2006. The research consisted of a survey of a nationally representative sample of “Generation Y” (born 1976-1990), with comparison groups from “Generation X” (born 1961-75) and the “Baby-Boomer” generation (born 1946-60), supplemented by extended, face-to-face interviews. The sample for the national survey was a national probability sample (N=1619), stratified by age and location (state, and metropolitan/ non-metropolitan). The age-range principally targeted was those born 1976-1990. A “control sample” of persons born from 1945 to 1975 was included for comparison purposes. Unless otherwise noted, the data referred to in this paper are weighted, restoring the oversampled age groups (13-24) to their population proportions. The (weighted) sample is designed to be representative of the national population in age, gender, state of residence, and residence in capital city/rest of state. For a full description of the results see Mason, Michael, Andrew Singleton and Ruth Webber, The Spirit of Generation Y, (John Garratt Publishing, Melbourne, forthcoming). A technical report on the survey and survey questionnaire are available at: The SGY research team gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the following project sponsors: the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Board of Management for Pastoral Projects, the Catholic Education Commission of Queensland, the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria, the Catholic Education Commission of Tasmania, the Catholic Education Commission of Canberra-Goulburn, the Catholic Education Office of Sydney, the Catholic Education Office of Parramatta, the Broken Bay Diocesan Catholic Schools Office, Catholic Education South Australia, the Catholic Education Office of Lismore, the Salesians of St John Bosco, the Council for Christian Education in Schools, Lutheran Schools Australia, the Lutheran Church National Office, The Salvation Army (Southern Territory), the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Australia), the Victorian Council for Christian Education, the Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly and the YMCA.


Pasquale, Frank, “The ‘Nonreligious’ in the American Northwest,” in Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, eds., Secularism and Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives, ISSSC, Hartford, CT, 2007. Bouma Gary D., “Globalization and recent changes in the demography of Australian religious groups,” People and Place, vol. 10, no. 4, p. 17. see Bouma 2002; Bouma Gary D., “Globalization, social capital and the challenge to harmony of recent changes in Australia’s religious and spiritual demography: 1946-2001,” The Australian Religious Studies Review, vol. 16, pp. 55-68. Chart position is determined by the number of units shipped to accredited record stores, not by sales volume. Hillsong has an accredited store. Bouma, Gary D. and Andrew Singleton, “A comparative study of the successful management of religious diversity: Melbourne and Hong Kong,” International Sociology vol. 19, no. 1, pp 5-24. Bouma Gary D. 1992, Religion: Meaning, Transcendence and Community in Australia, (Melbourne: Longman, 1992), p.88.

5. 6.

7. 8.



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10. Dennis Trewin, 2003 Year Book Australia, Number 85, Canberra, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003. 11. Ibid. 12. Bouma Gary D. “Globalization and recent changes in the demography of Australian religious groups,” People and Place, vol. 10, no. 4, p.19. 13. Bouma, 2003, p. 63 14. Bouma, 2003, p. 59 15. The age range of the SGY survey respondents. See n. 3 16. Roof, Wade Clark, Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999); Lyon, David, Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times, (Cambridge: Polity, 2000). For discussion of this phenomenon in the US and UK, see Carrette, Jeremy and Richard King, Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, London: Routledge, 2005); Heelas, Paul, Linda Woodhead, Benjamin Seel, and Bronislaw Szerszynski, The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005); Partridge, Christopher, The Re-enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occucultre, London: T & T Clark, 2004); Roof, 1999; Wuthnow, Robert, After Heaven: Spirituality in America since the 1950s, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). 17. For a good discussion of appropriate terms, see Pasquale, 2006. 18. For a full description of the range of “religious” and “spiritual” types, see Mason, Singleton, and Webber, forthcoming. 19. Bellamy, John, Alan Black, Keith Castle, Philip Hughes and Peter Kaldor, Why people don’t go to church, (Adelaide: Openbook, 2002), p. 6. 20. e.g. Bellamy, et al. 2002. 21. Bouma, 2002; 2003. 22. cf. Smith, Christian with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

This chapter has been developed within the context of the team research project: “The Spirit of Generation Y: The Spirituality of Australian Youth and Young People aged 1329,” conducted jointly by ACU National, Monash University, and the Christian Research Association. Members of the research team are: Michael Mason (ACU National), Ruth Webber (ACU National), Andrew Singleton (Monash), Philip Hughes (Christian Research Association). Very special thanks are due to my project colleagues for the countless hours spent in discussion and their contribution to my understanding and analysis of secular Australians. Thanks also to Ceridwen Spark for comments on an earlier draft.

8. Secularity in Great Britain
David Voas and Abby Day


here 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. The links between church and state have very little impact on contemporary life, however. In some cases they seem to achieve the worst of both worlds, creating an impression that offends one side without benefiting the other. The law on blasphemy, for example, seems to Muslims to show that the English deck is stacked in Christianity’s favor, and yet the law is effectively a dead letter; it is almost inconceivable that a case could even be brought today, much less successfully prosecuted. Debates on the issue of establishment are often curious affairs, with some bishops wanting to “cut the connection”1 and some Muslims seeing the Church as a bulwark against secularism. In these circumstances the special privileges and duties of the national churches have no necessary bearing on Britain’s character as religious or secular. The term “secular” might for many people be associated with the mission of the National Secular Society, a lobby group for church-state separation, which is overtly atheistic rather than merely opposed to giving religion a public role. (For example, the society maintains that “supernaturalism is based upon ignorance


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and assails it as the historic enemy of progress.”2) In common usage, though, a contrast is usually apparent between “secular” and “secularism.” “Secular” is the opposite of “religious,” and simply indicates an absence of religious motivation or content (e.g. secular ceremonies, morality, art, etc.). “Secularism” is an ideology that opposes religious privilege and frequently religion itself. Because the British are typically non-religious rather than antireligious, many people are secular but far fewer are secularists. Unlike Americans, Britons are accustomed to the idea of state-supported religious education, religious broadcasting on network television, bishops in the legislature, and so on. But unlike many continental Europeans, Britons do not tend to feel that they need protection from religious institutions. Indeed, the implicit assumption seems to be that a modest dose of religion is good for people—or at least other people. The notion that God’s function is to make children well-behaved, strangers helpful and shopkeepers honest means that outright secularism is less popular in Britain than one might suppose. But as individuals themselves, having little desire for divine supervision, are mostly secular, the benign acceptance of public religion does little apart from frustrate secularists and religious leaders impartially.

Social Scientific Approaches
It has become conventional to focus on three aspects of religious involvement: belonging, belief, and behavior. There are three distinct though overlapping ways of being secular: not belonging (not affiliating), not believing, and not practicing. None of these concepts is unambiguous. If the rather strict view is taken that religious people must accept specific articles of faith and know basic church doctrine, then only a fraction of the population qualify. But if accepting the existence of a higher power or an ultimate moral order counts as religious belief, the proportion is much more substantial. Similarly with religious practice, it makes a great deal of difference whether the focus is on regular attendance at services or if more occasional forms of practice with a strong social dimension (e.g., church weddings and baptisms or participation at Christmas, harvest festivals and the like) can be considered. Private prayer may provide more or less evidence of a religious disposition, depending on its form, content, and motivation. Although affiliation (belonging) is simply what Americans label “religious preference” rather than a measure of commitment, the growth in Britain in the number of those who say that they have no religion has ironically turned the simple willingness to accept a denominational label into an indicator of

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religiosity. Religion is still capable of being an aspect of personal identity that does not depend on active participation, official membership, or even agreement with basic doctrine. Precisely because of this subjectivity, though, selfidentification as having or not having a religion is sensitive to the wording and context of the inquiry. Beyond all of these definitional and methodological issues, one question stands out: how much does religion matter to people? Many believe in God, call themselves Anglican, and appear in church on occasion, but does that suffice for them to be usefully regarded as religious rather than secular? If religion makes little difference in their lives and does not seem important to them, or if they describe themselves as not very religious, then there is a case for classifying them as secular. The study of secularity thus raises a double problem: first to try to measure religious (non)adherence, and second to decide what the results might mean. At the end of the day, perhaps, identifying with a religion, believing in the supernatural, or attending religious services should not necessarily disqualify someone from being regarded as basically secular. The argument will be developed more fully later, but a few immediate remarks follow. To someone in a traditional society, coming from such-and-such village may be of the utmost importance, while for people in post-industrial society it may be more or less incidental where they were born or grew up. Likewise with religion: origins may mean a lot or a little. Most Britons are still able to specify their religious background, just as they can name their birthplace, father’s occupation, and secondary school. But whether these things make any difference to how they see themselves or the way they are perceived by others is not at all certain. Long after active religious participation has ceased, people may still want services for special occasions; after even that degree of interest has waned, they may still accept association with their religion of origin. The result is similar to a self-description as working class by the owner of a large business, or claims to Irishness by Americans who have a grandparent from Galway. Such personal identities may be personally meaningful, but the chances of passing them successfully to the next generation are slim. In any event, any characteristic tends to disappear from self-description as it loses its social significance. Being a Muslim currently seems sufficiently salient that very few British Muslims would not describe themselves as such; for relatively few Christians is the same true. With respect to belief, there is a strong inclination among sociologists to include transient supernatural experiences or opinions as “religion,” which is commonly held to include “the paranormal, fortune telling, fate and destiny, life after death, ghosts, spiritual experiences, luck and superstition.”3 Such


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definitions broaden the concept to include formulations known as (inter alia) folk, common, invisible or implicit religion.4 Yet some people who describe themselves as Atheists often report seeing ghosts or similar phenomena.5 They do not link such experiences to anything religious or theistic but, rather, comment that science will one day explain them. Moreover, what people describe as fate, luck or destiny varies widely from pre-destination (“we can’t change fate”) to random events (“bad luck”) or selfdetermination (“I am master of my destiny”). Having a worldview that does not depend on supernatural powers is consistent with believing that rationally inexplicable things happen, when these episodes are viewed as incidental. The mere fact of holding some supernatural beliefs should not prevent someone from being classed as secular. Being secular is to have a non-theistic worldview; to accept the possibility of “something else out there” does not in itself make one religious, especially where such beliefs play no role and are accorded little importance in the person’s life. Finally, while it is unusual to find unreligious people in church, religious practice can occur even among the secular. Many parents in England hope—for reasons that are academic or social rather than religious—to have their children admitted to state-funded schools controlled by the Anglican or Catholic churches, and they attend church in order to pass the religious qualification. Others accompany religious parents or spouses, or (especially at cathedrals) go for the music. Private prayer is frequently practiced even by people who do not identify with a religion, attend services, or believe in a personal God;6 whether and to what extent such people are thereby shown to be “spiritual” rather than “secular” is debatable.

How Many People are Secular in Britain?
Affiliation (Belonging)

It might seem a simple matter to find out what proportion of people claim to have a religion. Unfortunately the answers vary considerably depending on how and in what context one asks the question. At one extreme, for example, the 2001 Census of Population shows 72 percent of people in England and Wales, and 65 percent of those in Scotland, categorized as Christian. On the census form for England and Wales religion follows the questions on country of birth and ethnicity, so that it appears to be a supplementary question on the same topic. The positive phraseology (“What is your religion?”) combined with tick-box options that simply list world religions (e.g., Christian/Muslim/Hindu) invite the respondent to specify a cultural background rather than a current affiliation. Note too that census forms are typically completed by the household head

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on behalf of all individuals at the address, and to the extent that such people tend to be older and more religious than average, the numbers may be higher than they would be on confidential individual questionnaires. The religion question used on the census form in Scotland preceded (rather than followed) those on ethnicity, and also offered answer categories for specific Christian denominations; perhaps as a result, people were nearly twice as likely as in England to give their affiliation as “none.” In contrast to the census, the question posed in the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey occurs in the context of a wide-ranging inquiry into opinion and practice, and is worded in a way that might seem more likely to discourage than to encourage a positive response: “Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?” The respondent must interpret for him or herself what “belonging” might mean, but for most it probably implies some current as opposed to past affiliation. Indeed, the BSA questionnaire goes on to ask what religion (if any) one was brought up in, and the answers are strikingly different. While some 43 percent of people in 2004 said that they belonged to no religion, only 16 percent declared that they had been raised without one—though this figure has been increasing. A bare majority still present themselves as belonging to a Christian denomination. The importance of wording is strikingly apparent when the BSA results and those from Gallup Polls are compared. In the latter the question has a strong positive presumption, similar to that found in the recent census: “What is your religious denomination?” In consequence, the proportion of “nones” is less than half that found in BSA: 18 percent in Gallup vs. 39 percent in BSA. Fully a fifth of people apparently do not regard themselves as belonging to a particular religion, but if pushed to claim one will do so. Even nominal affiliation has different levels: in conjunction with the phenomenon of “believing without believing,” there are multiple ways of “belonging without belonging.” Relatively few people actually practice their supposed religion; there is much more notional than actual belonging.

Opinion polls in Britain show high levels of belief, but in all sorts of things, including reincarnation (a quarter of respondents), horoscopes (also a quarter), clairvoyance (almost half ), ghosts (nearly a third), and so on.7 It is far from clear that these beliefs make any difference to the people claiming them. Research suggests that casual believers, even in astrology, for example, which is distinguished by its practical orientation, rarely do or avoid doing things because of published advice.8 Studies on polling show that people are prepared to express


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opinions about almost anything, whether or not they have any knowledge of or interest in the topic. Such “beliefs” may be uninformed, not deeply held, seldom acted upon, and relatively volatile. Feeling required to hold and even to express opinions is one thing; finding those issues important is another. While 25 percent of respondents may say that they believe in reincarnation, one is not inclined to feel that they thereby express any basic truths about their own identities. The corollary, though, is that it is difficult to be too impressed by the apparent number of conventional believers. The argument here is not that the large subpopulation that acknowledges the God of our fathers—the memorably styled “ordinary God”9—is shallow or insincere. The point is simply that it cannot be concluded from the fact that people tell pollsters they believe in God that they give the matter any thought, find it significant, will feel the same next year, or plan to do anything about it. In any event one can no longer infer from the widespread inclination to believe in a broadly defined God that people are basically Christian. Opinion polls over recent decades suggest (even given the previous caveats about interpreting survey evidence) that the characteristically Christian beliefs— particularly in Jesus as the Son of God—have been in decline, and are now held by a minority.10 Many Britons would like to be known as “spiritual” (the alternatives seem unattractive; who wants to be labelled a “materialist?”) and will therefore acknowledge a belief in something, but that something is less and less likely to be recognizable as religious doctrine. A useful supplementary approach (employed for example by Opinion Research Business in its Soul of Britain survey, or in the Scottish Social Attitudes survey module on religion in 2002) is to ask respondents to rate the personal importance of various activities they might have tried, from prayer to divination. Similar questions can be found on some national surveys; the British Household Panel Survey, for example, periodically asks ‘How much difference would you say religious beliefs make to your life?’ The responses are helpful in distinguishing between real commitment and mild interest or nominal allegiance.
Behavior (Practice)

Comprehensive surveys of church attendance in England and Scotland have been conducted by Christian Research, an organization that produces statistics on organized religion. Although the most recent results11 are still confidential pending publication, it is safe to say that at best 10 percent of the population goes to church with any regularity (e.g. monthly or more often). Even if we assume that half of all Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and other non-Christians (who collectively make up 5.4 percent of the population) are observant, only one

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eighth of people in Britain are religiously active. Other criteria are possible, as mentioned above. Religious ceremonies for rites of passage remain popular, though much less so than previously, and some special services draw large congregations. Christmas attracts two and a half times as many people to Anglican churches as appear on a normal Sunday. It seems very likely, though, that tradition and nostalgia rather than sporadic religious enthusiasm are largely responsible for high turnout at such times It is well known that people tend to exaggerate the frequency of their attendance at religious services when responding to surveys,12 a tendency that varies with age.13 Asking whether the individual attended within the last seven days (the question normally used in American Gallup polls) has produced values even in Britain that are more than twice as high as observed weekly attendance.14 If being a churchgoer is part of one’s personal identity, there may be considerable resistance to answering in a way that places one outside the fold. Clearly subjective feelings of regularity are being translated into unrealistic frequencies; it is not unreasonable, however, to label those who say that they attend monthly or more often as religious, even if in self-description rather than in practice. Fully 18 percent of respondents to the British Social Attitudes survey in 2004 claimed to attend services at least monthly—a figure we know to be half again as large as the true value.

Estimating the Religious/Secular Composition of the Country
The European Social Survey provides good data on the three main areas of religious affiliation, practice and belief, as follows; the actual questions are provided in the Appendix: Belonging (Affiliation) Belief Behavior (Practice) current or past identification self-rated religiosity importance of religion attendance at religious services prayer participation/support

(While these last two questions on how religious the respondent is and how important religion is to him/her do not measure beliefs directly, it seems likely that there is a strong association between these variables and strength of religious belief.) As an initial attempt to produce a typology to describe the religious composition of Great Britain, one could define three categories: the actively


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religious, the privately religious, and the unreligious. For example, someone may be categorized as actively religious if he/she claims to attend services at least monthly and rates him/herself as 6 or higher on a scale from 0 (not at all religious) to 10 (very religious). The “privately religious” attend services rarely or never, but they both rate themselves as more religious than not (6+ on the scale) and also describe religion as more important than unimportant in their lives (6+ on the scale). A rather strict definition of being unreligious would require the respondent to satisfy all of the following: • attends only at major holidays, less often, or never • prays only at major holidays, less often, or never • rates self as 0, 1 or 2 on a scale from 0 (not at all religious) to 10 (very religious) • describes the importance of religion in his/her life as 0, 1 or 2 on a scale from 0 (extremely unimportant) to 10 (extremely important) These three categories still only account for half the population, as seen in Figure 8-1). A key question, therefore, is what characterises the other half of the population. What do they believe, when do they go to church, and how do they describe themselves? Are they somewhat religious or basically secular? In 1998, about a quarter of British respondents answered a question on the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) religion module with either “I don’t believe in God” or “I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out.” Not quite a quarter said ‘I know God really exists and I have no doubts about it’. As the sample was only 800 the results should be treated with caution. Nevertheless, these figures do correspond to the distribution suggested here (a quarter religious, a quarter unreligious). It seems reasonable to suppose that most of the “middle 50 percent” identified here will fall into one or another of the remaining ISSP categories for belief: • I don't believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a Higher Power of some kind • I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others • While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God As for religious practice, few of these people attend church services except for weddings, funerals, and possibly on special occasions such as Christmas. Many (40 percent) never pray, but a quarter do so weekly or even daily.

8. Secularity in Great Britain
Figure 8-1


Religious Composition of Great Britain
(Categories based on ESS data)
Actively religious


Privately religious





Finally, about half identify with a religious group and half do not. Of those who do not, two thirds have a religious background, generally in a mainline Anglican/Protestant church. In terms of general orientation, these respondents are by definition neither particularly religious nor unreligious. Nearly three-quarters place themselves at points 3, 4 or 5 on the 0-10 scale from “not at all religious” to “very religious.” What is more striking, however, is how little religion seems to matter in their lives. Nearly a third rate religion as unimportant (placing it at 0, 1 or 2 on the 010 scale from extremely unimportant to extremely important), with another 30 percent rating it at 3 or 4 and 27 percent giving it a 5 (moderately unimportant). Only 10 percent, in other words, think that religion is personally even somewhat important rather than unimportant. The dominant British attitude towards religion, then, is not one of rejection or hostility. Many of those in the large middle group who are neither religious nor unreligious are willing to identify with a religion, are open to the existence of God or a higher power, may use the church for rites of passage, and might pray at least occasionally. What seems apparent, though, is that religion plays a very minor role (if any) in their lives. Those who fall in the “middle 50 percent” may simply be at intermediate (and possibly confused) stages between religion and irreligion. Perhaps, though, characteristics on separate dimensions distinguish them from the others. A


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possible typology is shown in Figure 8-2; in the absence of good quantitative data the frequency distribution can only be guessed at. The following description of the ‘nominalist’ categories is paraphrased from Day.15 Natal nominalists ascribe their Christianity (it is rarely anything else) to familial heritage alone. Typically they were baptized and attended church when they were young. They are unsure whether God exists, but if he does he does not play a part in their lives. They do not refer to any religion or deity in answer to questions about what they believe in, what is important to them, what guides them morally, what makes them happy or sad, their purpose in life, or what happens after they die. Christian natal nominalists admit that they rarely, if ever, think about their religious identity. They assume religious identity is something one acquires through birth or early upbringing. Ethnic nominalists describe themselves as Christian (or Hindu, Muslim, etc.) to position themselves as different from others. Like natal nominalists, Christian ethnic nominalists are not convinced about God, do not engage in religious practice, and do not give the matter much thought. They differ in describing themselves as Christian as a way of identifying with a people or culture. They see themselves as belonging to a distinct group, which may be national (e.g. English as distinct from Welsh) rather than necessarily racial. In doing so they clearly aim to separate themselves from other groups (in particular Muslims?) that are identified with a different faith. Aspirational nominalists describe themselves as Christian, and perhaps more specifically as part of the established church, because they want to belong to this group. It represents something to which they aspire. The emphasis on membership in a group is shared with ethnic nominalists, but the identity carries for them an additional notion of middle-class respectability and confidence. In their view the label is attached not simply to people like themselves but to people like they want to be. Whereas these three “nominalist” categories have been defined largely by reference to self-identification, the remaining two classes relate more closely to belief. They include people who entertain beliefs about their fate, the afterlife, a higher power, etc., that are quasi-religious but inconsistent with the teachings of particular organized religions. Those in the “popular heterodox” group may combine elements of astrology, reincarnation, divination, magic, folk religion and conventional Christianity. They are not especially reflective about their worldviews, which in consequence may be incoherent. The salience of these beliefs tends to be rather low. By contrast the “Sheilaists” are more conscious of spiritual seeking. “Sheilaism” was the self-applied label used by a respondent (“Sheila Larson,” a

8. Secularity in Great Britain
Figure 8-2


Religious Typology for Great Britain
ConventionAlly religioUs UnConventionAlly religioUs/sPiritUAl nominAl Adherents Actively religious Privately religious Sheilaism Popular heterodoxy Natal nominalists Ethnic nominalists Aspirational nominalists Agnostics Atheists


young nurse) in Habits of the Heart 16: “I believe in God,” Sheila says. “I am not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.” Although the numbers active in what has been termed the ‘holistic milieu’17 are quite small, a more substantial proportion of the population will privately follow a variety of self-spirituality. Exactly where one should draw the line distinguishing the secular from the rest is unclear. Many nominal adherents are failed Agnostics: they used to have doubts, and now they just don’t care. Arguably, most are secular for all practical purposes. If they are included, then at least half the British population could reasonably be regarded as secular.

How Are Secular People Different from Others?
Socio-Demographic and Economic Characteristics

There is enormous variation by age in religious identification. Among people aged 65 and over surveyed for the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey in 2004, only 22 percent say that they regard themselves as belonging to no religion, while 63 percent of young adults (18-24) so describe themselves. These differences might be influenced by life stage (if older people are more religious than young ones), but the evidence suggests that in the main they are generational (produced by a steady decline in religiosity over time18). Although the ethno-religious minority population is growing more rapidly than the rest, their numbers are too small to prevent the arrival of a clear secular majority in the next decade or so.


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Figure 8-3 shows the percentage of adult men and women classified as having no religion on the 2001 census of England and Wales. Although these figures may underestimate the actual size of the secular population, they do give a good indication of the generational trend. As is evident, gender is also associated with secularity. Exactly half of white men say that they have no religion (in the BSA 2004), versus 41 percent of white women. To put it another way, men make up 58 percent of the secular category as defined using European Social Survey data, but only 36 percent of the religious groups. Only 17 percent of religious people are not married, widowed, separated or divorced; by contrast, nearly 40 percent of the secular are never-married. Most but not all of this effect is explained by age; among those born before 1970, 17 percent of the secular and only 8 percent of the religious are never-married. Likewise, only 15 percent of the religious born before 1970 say that they have ever lived with a partner without being married, while 38 percent of the secular have done so. Both the religious and the secular are better educated, on average, than those who are neither. (About 30 percent have been in higher education, as against less than 20 percent for the others.) High levels of education often produce skepticism about religion and the self-confidence to be overtly Agnostic or Atheist, but higher education is also associated with middle-class values, civic participation, suburban living and other characteristics conducive to churchgoing. The census shows a clear distinction between the “Nones” and “Christians” (among people aged 25-49, for example, 32 percent and 23 percent respectively have high qualifications), but the latter group includes nominal as well as religious Christians. Conversely, 23 percent of religiously active BSA respondents have degrees, as against only 18 percent for religiously unaffiliated non-attenders, but this “secular” group (which includes 41 percent of the population) is much more loosely defined than with the ESS or census criteria. Actively religious respondents to the BSA are more likely to be in intermediate, managerial or professional occupations than unaffiliated non-attenders (55 vs. 42 percent). Using 2001 census data for England and Wales, however, there is a tendency for those responding “none” to the question “what is your religion?” to be in the higher occupational categories. Among men (omitting those not classified) 51 percent of the Nones were in intermediate, managerial or professional occupations, as compared with 44 percent of (nominal) Christians. These findings are consistent with the suggestion that many of those describing themselves as Christian on the census were working class whites who viewed the term as an ethno-national rather than a religious label.19 As with education, it


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No Religion by Age and Sex (England and Wales, 2001 Census)
30 25 No Religion (%) 20 15 10 5 0
45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85

Figure 8-3



Men Men Women




0 25 30 35 40








55 Age







is apparent that the better-off are over-represented among both the genuinely religious and the overtly secular.
Social and Political Attitudes

Using the categories already defined with European Social Survey data it is possible to examine the social and political views of the secular and religious subpopulations. The secular are somewhat more likely to appear on the left of a left-right scale (30 percent left vs. 26 percent right), with the opposite true of religious people (25 percent left vs. 31 percent right). The secular are somewhat more likely to say that they never discuss politics, however (25 percent vs. 18 percent among the religious). A similar picture comes from looking at the derived left-right scale variable in the BSA 2004; here the mean value (on a scale from 1 to 5) is 2.7 for those who have no religion and rarely or never attend services, as opposed to 2.9 for people who identify with a denomination and are regular attenders. Again, only 26 percent of the secular (vs. 37 percent of the religious) say that they have “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of interest in politics. These results hold up even when controlling for age. On a libertarian-authoritarian scale derived for the BSA, religiously active respondents are somewhat more authoritarian than unaffiliated non-attenders, but the difference largely disappears once one controls for age. Both of these groups are more libertarian than the in-between category, which probably relates to the educational and class distributions mentioned above.


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Unsurprisingly nearly two thirds of religious people describe the view that “it is important to follow traditions and customs” as “like me” or even “very much like me;” not even a quarter of the secular do the same. More unexpectedly, hedonistic values are not claimed solely by the secular: 46 percent identify with the statement that “it is important to seek fun and the things that give pleasure,” but 36 percent of the religious do so as well. The gap is modest, but perhaps the secular have some catching up to do; in answer to the question “how happy are you?,” 39 percent of religious people but only 29 percent of the secular placed themselves at 9 or 10 on a scale from 0 to 10. (A similar finding has been reported from the U.S. General Social Survey.)20 The association is partly explained by a remarkably strong age effect, however: 45 percent of people born before the end of the Second World War say that they are extremely happy (9 or 10 on the scale), against only 28 percent of those born since 1945.

So, are secular and religious people in Great Britain different? Yes and no. The age contrasts are significant, with younger, more secular generations gradually replacing the older and more religious. At the same time, people who are consciously and consistently religious or unreligious tend to be better educated and in higher occupational categories than those in the muddled middle. Sociologists of religion have tended to concentrate on the core religious constituency, and this volume is a welcome opportunity to examine the opposite pole. Ultimately, the challenge lies in understanding the group in between. When it comes to religion, the British have been “puzzled people” for decades.21 Their secularity, like their religiosity, is casual and unconcerned. Britain may illustrate how the secular triumphs: by default.

1. 2. 3. 4. Buchanan, Colin, Cut the Connection: Disestablishment and the Church of England (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1994). See Davie, Grace, Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994) 83. Bailey, Edward, ‘Implicit religion: A bibliographical introduction’, Social Compass, 37(4): 499-509; Davie, Grace, Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Luckmann, Thomas, The Invisible Religion (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1967).

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5. 6.


Day, Abby. (2006) Believing in Belonging in Contemporary Britain: A case study from Yorkshire, unpublished PhD thesis, Lancaster University. Bänziger, Sarah. ‘Praying in Dutch society: The socialization versus individualism hypotheses’, paper presented at the annual conference of the BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group, Manchester, 4 April 2006. Gill, Robin, C. Kirk Hadaway, and Penny Long Marler. ‘Is religious belief declining in Britain?’ Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37(3): 507-16. Spencer, Wayne. ‘Are the stars coming out? Secularization and the Future of Astrology in the West,’ Predicting Religion: Christian, Secular and Alternative Futures. ed. Grace Davie, Paul Heelas, and Linda Woodhead, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003). Davie.

7. 8.


10. Gill et al.; see also The Tablet, 18 December 1999: 1729 11. Brierley, Peter, Pulling Out of the Nose Dive: A Contemporary Picture of Churchgoing, (London: Christian Research, 2006). 12. C. Kirk Hadaway, Penny Long Marler, and Mark Chaves, ‘What the polls don’t show: A closer look at US church attendance’, American Sociological Review, 58: 741-52. 13. C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, ‘How many Americans attend worship each week? An alternative approach to measurement’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 44 (3): 307-322. 14. C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, ‘Did you really go to church this week?’, The Christian Century, 6 May 1998, pp. 472-5. 15. Day. 16. Bellah, Robert, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, Steven M. Tipton. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). 17. Heelas, Paul, Linda Woodhead, Benjamin Seel, Bronislaw Szerszynski, and Karin Tusting. The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005). 18. see David Voas and Alasdair Crockett, ‘Religion in Britain: Neither believing nor belonging’, Sociology 39(1): 11-28; Alasdair Crockett and David Voas, ‘Generations of decline: Religious change in twentieth-century Britain’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 45(4). 19. David Voas and Steve Bruce, ‘The 2001 census and Christian identification in Britain’, Journal of Contemporary Religion 19(1): 23-8; Day. 20. see David G. Hope, ‘The funds, friends, and faith of happy people’, American Psychologist, 55(1): 56-67. 21. Mass Observation, Puzzled People: A Study in Popular Attitudes to Religion, Ethics, Progress & Politics in a London Borough (London: Gollancz, 1948).


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AppEndix: EuropEAn sociAl survEy 2002 QuEstions on rEligion
• Do you consider yourself as belonging to any particular religion or denomination? [Footnote: Identification is meant, not official membership.] Yes/No (if yes, which; if no…) • Have you ever considered yourself as belonging to any particular religion or denomination? Yes/No (if yes, which) • Regardless of whether you belong to a particular religion, how religious would you say you are? (0 = Not at all religious . . . 10 = Very religious) • Apart from special occasions such as weddings and funerals, about how often do you attend religious services nowadays? 1. Every day 2. More than once a week 3. Once a week 4. At least once a month 5. Only on special holy days 6. Less often 7. Never • Apart from when you are at religious services, how often, if at all, do you pray? 1. Every day 2. More than once a week 3. Once a week 4. At least once a month 5. Only on special holy days 6. Less often 7. Never • Looking at this card, how important is each of these things in your life. (0 = Extremely unimportant . . . 10 = Extremely important) 1. religion? [Other items are family, friends, leisure time, politics, work, voluntary organizations] • For each of the voluntary organizations I will now mention, please use this card to tell me whether any of these things apply to you now or in the last 12 months, and, if so, which. —a religious or church organization? • None • Member • Participated • Donated money • Voluntary work [If the response is other than ‘none’, ask…] • Do you have personal friends within this organization? Yes/No [Other organizations—in a list of 12—include sports clubs, trade unions, etc.]

Varieties of Secularism

9. Laïcité and Secular Attitudes in France
Nathalie Caron


he 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.1 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.2 While retaining their original sense connecting them to the broad conception of an autonomous society independent of religion, the words secular, secularist, and secularism have taken up new meanings. As an increasing number of Americans are “[working] themselves out of a religious frame of mind,” sociologists have used the terms to refer to individual postures on matters of religious choice, while among religious conservatives they have become synonymous with irreligious and irreligion, godless and godlessness, Atheist and atheism.3 A second difficulty in defining who is secular in France is that although the adjective secular can easily be translated into French by séculier (from the Latin saeculum i.e. “century,” and then “world,” as in English) the translation that spontaneously, although somewhat grudgingly, comes to a French mind is laïque, which associates the initial question “who’s secular?” with issues of laïcité. Institutionalized and immortalized in 1905 by the law on the separation of church and state, laïcité is an essential component of French identity and exceptionalism, to which there is no satisfactory linguistic equivalent in the American English language, and which is also complex and polysemic.4 Referring to laïcité, however, is unavoidable when discussing who is secular in France since, whether as a cause or a consequence, laïcité creates the conditions


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of French secularity today. In this short chapter I transpose the term secular into the French context. Hence I do not confine the definition of the term secular to that of laïque, but also extend it to the sociological meaning it has acquired in English, that of “non-religious.”

The French Are All Secular
As French political leaders like to emphasize, the French Republic rests on a secular ideal, called laïcité. It is the “grammar which enables the different religions to talk to each other,” the “pillar” of the French model of integration, the “cornerstone of the republican pact.”5 French laïcité is not a choice or a particular spiritual option, but a national founding principle specified by law and inscribed in the incipit of the Constitution, which separates not only church and state, but also what is religious from what is not. Article 1 of the 1958 Constitution states: “France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.”6 As a result, a French citizen is necessarily secular and is expected to appreciate the notion of laïcité as a value inherent in republicanism, which it enhances by ensuring the equal treatment of all religions and by protecting freedom of religion and of conscience. In the United States, the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the American Constitution place freedom of religion beyond the reach of legislation by a negative phrasing, but they commit only Congress (“Congress shall make no laws”).7 In France, by contrast, the principle of laïcité is positively defined and associated with the notions of indivisibility, democracy, equality, and liberty of conscience. As such it binds the whole nation by contractual obligation. The word laïcité, coined in the 1870s, comes from the Greek laos, which designates the unity of a population: “The laic is a man of the people, whom no prerogative distinguishes or elevates above the others…. He can be the faithful member of a particular religious group, but also someone with an atheistic worldview, the founding conviction of which is distinct from that which inspires religion.”8 Laïcité refers to an institutional system informed by a secular worldview that determines a civic and moral ideal, unifies the community, and legitimates sovereignty. Hence it shapes a social frame in which the boundary between religion and non-religion is much clearer than in the United States where civil religion permeates public life.9 It is both an organizational frame establishing the neutrality of the state in religious matters, and an attitude about the proper

9. Laïcité and Secular attitudeS in France


relationship between the political and religious spheres and, more broadly, religion and society. Scholars have distinguished between laïcisation and secularization and shown that laïcisation aimed to reduce the social significance of religion as an institution by engaging political power, whereas secularization is the outcome of social evolutions to which political power adapted or in which it participated.10 The historian Jean Bauberot has argued that laïcité was the result of a conflict in which the state had to destabilize religious institutions—mainly Catholic —to assert its authority and ensure democratic liberties, whereas secularization should be viewed as a cultural transformation that has taken place mostly in countries with a Protestant culture.11 Hence “French laïcité cannot be properly understood without taking into account the struggle against clericalism, namely against the power of the Church over society and individuals, particularly in the field of education,” and that struggle originates the French specificity.12 Laïcité is a result of a historical process of laïcisation that started during the Revolution, when the old monarchical regime collapsed and with it the religious origin of its sovereignty. 13 In August 1789 the authors of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen declared “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation” (Article 3) and asserted liberty of conscience (Article 10). The domination of the Catholic Church, which legitimized the Old Regime, was subsequently challenged as the Church was subordinated to the state: clerical property was nationalized and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy reorganized the hierarchical structure of the Church. After the fall of Robespierre, who had imposed a deistic religion called “the Cult of the Supreme Being” the principle of church and state separation was reestablished (1795) without, however, being fully implemented.14 Napoleon’s Concordat in 1801 recognized the Catholic Church as the majority religion while preserving the religious liberty acquired by the Revolution.15 In the 19th century, a fierce confrontation opposed the “two Frances,” a Catholic France and a republican France. Put differently, two different visions waged “a war of religion:” one considered France the “eldest daughter of the Church” (“la fille aînée de l’Église”) and the other saw France as the daughter of the Revolution.16 In the second half of the century free thinking and anticlericalism based on reason and the progress of science radicalized the conflict. So did the debate on secular schooling (l’école laïque) in the 1880s when primary education became free of charge, mandatory and secular. Religion was no longer taught in schools, but one school-free week day was made available for religious education.


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The law on the separation of church and state, which was eventually passed in 1905, abolished the Concordat. It was supported by the Jewish and Protestant minorities, which were seeking to resist the hegemony of the Catholic Church. Its principles established that “the Republic assures freedom of conscience.17 It guarantees the free exercise of worship” (Article 1) and says that “The Republic neither recognizes, nor salaries, nor subsidizes any religion” (Article 2). The law was not applied to Alsace-Lorraine, which was then part of the German empire. Nor was it extended to French Guyana, a colony. To this day the law does not apply in those regions. As the relationship between church, state, and society became less strained, compromises were reached under the acceptance of a “secular pact” (pacte laïque).18 Attitudes towards religion became more benevolent and less hostile— “more open.”19 Today, laïcité is widely accepted. Contrary to what is often said, the 1905 law had not confined religion to the private sphere, but it had privatized the institution of religion by giving religious groups the status of non-profit associations. Laïcité does not exclude religious expression from the public sphere, but respects all beliefs by establishing a distinction between an individual’s private life and his public dimension as citizen, based on the idea that “it is as a private individual that, in his personal life, an individual adopts spiritual or religious convictions, or does not, which he can of course share with others.”20 The process of laïcisation and the subsequent 1905 law, however, have fashioned a reserved behavior vis-a-vis religion and rendered the public expression of religious beliefs sparse—French people do not talk about religion—and even out of place, in the case for example of a president or any political figure bound by the neutrality of the state. Besides, while ensuring the “social recognition of religion,” laïcité has fostered a somewhat paradoxical lack of acknowledgement and knowledge of religions—the French state and by extension French people tend to ignore religion.21 And yet France is a secular state with a Catholic culture, as the persistence of the religious elements in French public life demonstrates. One striking example is the number of public holidays in the French calendar —Easter Monday, Ascension Thursday, Pentecost Monday, Assumption Day, All Saints’ Day, Christmas—the Christian orientation of which comes under regular criticism by secularists or members of religious minorities.22

Some Are More Secular Than Others
Despite, or rather because of, the compromises reached under the secular pact, laïcité became a hot topic of debate again when the left and then the right sought to reform the status of private, mostly Catholic, schools. In 1984, the

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left sought to unify the private and state systems of education and in 1994 the right favored resorting to public funding for the construction of private religious schools. The scope of the resistance, which in both cases forced the governments to abandon their proposals—together with the more recent debate on the Muslim “veil” (headscarf ) in schools show that “school remains the place where the historical trace of the war between the two Frances, persists.”23 The understanding of secularity in France indeed cannot be dissociated from a full appreciation of the crucial role of public (state) schools, secular places par excellence. The link between schools and laïcité was conceived in reference to the Enlightenment motto “Sapere aude! ” and Condorcet’s idea that “instruction,” as distinct from parental education, was political and schools the vehicle for emancipation, universal progress, liberty, and equality.24 The champion of secular schools is the FCPE, the largest parents’ union, which emphasizes that secular schools are where “children of all origins learn how to live and work together whatever their religious and philosophical convictions.” Freedom of conscience and freedom of thought coexist to combine respect for religious pluralism with the construction of critical minds.25 As in other secular countries, laïcité is now confronted with issues of pluralism. The main change France is faced with is the growing presence of Islam, which is now France’s second religion and which, as Daniele HervieuLeger remarks, although hardly a new phenomenom “questions and disturbs the normal way [European] society deals with religion in the public space.”26 Other changes must also be taken into account. These testify to the vitality of religion within the secular framework, namely the arrival of North African Jews in the 1960s who had a much more visible religious culture than the already existing Jewish population, the increasing visibility of evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism, the attraction of Buddhism, as well as the multiplication of “new religious movements” and the related fear of “cults.”27 In 2003, the law banning conspicuous religious symbols in public schools raised new passions which, as it was debated, divided the proponents of laïcité. Two years later, the centenary of the law on church-state separation provided the opportunity for an in-depth reflection on the meaning of France’s founding principle as well as a debate over the relevance of a revision of the 1905 law.28 Three major secular attitudes can be broadly defined in relation to laïcité. Some, advocating an “open laïcité,” are concerned with the free exercise of religion, but are also tempered by a revision of the 1905 law. Those favoring a “laïcité in movement” are sensitive to social and religious change, but remain faithful to the history of the secular ideal. Finally, the more militant laics defend the French republican model by denouncing the dangers of


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“communitarianism” and calling for the strengthening of the 1905 law.29 Seen from a certain viewpoint, the most “secular” today belong to the third category (laïcité de combat ). That category fosters a movement that has recently gained some momentum in a context of putting emphasis on the need for a new understanding of Enlightenment thought.30 The most vocal proponents are members of the FCPE, scholars or polemicists, all unbending defenders of the 1905 law. Thus, Henri Pena-Ruiz defines laïcité in Kantian terms within a transcendal framework: “the misreading of this status is the blind spot of the conceptions that seek to renegotiate it ceaselessly, as the religious landscape and the power struggles underlying it fluctuate.”31 Heirs of 19th-century rationalist freethinkers and anticlericals, members of this group often view religion with suspicion, and in some extreme cases with a downright hostility, and tend to confine religion to the private sphere. French hardline secularists defend freedom of thought above all and are ardent supporters of the law on religious symbols in schools, which they see as an emancipating factor for women.32 Today, the feminist journalist Caroline Fourest, editor of ProChoix, is probably one the most representative figures of that trend, which wages a war on totalitarian ideologies. It focuses on a fight against Islamic, Christian, and Jewish fundamentalisms, defined as manifestations of political projects for changing societies that draw on a rigorous moralistic vision of religion.33

Please Don’t Call Me a Secular Catholic
In an article on secular and fundamentalist attitudes in France and other Western countries, based on two surveys of the International Social Survey Programme (1991 and 1998), the sociologist Yves Lambert concluded that, among countries in which secular attitudes are more frequent than fundamentalist ones, France is the most secular.34 He found that 40 percent of the French have secular attitudes, characterized by an opposition to the direct influence of religion on society, with few socio-demographic and economic variations. Hence in the 1998 survey, 63 percent of the French disagreed with the idea that politicians who do not believe in God are not suitable for public office and 55 percent believed that religious authorities should not try to influence governmental decisions. In an attempt to explain the causes of the high degree of secularism in France, Lambert examines the relationship between religious attitudes and attitudes to laïcité in schools. He notes that while it is impossible “to say if secular attitudes in France are the cause or the consequence of laïcité,” laïcité in schools is supported by a large majority of the French population, Catholic or not, secular or not.35 Attitudes to laïcité, however, interact with political orientations,

9. Laïcité and Secular attitudeS in France


55 percent of those favoring a strengthening of laïcité in schools are found on the left. Interestingly though, attitudes to laïcité cut across attitudes to religion. Among those supporting a strengthening of laïcité Lambert finds a substantial number of Catholics and believers. Conversely non-religious people and non believers can express non-secular ideas when they support a more flexible laïcité.36 Secular attitudes can also be defined in relation to religiosity and to the sense of religious belonging. As in the United States and other industrialized countries, the “no religion” category in France (sans religion), the equivalent of the American Nones, has been growing since the 1980s and gained even more speed in the 1990s. At the same time, while remaining by far the dominant religion, French Catholicism has declined.37 In 1999, 53 percent of the population affiliated with Catholicism, as against 71 percent in 1981.38 Figures vary, but it is estimated that today a little less than one-third of French people belongs to the no religion category, an ill-defined constituency composed of “non-believers,” people who do not belong to any religion, people who do not identify as religious, anticlerical people, Agnostics, Atheists, and those who are indifferent to religion. A survey published by the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies establishes that in 2004, 23.9 percent of women and 30.6 percent of men identified as “no religious practice, no feeling of belonging” (ni pratique ni sentiment d’appartenance ), with the highest rate found among people aged between 15 and 24 (40 percent of women, 45 percent of men).39 Men with intermediary professions, employees and workers, managers, executives, and people with intellectual careers have the highest rates, while the lowest rates are observed among farmers and retired people.40 As in other industrialized countries, the typical secularist is male, young, and with some education. Despite the growth—less than 10 percent identified as not religious before the 1980s—few studies are devoted to that category whereas secularization had generated countless surveys, articles and books.41 Sylvette Denefle’s Sociologie de la sécularisation, published in 1997, is still the only, albeit not the definitive, book on the topic, in which the author suggests that the category be defined in positive terms.42 As noted above, the no religion category is very diverse, a diversity that Denefle’s study does not reflect. Lambert qualifies her study by identifying three subgroups. Less than a third are convinced Atheists, anticlericals and rationalists (the group Denefle’s sample of 78 people best represent). The other two thirds are comprised of people “indifferent” to religion and people “interested” in spirituality.43


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Lambert observes that both institutional religion and religiosity are weakening and that more people are now declaring themselves convinced Atheists—in 1999, 14 percent of the whole population did against 10 percent in 1990.44 And yet, he observes that after-death beliefs (life after death, hell, paradise, reincarnation), “parallel beliefs” (astrology, telepathy, charms), and attention to ceremonies (attached to birth, marriage, death) are growing, especially among the youth and to a lesser degree baby boomers, thus revealing “ a general religiosity.”45 Hence, from 1981 to 1999, while the belief in a life after death weakened among Catholics it grew among non-religious people, whether Atheists or not.46 Even more paradoxically, the belief in God—usually conceived as some vital force—is growing among young people who declare themselves convinced Atheists.47 As Lambert points out, the non religious are not what they used to be. In the context of deinstitutionalization, people are free to choose their own religions, or rather their own way of believing.48 French seculars participate in the transformation of spiritual belief described by sociologists. This spiritual transformation occurs in opposition to Catholicism, with which the words religion and religious are usually associated.

This chapter defines two distinct meanings of the word secular in the French context. One is related to issues of laïcité and individual attitudes towards the relationship between religion and society. Following the work of other authors, it has distinguished three ways of looking at laïcité today, one being “open” to change and hence revision of the law on church and state separation, the other two varying in degree in their defense of strict separation. The second meaning of “secular” refers to non-religious worldviews and private attitudes to religious and spiritual feelings. The French are obsessed by laïcité, but they know little about it and also about the role of what it is supposed to protect, namely religions.49 They have reservations about religion in the world, but tend to ignore the evolution of private religiosity in France.50 Looking at this cherished French idea through American glasses, at a time when it is challenged by the vitality of religion and confronted with pluralism, provides useful insights into the current transformation of French society. Conversely, probing into the uses, meanings, and interpretations of the term “secular” from a foreign perspective should help to assess the significance of the controversial use of the term in the U.S.

9. Laïcité and Secular attitudeS in France EndnotEs
1. 2. “Secularism: A Symposium,” Religion in the News, vol. 8, n°3, Winter 2006.


See for example “Churchgoing Closely Tied to Voting Patterns,” USA Today, June 2, 2004; Samuel Huntington, Who are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity (Simon and Schuster, 2004), p. 82-83. In his study of baby-boomers’ religiosity, Wade Clark Roof identifies a category he labels “Secularists,” in “Toward an Integration of Religion and Spirituality,” Michele Dillon, ed. Handbook of the Sociology of Religion (Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 147. This category is growing in the US, see Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, Religion in a Free Market: Religious and Non-Religious Americans— Who, What, Why and Where (PMP, 2006). On the use of the term by religious conservatives David Klinghoffer, “That Other Church: Let’s Face it: Secularism is a Religion. Let’s Treat it as Such,” Christianity Today, Dec. 21, 2004. Françoise Champion, “La laïcité n’est plus ce qu’elle était,” Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 116 (2001), [On line], URL: html. Page viewed June 9, 2006. This critical note on four recent books on laïcité underlines the polymorphous quality of laïcité. In conclusion, the author calls for a reflexion on “what is laïcité today?”. Senate, Annex to the Minutes of the February, 25, 2004 session; Jacques Chirac, December 12, 2004; Commission de réflexion sur l’application du principe de laïcité dans la République, Rapport au président de la République, December 11, 2003. The Stasi commission, named after its head, Bernard Stasi, was in charge of the report on religious symbols in public schools which inspired the 2004 law. “Republican pact” has become a buzz phrase in French political rhetoric. It was popularized by General De Gaulle in the mid-1940s to refer to what united the French when the Fourth Republic was created following WW2. “La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale. […],” Constitution of 4 October 1958, Assemblée Nationale. French laïcité was already inscribed in the 1946 Constitution. Phillip E. Hammond, David W. Machacek, and Eric Michael Mazur, Religion on Trial: How Supreme Court Trends Threaten Freedom of Conscience in America (Walnut Creek, AltaMira, 2004), p. 11. Henri Pena-Ruiz, Qu’est-ce que la laïcité ? (Paris, Gallimard, 2003), p. 21. Jean-Paul Willaime, “Laïcité et religion,” Grave Davie et Daniele Hervieu-Leger, dir., Identités religieuses en Europe (Paris, La Découverte, 1996), p. 156.






8. 9.

10. Jean Bauberot, Histoire de la laïcité en France (Paris, Que Sais-je, 2000), p. 20 n.1. See also Karel Dobbelaere, Secularization: A Multidimensional Concept (London, Sage Publications, 1981). 11. Jean Bauberot, “Laïcité et sécularisation dans la crise de la modernité de l’Europe,” Cahiers français, n° 273, oct.-nov. 1995, p. 29-30. 12. Willaime, “Laïcité et religion,” op. cit., p. 156.


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13. Bauberot, Histoire de la laïcité en France, op. cit., p. 4. The author points out that the notion of a secular (laïque) state truly emerged during the Revolution and refers to a “prehistory” of laïcité, namely the long secularizing process prior to 1789 by which institutions progressively dissociated themselves from the Catholic Church. 14. Ibid., p. 16. 15. Ibid., p. 19. The Concordat was signed in July 1801 by Pope Pius VII and Napoleon. For Henri Pena-Ruiz, it partook of a “logic of Old Regime theologico-political domination more than it was “a step in the process of laïcisation” as Bauberot has it (Qu’est-ce que la laïcité ? op. cit., p. 151) 16. Bauberot, Histoire de la laïcité en France, op. cit., p. 29. 17. Freedom of conscience refers to the freedom of thinking for oneself, which includes agnosticism and atheism and integrates freedom of religion. 18. Bauberot, Histoire de la laïcité en France, op. cit., p. 87-88. Bauberot’s notion of “pacte laique” is criticized by Pena-Ruiz who contends that the 1905 was not the result of negotiations, but a governmental decision (Qu’est-ce que la laïcité?, op. cit., p. 302). On the compromises showing that the separation between Church and State is not absolutely strict, see Jean Bauberot, “La France, République laïque,” Jean Bauberot, dir., Religions et laïcité dans l’Europe des douze (Paris, Syros, 1994), p. 63-64. 19. Willaime, “Laïcité et religion,” op. cit., p. 164. 20. Pena-Ruiz, Qu’est-ce que la laïcité ?, op. cit., p. 12. 21. On the occasion of the centennial of the 1905 law Archives des sciences sociales de la religion published a special issue on the notion of state “recognition” of religion banned by Article 2 (n°129, 2005). The question of religious studies (“l’enseignement du fait religieux”) is another debated issue in France today. See Regis Debray, “L’enseignement du fait religieux dans l’école laïque,” rapport au ministre de l’Éducation Nationale, February 2002, 8-15. 22. Pentecost Monday, traditionally a public holiday, was transformed in 2005 by Prime Minister Raffarin’s conservative government into a working “Day of Solidarity” as part of a program designed to benefit old and handicaped people. The issue is highly controversial, not because the move secularized the calendar, but because it changed a paid holiday into a working day… 23. Jean Bauberot, “La France, République laïque,” Jean Bauberot, dir., Religions et laïcité dans l’Europe des douze (Paris, Syros, 1994) p. 67. 24. Condorcet, Sur l’Instruction publique, 1791-1792. 25. Fédèration des Conseils de Parents d’Élèves des Écoles Publiques website, http://, page viewed June 9, 2006. 26. Daniele Hervieu-Leger, “Islam and the Republic: The French Case,” Thomas Banchoff, ed., The New Religious Pluralism and Democracy (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). The number of Muslims – secular and practicing – is estimated at 5 or 6 million. Laïcité proscribes questions on religious belonging in the national census.

9. Laïcité and Secular attitudeS in France
27. An anti-sect law was passed in 2001.


28. See for example Yves-Charles Zarka et dir., “Faut-il réviser la loi de 1905?” (Paris, PUF, 2005). 29. I borrow and adapt Jean Bauberot’s labeling in Histoire de la laïcité, op. cit., p. 119. Proposals for a revision can be found for example in Nicolas Sarkozy’s provocative book, La République, les religions, l’espérance : entretiens avec Thibaud Collin et Philippe Verdin (Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 2004), in which the Interior Minister advocates the public funding of religious buildings, mosques in particular, in a call for the integration of Islam into French society. Within religious communities, positions vary. For example, on Evangelical Protestants, see Sebastien Fath, “De la non-reconnaissance à une demande de légitimation?,” Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 129 (2005). 30. See Tzvetan Todorov, L’ésprit des Lumières (Paris, Laffont, 2006), p. 24. See also Michel Onfray, Traité d’athéologie (Paris, Grasset, 2005) p. 30. The renewal of interest in the Enlightenment is not limited to France, but has emerged in other societies in search of secular values. In the United States see Susan Jacoby, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (New York, Metropolitan Books, 2004), p. 359-60. 31. Pena-Ruiz, Qu’est-ce que la laïcité ?, op. cit. p. 10. 32. As it was debated the controversial law was supported by 69 percent of the total population and by 42 percent of the Muslim population (CSA poll, January, 26, 2004). For an analysis of the debate see Hervieu-Leger, “Islam and the Republic,” op. cit. To date there is little public analysis on the impact of the law. In 2004, 47 pupils were officially expelled from school (out of 600 cases), an encouragingly low figure according to the government. 33. Caroline Fourest, Tirs croisés: La laïcité à l’épreuve des integrismes juif, chrétien et musulman (Paris, Calmann-Levy, 2003), p. 12. See also La tentation obscurantiste (Paris, Grasset, 2005). “Caroline Fourest: Missionnaire de la laïcité,” Le Monde, May 12, 2006. Fourest’s first target was Christian fundamentalism as it expresses itself in the United States. The committed journal ProChoix has a wider scope of activities and interests than the American ProChoice movement, after which it is named, and also focuses on the defense of individual liberties. 34. Yves Lambert, “Attitudes secularistes et fondamentalistes en France et dans divers pays occidentaux,” Social Compass 48 (1), 2001, 37, 42. Lambert defines fundamentalism as a desire to structure society according to religious principles. 35. Ibid., p. 47. 36. Ibid., p. 45. 37. Daniele Hervieu-Leger, Catholicisme, La fin d’un monde (Paris, Bayard, 2003). 38. Yves Lambert, “Religion: développement du hors-piste et de la randonnée,” Pierre Brechon, ed., Les valeurs des Français, Paris, Colin, 2003, p. 175. 39. INSEE, Pratique religieuse selon l’âge, 2004. Accessible online. Twenty two per cent did in 1987, 25 percent in 1996 (INSEE, “L’état de la pratique religieuse en France,” n° 570, mars 1998).


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40. INSEE, Pratique religieuse par categorie socioprofessionnelle, 2004. Accessible online. 41. Lambert, “Religion” , op. cit., p. 170. 42. Sylvette Denefle, Sociologie de la sécularisation: Être sans-religion en France à la fin du XXe siècle (Paris, L’Harmattan, 1997), p. 8. The author has conducted her own survey, but also refers to G. Michelat, J. Maître, J. Potel, J. Sutter, Les Français sontils encore catholiques ? (Paris, Cerf, 1991) p. 105-110. 43. In Dominique Vidal, La France des ‘sans-religion’,” Le Monde Diplomatique, September 2001. 44. Lambert, “Religion” , op. cit., p. 174. 45. Ibid., p. 175-182. The author points out that women are more likely to turn to after-life or parallel beliefs, thus echoing previous patterns. 46. Ibid., p. 183. In 1999, 27 percent of convinced atheists believed in a life after death. 47. Ibid., p. 184. In 1999, the rate was 10 percent for people aged between 18 and 29. 48. Daniele Hervieu-Leger, Le pèlerin et le converti: La religion en mouvement (Paris, Flammarion, 1999). 49. The point that French people’s familiarity with laïcité prevents them from knowing it well is made by Bauberot, Histoire de la laïcité, op. cit., p. 3. 50. CSA poll, September, 7, 2005. Accessible on line.

10. The Paradox of Secularism in Denmark:
From Emancipation to Ethnocentrism?
Lars Dencik


enmark, 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.1 Measured by GNP per capita, Denmark belongs among the most affluent countries in the world. The Gini-index of income is low, meaning that there is a fairly equal distribution of wealth among the population. There are no sharp divisions in terms of social class, and the population as a whole is well educated. Recent studies have also shown that all the Scandinavian countries rate among those having the best quality of life in the world.2 Other studies show that the Danes, not least its youth, rate as the world’s most satisfied citizens.3 Not only is egalitarianism highly valued in Denmark, as in the other Scandinavian countries, but these countries also have had—up until recently—an extraordinarily high degree of ethnic homogeneity. With very few exceptions: • All citizens belonged to the same state-governed Lutheran church. • All citizens spoke the unique language of the country, a language spoken by all inhabitants of the country but spoken almost nowhere outside the country. • All citizens shared the experience and consciousness of a long and unified national history. However, in the wake of the radical modernization that has taken place in the Scandinavian countries over the last decades, two processes relevant to the discussion of secularism in society have taken place:


SeculariSm & Secularity 1) The church as an institution, and the influence of religious thought on politics and social affairs in general, has lost influence. 2) Increased migration and cultural globalization has significantly affected the fabric of social life.

Actually, the weakened position of the church and of the influence of religious ideas in society has a longer history. It goes back to the early 1930s, to the breakthrough of rationalism in connection with building a modern welfarestate society. In the decades after World War II this process became radicalized. This did not have as much to do with the experiences of the war or of the Holocaust as with the dynamics of social modernization itself. From a social psychological view this has meant a process of de-traditionalization.4 In matters such as family life and childrearing, people adapted to radically modern life conditions by no longer doing what had been the “normal thing to do,” but rather felt a need to “invent” new ways they perceived as more adequate to the new conditions.

Where Tradition Had Ruled Reflection Took Over
Today, Scandinavians travel at great speed towards an ever-more radicalized modernity—unknown as to form and content, yet carried along by the same processes that created modern Denmark and the other Scandinavian welfare states: rationalization, individuation, and secularization. These processes have continued to act as transformational forces in society but now with modernity itself as the point of departure. • Rationalization implies that effectiveness, utility, and profitability are superior considerations in all spheres of life. • Individuation has meant that individuals have become singled out socially, and “disembedded” from their social background, as the noted British sociologist Anthony Giddens5 puts it. Nowadays they are— ideally—treated as representatives only of themselves, not of any ascribed collective, be it kinships, ethnic group, or religious affiliation. • Secularization has opened up the opportunity for critical questioning of established values and religious traditions. Thus, each contemporaneous modernity is in turn replaced by the changes that further modernization brings about. Individuals live in an era of continuous modernization of modernity—an “era of shifts”—that implies a constant radicalization of modernity.6

10. the Paradox of SeculariSm in denmark


Change and shifts are communicating vessels. As conditions change individuals as well as social and cultural collectives, artistic groupings as well as organizations, must continuously find new ways to cope with their existential predicaments in order simply to remain in their current positions in society. The need to find a new balance between continuously shifting orientations, strategies, and attitudes—in short, of social identity—and the need to keep one’s integrity, becomes a significant part of one’s existential game.7 This is the essence of a post-traditional world, a world in which both knowledge and traditions can be found and cultivated but no longer function as obligatory and controlling cultural patterns for the individual. Rather, there are opportunities for choice and for creating a mix that suits the individual. Understanding individuation is necessary to understanding secularization. A seemingly paradoxical tendency occurs in the wake of radical modernization: some people evince a propensity to religious and/or national fundamentalism— what I in another context have labeled the tendency towards “neo-tribalism.”8 Individuation is one side of a psychological coin, the other side of which is a yearning for belonging. Thus radicalization of modernity from the point of view of the individual tends to create two seemingly contradictory but, in reality, deeply connected tendencies. On one hand, the individual becomes increasingly socially “disembedded,” free to, but also forced to, choose among an increasing number of life options. On the other hand and by the same token, the individual also becomes increasingly “existentially lonely,” prone to involve her or himself in anything that glimpses at an experience of belonging, a sense of “we-ness” —such as a family, a gang, a nation, or a religious grouping.

Now to the issue of secularization. How is this defined in the modern Scandinavian welfare states? Three partly overlapping points cover the common understanding fairly well: • Social affairs should be handled in a “rational” way, meaning that no religious or other “metaphysical” belief systems should be allowed to interfere with—not to say govern—political decisions. Nor should religious values, feelings and interests be given special considerations in the handling of social affairs. • There should be no interference of religion in the political, social, educational, and scientific fields. • Religion is privatized and should be regarded and handled by citizens purely as a question of a person’s “inner” beliefs.


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Yet in this context a remarkable fact is that during the whole process of modernization the state-church system in Denmark and Sweden has remained intact. Denmark today maintains a state church, and Sweden separated church from state only at the turn of the millenium. The present state-church system in Denmark implies: • According to the constitution (§54) the Evangelical Lutheran Church is the Danish People’s Church (Folkekirke) and is as such supported by the state, which means that the Lutheran religion and its institutions and churches are given a favored place among religions in Danish society. All tax-paying citizens, regardless of their personal religious beliefs, thus contribute to the priests and bishops of the Folkekirke. • According to §56 of the constitution the King (or the Queen if she is the Head of State, as is presently the case) has to belong to the Lutheran Church. • The governmental system includes a “Ministry for the Church” headed by one member of the Danish government (at present the person in charge is also the Minister for Education). The Danish government appoints the leading officials of the Folkekirke, such as the Archbishop and the bishops. • Every year the official opening of Parliament is accompanied by a Lutheran religious service in the annexed church (Slotskirken). • Practically all citizens are automatically members of the Folkekirke from birth. Not to be so included requires that the citizen takes an initiative to leave the church. At present 83 percent of the Danish population belong to the Folkekirke. • The public community schools (Folkeskolen) all teach “Christianity classes.” Only when pupils reach the senior classes are they taught about other religions. When the children reach the 7th or 8th grade they are given 48-56 lessons at their school in order to prepare for their religious confirmation. • Most, if not all, official holidays in Denmark, such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Christ’s Ascension, etc. follow the Lutheran Church calendar. There rests a strange paradox in this: from one point of view Denmark is clearly a Christian country—as are by more or less the same standards the other Scandinavian countries. Looked at from another point of view, however,

10. the Paradox of SeculariSm in denmark


Denmark, as well as Sweden, is a highly secular society. In the wake of the infamous publication in the fall of 2005 of the Muhammad cartoons in Denmark’s largest daily newspaper, Jyllandsposten, there arose an intense debate about the status of religion in Danish society. The Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmusen, leader of the liberal-conservative coalition government, is one of President Bush’s closest allies on the international scene. According to several serious analysts his behavior on the diplomatic scene following the publication of the caricatures was an active cause of subsequent events in the Muslim world: On February 15, 2006, he made the following statement on Danish Public TV: “We shall be careful not to allow religion to fill up too much in the public space.” A little later, he clarified his position in an article titled “Keep religion indoors” in the leading Danish daily newspaper Politiken. In that article he stated: We shall keep religion and politics separate. In the Danish State of Law it is the laws proclaimed by the Parliament that rule—not the Bible, the Koran or other holy texts. He continued: Less religion in the public space implies that the believers keep their dogmas for themselves—and allows others the right to believe and think something else. And he added: Religion may release human beings from freedom and responsibility: This is particularly true when holy texts are presented by legalistic religions that prescribe in detail how the individual believer shall lead his or her life.9 In a speech given at the occasion of the Danish Constitution Day, June 5, 2006, he elaborated on this matter, saying: Religion is and remains a personal matter between the individual and the God the person may believe in.... In Denmark neither the Bible nor the Koran nor any other holy book is elevated above public debate.... It is dangerous when personal beliefs become substituted by a religious law according to which the individual human being should subordinate himself to prescriptions that are thousands of years old. And society be arranged according to religious decrees.


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Given the context, the Prime Minister’s implicit attack on “legalistic (law) religions” clearly refers to Islam. It is noteworthy that in the article quoted above, the prime minister also proclaimed both that the Danish state does not have— and shall not have—any religion, and that he is a warm supporter of the existing Danish state church system, the Folkekirken. Thus he wrote: Religious beliefs of course affect a person’s attitudes to many of the topics that are debated in the public that way religious faith influences both attitudes and that respect religion will always be present in the public space.... The Danish history and culture and Danish society is penetrated by Christian thinking—simply because most Danes are Christians…. In that regard religion and politics can not be separated. On the same occasion the speaker of the Danish Parliament,10 a member of the same political party as the Prime Minister, in his speech stated: Denmark is an old Christian country. This has been imprinted in generations. We see it in the arts and in the literature. We can note it in our flag —the cross-banner. The Vice Prime Minister and leader of the Danish Conservative Party, Bendt Bendtsen, on the same occasion reiterated the same line of thought and warned that: Pushing our religion—Christianity—into the backyard.... We enjoy religious freedom in this country, but religious freedom does not mean equality among religions. Christianity has and shall have a favored position. Two days later, the vice prime minister, in an interview in the largest Danish morning newspaper, elaborated on his position: Christianity is under pressure…rather than abolishing religion in the public space it may be timely for us to strengthen the Christian foundations of our society.... Denmark and Western Europe rest on a foundation of values that build on Christianity.... Christianity is in the public space, and I acknowledge the values that Christianity give me as a person and as a politician, and I don’t want to hide that.11 It should be noted in this context that neither the prime minister nor the vice prime minister approve of the idea that religious symbols—be it a Christian cross or a Muslim hijab—should be prohibited in public.

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“We have a society based on Christianity, and this means that there is room for Muslims to cultivate their religion. I do not approve of prohibitions and law regulations on this field,” he said.12 It may be noted here how sharply the Danish, and in a larger context, the Scandinavian, interpretation of secularism, differs from the more well-known French understanding of this, as summarized in the concept of laïcité.

A Secularized Lutheranism
In Denmark, as in the other Scandinavian countries, an institutionalized Lutheran Christian belief system today exists in symbiosis with dominating secular values. In these countries the values and system of democracy have strong popular backing, as do the ideas of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to individual choice—for instance in religious beliefs and practices. These “secular” notions extend to the ideas of gender equality, children’s rights, and that each individual has the right to choose romantic partner(s) and to shape his or her sexual life style according to personal preferences. This amalgamates into what I, for want of a better notion, label a dominant cosmology of secularized Lutheranism. Although Denmark (and Sweden) is a country in which most of the citizens by tradition belong to the Lutheran state church Folkekirken, Christianity as a practiced religion does not characterise the life of a large segment of the population. The number of churchgoers on any regular Sunday is below 5 percent of the adult population13 and even on the religious holidays (with the exception of the traditional Danish Christmas Eve service) doesn’t rise much above that. A good 80 percent of the population can be characterized as “secular” in the sense that religious practices do not have any place at all in their daily lives. Nor do they in any substantial part support the Christian-Democratic political party—in Denmark that party attracts hardly 2 percent of the voters in general elections (in Sweden a little over 4 percent). Paradoxical as it may seem, still most of the citizens are members of the Folkekirke. The church is used by a large majority of the citizens only for lifecycle events—entry and exit services—birth/baptism, confirmation, weddings (to a lesser extent) and death/burials. However, even if religious practices have a remarkably weak hold on the vast majority of Danes and Swedes, and even if secular values are strongly held, the everyday world view and daily life ethics of most Danes and Swedes are profoundly coloured by certain Christian, or rather Lutheran, values: the Protestant ethics14 of hard work and diligence, combined with a preference for handling human affairs in a “rational” way. In an analysis of the formation of


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the modern Danish and Swedish welfare states three intertwined processes have been pointed out: rationalism, secularism and individuation.15 Religion is regarded as purely a question of private inner beliefs. Within the cosmology of secularized Lutheranism virtually everything is measured according to its utility, nothing is really ”holy,” and religiosity should play no role in social affairs. This penetrates the Danish and Swedish societies to the extent that the very categories by which one organises and evaluates social affairs in Denmark and Sweden are tinted by the tacit values and viewpoints of the secularized Lutheran cosmology. Nearly a year after the infamous so-called Muhammad Crisis, when Danish embassies and flags where burned in several Muslim countries, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen reiterated and underlined this attitude. We should regard each other as citizens and as human beings and not as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists. Religion should be erased as a criterion when organizing the activities of public institutions and in the construction of laws.16 Even if not as outspoken as in some other countries, such as the Jewish state of Israel and the Muslim Republic of Pakistan, there prevails in Denmark an intriguing relationship between religion and nation. Looking at the Danish society from the point of view of the sociology of religion, it is quite striking that regardless of a citizen’s stand on religious issues, the vast majority of them are members of the Folkekirken. They are, of course, also Danish citizens, and also share what may be called a perspective of Danishness, referring to the certain cultural prism through which one experiences the world. These three factors, secularized Lutheranism, Danish citizenship, and Danish­ ness as a prism of experiencing, constitute three cornerstones of a triangle into which any Dane can be placed.

So What About Danishness?
At present in Denmark what constitutes Danishness, and how—if at all—a nonnative Dane may achieve that, is a very hot issue. In order to illustrate the mechanisms that constitute a cultural prism I want to give an example that I know from my own experience and that at present is much less disputed than Danishness—the cultural prism of Swedishness. By growing up in Sweden, by having Swedish as one’s mother tongue, and by having spent one’s formative years in a Swedish school—as I have—one acquires a Swedish way of perceiving the world.

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This may manifest itself in the way one perceives society and interprets social justice, but also with a rather special affection, bordering on religious devotion, for nature as such. There is a way of appreciating wild forests, red cottages, empty landscapes, and beaming sunshine that is more or less “typically Swedish.” The fact that the songs of Swedish folklore and the special products of Swedish cuisine evoke positive associations and feelings among some Swedes is only because they are Swedish. Over the past two decades cultural globalization has challenged whatever Danishness has meant to Danes. In particular, the migration of Muslim groups into the Danish welfare state. Today, approximately 6 percent of the inhabitants of Denmark are immigrants or children of immigrants, not all of them Muslims but most of them refugees from Turkey, the Middle East, and to a lesser extent workforce immigrants from Pakistan. Their presence in Denmark has become a major issue on the contemporary political scene in Denmark. Having for long been a country of extraordinary cultural homogeneity––the very phenomenon of a culturally “deviant” presence in the Danish society, and in particular the fact that it is a Muslim group, has sharpened the awareness among Danes of their own cultural heritage, life-style, and values. This has, to some extent, led to a strengthened awareness of, and stress on, Denmark’s Christian heritage. Christianity in Denmark may be said to have developed into an ethno­cultural demarcation sign. The situation has also meant that the Danish Government has launched commissions to define a Danish cultural canon in all fields of the arts, including stating which Danish literary works should be compulsory readings in schools. But more significantly in this context, this has meant a sharpened articulation of the secular values modern Denmark celebrates: political freedom, freedom of expression (including the right to criticize and even to ridicule religious and other “holy” texts and symbols), individualism (also within the family, for instance with respect to children’s rights) and every individual’s right to live according to one’s own individual preferences, sexual liberalism (including relaxed attitudes to homosexuality, to being “daringly dressed” in public, to pornography, etc.), and women’s rights and gender equality in all spheres of life. Not only have these secular values become more clearly articulated than before, they are nowadays also launched, at times aggressively, as values that express the very essence of contemporary Danishness. One implication is that those who, for cultural and religious reasons, cannot accept these values become targeted for being non-Danish, and at times even harassed for representing values basically antithetic and hostile to Danishness.


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As in other European countries the success of what might be called “traditional secularism,” advocating the independence of politics, education, science and social affairs from religious dogmas and institutions, in Denmark has served as a vehicle for emancipation and democracy. The question is: what social role does traditional secularism serve today, given the context of cultural globalisation and migration and given the content of the secular values advocated as characterizing contemporary Danishness?

A “New Xenophobia” and the Neo-Tribalist Backlash17
Finding an answer to the question posed above requires broadening the perspective both in time and space. During the last decade a virtual inversion of the traditional image of Denmark as an overly tolerant and humane and liberal society has taken place. Globalization, increased migration, and enhanced mobility within Europe have contributed to diminishing the congruence between Blut (blood) und Boden (soil), to use a renowned and infamous German phrase, on the European continent. This in turn has had repercussions in a wave of “new xenophobia,” a xenophobia, paradoxical as it may sound, in the name of tolerance, and populist politics in several European countries. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001 accentuated these trends and caused latent anti-Muslim sentiments to be voiced openly in public debate. Two tendencies that have become manifest in the aftermath are, on the one side, a strengthened emphasis on national unity and national culture, such as Christianity and secularism, and on the other side, increased militancy of those groups that feel targeted by this new xenophobia. The way immigration from non-European and mainly Muslim countries into Europe has been handled over the last two decades has contributed to this. In the wake of the failure—or perhaps, rather, unwillingness—to let these immigrants become integrated into their host countries a strengthened tendency towards a “new nationalism” in several European states has emerged. Populist political parties such as Front National in France, Jürg Haider’s nationalist Freiheitspartei in Austria, Lega Nord in Italy, Vlamske Front , now Vlamske Belang, in Belgium, Pim Fortuyn’s Party in The Netherlands, and Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) in Denmark have more or less successfully exploited this. With some variations between the countries, the policy these parties have launched could be described as a kind of “diet version” of Blut und Boden. The tendencies these parties express have not been confined only to these and similar outspoken populist parties and movements; well-established and “decent”

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democratic political parties and groupings in some of the countries mentioned have jumped onto the hyper-nationalist band-wagon. Denmark, one of Europe’s most advanced liberal welfare states and most enlightened countries, is a case in point. Denmark is not just a small, ethnically homogeneous, and seemingly peaceful country on the Nordic edge of the European continent. Denmark is also the European country that today has been judged by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) as having the most xenophobic public debate and government policies.18 One significant reason for this is the influence of the populist Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti ). This political party, whose leading spokesmen on these matters are two priests in the Folkekirken,19 combines a strongly Islamophobic, anti-immigration, and anti-asylum-seeker position with political protection of central aspects of the social welfare state system, granting the Danes such goods as free medical care, relatively generous allowances in case of unemployment, sickness, retirement, etc. The political platform of the party may be described as ”welfare state chauvinism.” In the last elections the party gained approximately the same following as many right-wing populist parties in other European countries, about one eighth of the vote. But in contrast to what has happened in many other countries, the populists in Denmark have gained a dominant influence both on the public debate and on government policies as far as immigrants, asylum seekers, and foreigners are concerned. Contributing to this has been the strategy chosen by the two major established political parties in Denmark, the Social Democrats and the Liberal Party (Venstre, headed by the present prime minister), in combating the challenge posed by the up-and-coming Danish People’s Party. In what, at best, could be understood as an attempt to pre-empt the challenge, they co-opted the anti-immigrant and anti-multiculturalist arguments put forward by the Danish People’s Party—thereby in effect legitimising the very discourse launched by the populist agitators. This discourse has now become very influential in Danish politics and many of the measures taken by the government in these matters. The underlying, but also publicly expressed idea is that the coherence (sammenhængskraften ) of Danish society is threatened by the very presence of these “strangers” (fremmede ) in Denmark. Islam, and by the same token, Muslims, are pictured not only as basically incompatible with both Danishness and democracy, but also as posing a threat both to the Christian and the secular culture. This development was greatly helped by a populist tabloid press and by a certain brand of Danish publicists and intellectuals, many of whom were previously active on the extreme left, and were influenced by the ideas of the


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popular 19th century Danish Christian priest, writer, and philosopher Frederik Severin Grundtvig. A celebrated notion in his philosophy is the notion of “the people” (folket). In his understanding “the people” is synonymous with “the Danes”—entrusted with a particular folkesjæl (soul or spirit of the Danish people) and constituting a certain folkestam (the tribe of Danes)—that by implication is Christian but at the same time also secular. The political exploitation of such ideas apparently has deep cultural resonance among the Danish population. When referring to the celebrated notion folket, what is denoted is the Danish ethnos, rather than a demos corresponding to the “the inhabitants of Denmark.” As a consequence, much of the political discourse in Denmark today centers around blatantly ethnocentric and outspokenly anti-multiculturalist propositions. A corresponding tendency towards neo-nationalism now penetrates also into the sentiments of some of the other “indigenous” European populations. There are similar tendencies towards developing an ethnically and/or religiously defined social identity among some of the newly arrived groups on the European scene. Taken one by one, each of these tendencies is potentially xenophobic and at times also manifests itself in xenophobic attitudes and actions.20 Paradoxically enough then, considering the ongoing European integration within the economic and political spheres, in its shadow a kind of neo­tribalism within the social and cultural spheres seems to be emerging.

“Ethno-Christianity” and “Militant Secularism”
On one hand one can notice a tendency towards a strengthened Christianitycolored neo-nationalism celebrating secular values within some of the established European nation states. On the other hand, an equally strong tendency exists towards increased ”Muslim militancy” within the very same European societies. These tendencies are not unrelated; on the contrary, they reinforce each other. A political spiral is set in motion: neo-nationalistic tendencies encourage increased marginalisation of the growing numbers of immigrants (regarded as “strangers”) in European countries, which then engenders increased ethnic radicalism, (Muslim militancy) among them, which in turn breeds even more xenophobic sentiments in several indigenous European populations. Intriguingly enough, this kind of “new” xenophobia argues its case in the name of tolerance by focussing on the murderous intolerance of its target group. Thus cases like the following serve to underpin this standpoint:

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Denmark: 9 found guilty in ‘Honor killing’. A jury in Copenhagen convicted nine people, all family members and friends, of murder or accessory to murder in the killing of a 19-year-old woman. The woman was gunned down by her older brother last September, two days after her wedding, because her Pakistani family disapproved of her choice of husband.... Besides her brother, the defendants included her father, three uncles, an aunt and two family friends.” 21 As has become the case in Denmark, but also in other European countries, events like this feed a kind of “ethno­Christianity” amalgamated with a militantly secular neo-tribalism. Even if Muslims and other religiously and culturally “deviant” groups are not all fundamentalists of the kind illustrated by this case, the fact that such things actually take place fosters not only hostile attitudes towards these groups in general, but also a sense of self-sufficiency among those who feel they embody the “righteous” secular values of tolerance. In Denmark this, by extension, now manifests itself in hostile attitudes to immigration from Muslim countries and “strangers” in general, against giving asylum seekers refuge, and against—in actual practice—granting equal human rights for all, regardless of origin, religion and ethnicity. Thus, the paradox occurs whereby the hegemony of a secularized Lutheranism combined with the valorization of contemporary secular values (at least in ethno-Christian Denmark) can serve in effect not only as a vehicle for individual emancipation, but also, as an effective instrument for a militant ethnocentrism.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Esping Andersen, Gosta. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, (Cambridge: Polity, 1990). The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality of Life Index. 2005. The Economist. April 1, 2007. http://www. Global Youth. 2007. Kairos Future. April 1, 2007. international/projects/globalyouth or Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity, (Cambridge: Polity, 1990). Ibid. Dencik, Lars. “INTO THE ERA OF SHIFTS—How everything gets designed in an increasingly non-designed world” Ed. Lars Dencik. SHIFT: Design as Usual or a New Rising, (Stockholm: Arvinius, 2005), pp. 6-29. cf. Dencik, Lars. “Transformations of Identities in Rapidly Changing Societies” Eds.



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Mikael Carleheden and Michael Hviid Jacobsen The Transformation of Modernity. Aspects of the Past, Present and Future of an Era, (London: Ashgate, 2001), pp. 183221.


Dencik, Lars. “ ‘Homo zappiens’—A European-Jewish way of Life in the Era of Globalisation,” Eds. Sandra Lustig and Ian Leveson. Turning the Kaleidoscope— Perspectives on European Jewry, (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2006) pp. 79-105. “Keep religion indoors.” Politiken 19 May 2006.


10. His name is Christian Mejdahl. 11. Jyllandsposten, 7 June 2006 12. Vice Prime Minister Bendt Bendtsen in Jyllandsposten 7th of June 2006 13. Gundelach, Peter. Danskernes værdier, (København: Hans Reitzel, 2002). 14. Weber, M. (2004) Die Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, in Max Weber Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie I, Tübingen (1934), pp. 1-206. 15. Arvidsson, Håken, Lennart Berntson, and Lars Dencik. Modernisering och Välfärd. Om individ, stat och civilt samhälle i Sverige. (Stockholm: City University Press, 1994); Dencik, Lars and Per Schultz Jørgensen. Børn og Familie i det postmoderne samfund, (København: Hans Reitzel, 1999). 16. Politiken 1 March, 2007. 17. This section is in parts based on a corresponding section in my article “‘Homo zappiens’—A European-Jewish way of Life in the Era of Globalisation,” Eds. Sandra Lustig and Ian Leveson Turning the Kaleidoscope—Perspectives on European Jewry, (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2006), pp. 79-105. 18. In a poll published 5. June, 2003 by Jyllandsposten, the largest morning daily in Denmark, more than 80% of the Danes admit that in Denmark “racism” now prevails against those that have arrived in the country as refugees and immigrants. 19. Søren Krarup and Jesper Langballe, who also happen to be cousins. 20. Thus, e.g. the radical Muslim group Hizb­ut­Tahrir is active in Denmark where they, among other things, have set up a web-site and distributed pamphlets referring to the Jews proposing: “And kill them wherever you find them, and expel them from wherever they expelled you.” 21. “World Briefing: Europe: Denmark: 9 found guilty in ‘Honor killing’.” New York Times 28 June 2006.

11. Secularism in Iran:
A Hidden Agenda?
Nastaran Moossavi


n 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,1 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?”2 Therefore, this assessment of religious identification among Iranians has shortcomings in terms of a quantifiable evaluation.3 However, those living in Iran distinguish the extent of adherence to religion among themselves by other means. They also use other measures to find out who believes in a different interpretation of religion, even when people do not identify themselves. One way to document such distinctions is through one’s appearance, especially in the case of women.4 Another source of information on the issue is the various life styles people take up.5 Furthermore, membership in certain social organizations or affiliation to specific religious institutions separates believers and non-believers from each other and also indicates differences among believers. A more direct way of knowing who is secular today in Iran, and in what terms, is to look at the literature published in recent years on secularism, in its broadest meaning, and follow the people who spoke up and expressed their ideas on the issue. This chapter attempts to review this literature and come up with clues for understanding the debate about secularism in Iran. In the absence of a reliable social survey, the focus must be on reviewing the writings of those who have considered themselves secular by whatever definition,


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and also those who have raised certain doubts about the legitimacy of the existing Islamic government from a religious point of view. It is widely believed that the debates on issues such as secularism, Islamic government, and the proper role of clergymen in the government date back to the years around the Constitutional Revolution in Iran in 1906. Certain articles of the Supplement to the Constitution Acts, approved then, reflect how power was consolidated between religious and non-religious parties. One of these articles asserted that the representatives of people in the parliament would select five qualified clergymen from a list of twenty presented by the high ranking clerics. The role of these clergymen was to ensure that every new law and regulation in civic affairs was in accordance with Sharia’h. Observing this agreement, some, like Ahmad Kasravi,6 decided that the Constitutional Revolution had failed since it had offered the clerics the upper hand in supervising the newly constitutional government. According to him, the Constitutional Revolution was expected to put an end to the misery of Iranians, who were suffering from despotism and “harmful” religious teachings equally. He is one of those who believed “…religion is not something useless. We expect benefits from religion… Religion is for the purpose of helping the people to advance and religious people must be superior to irreligious people.”7 It is interesting to note that the debate on secularism which emerged again in the mid-1990’s focused on two of Kasravi’s premises and tried to justify them. However, there has been no direct reference to him or to his ideas. In 1943, he wrote against the clerical establishment, saying: Should this establishment remain, it will always be a shackle for the nation; it will prevent progressing (as it has done so far).8 This statement is reminiscent of the criticism of “religious intellectuals” against the Islamic government during the past decade, which claimed that “Islam does not need clerics.”9 Kasravi, in his attempt to cleanse Islam from all its faults, tries to reconcile it with science. He is against clergymen who believe “God’s religion cannot be measured with the rational faculties.”10 Kasravi finds Islam, science, and civilization compatible. Again, this is echoed in the recent discussions that find a rational philosophical trend in Islam, and therefore assert that Islam does not hinder scientific and technological progress. The point in linking these periods is that secularism, as it began in 1906, is still an “unfinished project.” It should be understood as an ongoing process, with its ups and downs. Being a time bound phenomenon, people at different times have articulated their ideas on secularism differently. The determination to realize its goals has also differed in various periods. During the Constitutional

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Revolution, there was a range of demands expressed by different political figures and parties. These demands included the complete separation of religion from government (and sometimes its elimination), as well as an emphasis on the right of supervision by clerical institution over legislation. At the present time, the demands that can be expressed in public may not have the same radical intonation, but they raise deeper concerns about the relationship between religion and government, the role of clerics in Shi’ism, the significance of rational thinking, and other relevant issues. The process that has begun is more problematic and painstaking for those who want to replace the existing interpretation of Shi’ism with another one. It is unknown how far redefining and reinterpreting the sources of Islam will create reliable grounds for criticizing the official religion. Ever since the Constitutional Revolution, attempts to formulate an alternative interpretation of Islam and the struggle of “Religion against Religion” have continued in Iran.11 It was repeated by people like Kasravi until the 1940’s, taken up as an agenda by Mujahedin-e Khalgh12 in the mid 1960’s, and elaborated by Shariati13 in the 1970’s. Once again we hear the same voice, but in a different variation. This new round of effort is said to be due to the changes that Iranian society underwent after the domination of Islamists in the 1979 revolution. For the first time, the Shi’ite clerics got the opportunity to run a government. It was then time to see how a certain interpretation of Shi’ism is able to adjust itself to the requirements of modern-day Iran. Though it took some time for the Islamist leaders of the revolution to gain control over all the dissidents and either wipe them out physically or silence them, the revolution had to demand that the people acknowledge its legitimacy from the outset. The first and second articles of the new Constitution explain explicitly that the basis of the government is a combination of Islamic values and republicanism. The very act of establishing an Islamic government was posed to people in a referendum vote.14 The amazing endorsement of 98.2 percent of voters solidified the new government’s position. The disillusionment with the clerical authorities and criticism against their interference in every aspect of life occurred in the years following the end of the war with Iraq in the late 1980’s. Now the dismay went beyond the “outsiders”— apostates, and secularists who had struggled to undermine the clerics since the beginning of the Constitutional Revolution. The heart of Islamism was attacked by its own children, from within. This process has its advantages and disadvantages since it is such an internal conflict. On one hand, it is unlikely to cut off its own roots, for fear of losing a firm basis on which to promote Islamic values, and in fear of absolute denial by its “spiritual fathers.” On the other


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hand, these internal opposition groups know the limitations of Islamism better than their intellectual and political rivals outside the governing circles. The final decision to be taken was, of course, individual for “religious intellectuals,” but prior to making this choice they tried to deal with the issue collectively. One strategy was to speak up and tell their audiences and readers how another interpretation of Islam could exist; an interpretation that has as its primary requirement curtailing the power of the clerics. Exploring the history of Islam, as well as adopting different ways of argument with more emphasis on rational thinking and a positivist outlook, served them well in making their points. One of the prominent figures of the new trend, better known to the West than others, is Abdolkarim Soroush.15 Some of his basic views can be formulated as follows: • Religion, due to its celestial nature, is not limited to historical and human decrees. However, our understanding of religion is time dependent and changes as the human knowledge is transformed. • Islam (and any other religion) is modified by its essence, not its changeable formal components. Therefore, a true Muslim is one who is devoted and committed to the essence of Islam.16 • There is a distinction between political secularity and philosophical secularity. The tension between these two distinctions has always existed in Shi’ism in Iran, though Shi’ism is alien to secular politics. • Authorization to reinterpret Islam is allowed for the most highly learned man of the time. Such a person is not necessarily a clergyman who is most educated in Islamic theology. Men with high qualifications in modern knowledge and education are in a better position to revise Islamic thought and practice. For the religious critics of Islamic government, the problem of reconciling Islam and democracy, intellectualism and religiosity, rationality and faith, and similar issues are yet to be worked on.17 Among themselves they discuss whether rationalism is only a tool that an intellectual is equipped with. Does it mean that anybody may be wrong and subject to questioning, that one can keep on questioning about anything without restriction? Do human beings need evidence of proof to believe things are right? On the other hand, does religiosity necessitate that one simply believe in the sayings of one specific person and/or some specific people? If the essence of Islam is absolute obedience to God, is then the term “religious intellectualism” paradoxical?

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It is said that though materials are written and translated on the differentiation between reason and intellect, between discursive reason and intellectual intuition, there is no conflict between religiosity and intellectual intuition.18 Some scholars are not sure what intellectual intuition exactly means and implies. So they recommend that it is preferable to dismiss the whole idea and stay safe in the domain of religion or, at most, rephrase the current attempt as “Revisionism.”19 This trend emphasizes the right of Ijtihad 20 in Shi’ism, saying that the new wave of revising Islam in Iran has nothing to do with the Enlightenment as it emerged in Europe. Despite different ways of articulation, the “religious intellectuals” all agree that religion should be separated from government, but not from politics. On other issues, such as the negation of Velayat-e Faqih,21 or denial of the right of clerics for mediating between God and people, their ideas and commitment to religious reform varies in degrees. In addition to these internal debates, certain journals started asking opinions of some intellectuals that were known as “non-religious.” The Iranian Diaspora was also encouraged to join the debate on secularism. The fact that some of these “non-religious” intellectuals were welcome to participate in the debates showed a change in attitude among people who had once helped with the construction of the Islamic government, but then changed into its mild critics. They were seeking allies in order to push for reform and challenge the governing clerical power.22 In their attempt to increase the scope of their influence, they turned to their rivals at the eve of the 1979 revolution,23 and sought their intellectual assistance to enrich the process of dialogue. Some of these “old” rivals (i.e., remaining leftists and seculars from the suppressions of the 1980’s onward) were in a mood of self defeatism, and some had already started to revise their previous beliefs. It is now believed that the new coalition includes religious reformers from one side and secular neo-liberals from the other side. The product of such exchanges of views has been a significant number of articles, books, and interviews published inside and outside Iran and posted on various Web sites. One could add the number of participants in discussion meetings to the circulation figures for those books; the number of subscribers to the journals that publish such articles; and finally, the number of visitors to these Web sites, in order to estimate the percentage of secular persons in Iran with respect to the whole educated population. But the major part of the current students’ movement and women’s movement has been dominated by the religious reformist discourse. This is not to deny the existence of other tendencies or believe they will permanently remain marginalized since the social dynamism incurred in these years is still operative. Of course, some people find the literature on secularism confusing and


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comment that Iranians do not know what we precisely mean by terms like secular, laïcité, modernity, secularization, etc., especially when we apply it to our own society.24 This might be true, especially when one notes that no exact equivalent of these words exist in the Persian language. This situation creates frequent misinterpretations and misunderstandings, but also forces writers and readers to explain themselves as clearly as possible. Therefore, there is a set of common questions; whether “secularism implies separation of religion from government or from politics,” if “laïcité is the same as secularism,” and in what ways “modernity, modernization, and modernism are different from each other.” It is not to say that all these challenges are happening in the domain of language. On the contrary, the need for naming these phenomena properly specifies how crucial it is to understand the options the religious reformers are offering to the society.25 “Religious intellectuals” have been repeatedly asked to respond and clarify in what ways their interpretation of Islam guarantees freedom of expression and how women and non-believers are to be treated. When terms such as “Islamic democracy,” “Islamic civil society,” and “religious secularism” are created, one doubts the possibility of mixing these concepts. One “non-religious” scholar claims that in the late 1970’s Iranians combined religion and revolution and shaped one of the most extraordinary revolutions in history. According to him, it is not surprising that an unexpected intertwining of intellectualism and religion was created.26 The desire to benefit from Enlightenment values and remain a faithful Muslim and/or an Iranian patriot still permeates the intellectuals’ minds. Despite all that has happened in the last 100 years, Iranian intellectuals continually face the same challenges. The debate over secularism has brought together some intellectuals, who have made revisions in their previous theories and practice, from both sides of the religious and non-religious spectrum. Their main agenda is to recreate secularism in an Islamic way and turn it into the ideology of the opposition movement in Iran. Meanwhile, ordinary people have been dealing with the pressure of Islamism in different ways. Deeply rooted middle-class values, and the revival of them in public life in recent years, have offered options to people, especially to youth, to experience different life styles. Many visitors from the West are surprised by the emergence of a youth culture in such a restricted country like Iran. On the other hand, the authorities have taken the issue of regulating the youth problem more seriously.27 They are aware that the concept of secularism has its own attraction for many young people. Therefore, the youth have become the battlefield between secularists and fundamentalists. Struggles over women preceded this new conflict, and are still

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going on. Undoubtedly, women and youth have tried to organize independently and find an outlet for their problems with the clerical establishment, but there are certain limitations in going beyond the offered options given censorship and the exclusion of alternatives. The need to hear more voices is crucial now. It is not fruitful to compel Iranians to choose between the dichotomies of “bad” and “worse” that are expressed in the current discussions on secularism. Iranians have sought their independence from foreign powers, political freedom, and social justice since the Constitutional Revolution. Yet the right to keep religion away from government has yet to be fought for. Organizing scholarly debates and raising social awareness on secular values requires relatively peaceful conditions. The road towards setting up a democratic society in Iran is already rough. It may be completely blocked if the existing dispute over the Iranian government’s nuclear program keeps on threatening, and if no diplomatic resolution is found. If the U.S. government takes coercive military measures against Iran all the attempts that have been made so far will be in vain. As in the early 1950’s it will constrain the emergence of internal alternatives to our problems.28 I believe any plan for taking military action against Iran will strengthen fundamentalism within the country and the region. All the other social and political groups will be forced to withdraw their demands under the threat of a foreign invasion. It is obvious that the debate on the role of religion and democracy cannot be carried on in a wartime situation, as the example of Iraq indicates. On the other hand, any future arrangement between the U.S. and the Iranian governments that keeps silent about human rights violations in Iran will undermine the democratization process and weaken the secular movement.

1. 2. 3. For more details, see Abrahamian, Ervand, Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. American Religious Identification Survey, 2001. <>. Actually, there exists a mechanism in Shi’ism that lets Muslims conceal their faith in anticipation of damage or injury. Taqiyyah becomes the norm of public behavior when ordinary people fear the danger of being persecuted for their belief. Men are distinguished from their clothing, such as wearing a tie or letting their shirt fall loose over their pants, and the way they shave. There are certain public spaces that the fundamentalists avoid, especially if they are not segregated for men and women. The way one manages her/his leisure time is determined, to a large extent, by how adherent one is to religious beliefs.

4. 5.

146 6.

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Ahmad Kasravi (1890-1946) has been a controversial figure for his direct attack on Shi’ite clergy. He was assassinated by the clandestine Devotees of Islam (FedaiyanEslam). Except for his books on the history of Constitutional Revolution, his other works have been banned on and off since 1946. There is a bibliography of Kasravi’s works in Kasravi, Ahmad, On Islam and Shi’ism, trans. M.R. Ghanoonparvar, Costa Meza: Mazda Publishers, 1990, pp. 54-57. Ibid. p. 95. Ibid. p. 98. Quoted from an interview with Abdolkarim Soroush published in on August 22, 2004.

7. 8. 9.

10. On Islam and Shi’ism, p. 99. 11. “Religious intellectuals” consider Jamal ad-Din Asad-abadi (d. 1879) and Hadi Najmabadi (d.1902) as the leaders of the first generation of Shi’ite modernism. 12. An Islamic oppositional guerrilla organization formed in 1965 that considered the establishment of a classless monotheist society as its ultimate goal. 13. Ali Shariati, the twentieth century Iranian sociologist and Islamologist differentiates “religion of revolution” from “religion of legitimation.” He has discussed the difference between them in Shariati, Ali, Religion vs. Religion, trans. Laleh Bakhtiar, Chicago: ABC International Group, 2003. 14. “If democracy is invalidating any rule that people have not voted for it, naturally this does not reconcile with religion. Nevertheless, asking for people’s consent and the approval of majority for realization the rules of sharia’h is acceptable in Islam. Actually, this is what religious democracy mean.” The quotation is from Mesbah Yazdi, an orthodox conservative theoretician well known for his opposition with Abdolkarim Soroush. 15. For more information, see Soroush, Abdolkarim, Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam, trans. Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Moreover, many of his ideas can be searched for in his official website at the following address: 16. Nikfar, Mohammadreza, “Zaat-e yek Pendar” {Essence of a Thought} Negah e-Nou, 13: 16-27. 17. It is worth mentioning that some clergy men have also joined the debate, but with more cautious on how far intellectualism and religion can go along together. Mohsen Kadivar, Mojtahed Shabestari, and Yousef Eshkevari joined the debate as soon as it started in mid 1990’s. 18. Ideas of some scholars like Burkhart, Huston Smith, and Seyed Hossein Nasr have been translated and read in these years. 19. Malekan, Mostafa, “Ho’zeh va Donyaye Jadid”{Seminaries and the New world}, Rah-e Nou, 1(13): 18-26. 20. The Shi’ite and the Sunni scholars believe that the Islamic law has derived its sources from the Quran, the Sunna (the model behavior of the prophet, as related in collec-

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tions of sayings or Hadith that are in variations and localized as necessary), the Qiyas (analogical reasoning, subject to the clergymen’s determination), and the Ijma (Consensus of the community, subject to the community leaders’ determination). Shi’ism has added a fifth element to these sources that is Ijtihad, (ongoing reinterpretation by religious authorities of the present time). 21. The Guardianship of the Jurisconsult in the absence of the Twelfth Imam has been asserted in the Constitution Acts of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Article 110 explains the authorities given to the Grand Juriconsult, among which is the right to appoint the highest rank of the Judiciary, the head of the Islamic Republic Broadcasting Agency, the head of Military, and the General Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. It should be noted that there is less dispute over the authority of the jurist in Shi’ism, but the extent of this authority has been questioned and the Islamic theologians and clerics have differed on the issues of the leadership and advisory role of the jurists. 22. The reformers participated in the political power and supported the Iranian presidency from 1997 until their recent defeat in 2005. 23. Kashi, Ghlolamreza, “Bohran dar Roshanfekri-eh Dini” {Crisis in Religious Intellectualism} in, p.2. 24. Sometimes the interaction between the Iranian Diaspora and those living in Iran happens through internet, for instance this criticism can be found in correspondences in Persian posted to 25. This paper does not mean to assess the class combination of the seculars, religious reformers, and official ideologues. Therefore it takes the whole Iranian society as listeners of the debates. 26. has conducted a series of interviews with prominent figures of “religious” and “non-religious” intellectuals in 2005 and 2006. 27. More information on the official policies on the youth is available at: http://www. 28 The coup d’etat against Muhammad Mossadeq in 1953 designed by the CIA and carried out by the supporters of Muhammad Reza Shah prepared the ground for 25 years of dictatorship in Iran.

12. Secularism in India
Ashgar Ali Engineer


ecularism 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). India is a country where religion is central to its people’s lives. India’s ageold philosophy, as expounded in Hindu scriptures called Upanishad, is sarva dharma samabhava, which means equal respect for all religions. The reason behind this approach is that India has never been a mono-religious country. There existed before the Aryan invasion numerous tribal cults from Northwest India to Kanya Kumari, most of which happened to be Dravidian. Following the Aryan invasion, people of Dravidian origin were driven south, and today we find all Dravidian people in the four southern states of India. The Aryans brought a religion based on Vedas and Brahmins that dominated the intellectual life of north India. But a section of the Brahmins also migrated south and evolved new cults, marrying Vedic cults with Dravidian ones. As a result Hindu Indians worship thousands of gods and goddesses. Christianity and Islam added religious traditions to the pre-existing Indian traditions. So it can be said that India is a bewilderingly diverse country in every respect: religion, culture, ethnicity, and caste.

Caste Over Religion
Caste rigidity and the concept of untouchability have evolved and still play a major role in religious, social and cultural matters. Caste dynamics in Indian life, even in Christian and Islamic communities, play a larger-than-life role. Since most converts to Christianity and Islam were lower-caste Hindus, these two world religions also developed caste structures. There are lower-caste churches and mosques in several places.


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Under the feudal system, there was no competition between the different religious traditions, as authority resided in the sword; generally there was no tension between people of different religions. Though occasional inter-religious controversies did arise, blood was never shed in the name of religion. There was also a tradition of tolerance between religions due to the state policies of the Emperors Ashoka and Akbar. Ashoka’s edicts clearly spell out a policy of religious tolerance, and Akbar used to hold dialogues between followers of different religions; he also followed the policy of tolerance and even withdrew the jizya tax (poll tax on Hindus), which was an irritant. Thus both Ashoka and Akbar have a place of great significance in the religious life of India. It is no wonder that they have been designated as “great” (they are referred to as Ashoka the Great and Akbar the Great). Also, India had Sufi and Bhakti traditions in Islam and Hinduism respectively. Both Sufism and the Bhakti traditions were based on respect for different religions. The poorer and lower-caste Hindus and Muslims were greatly influenced by these traditions. Unlike ‘ulama and Brahmins, the Sufi and Bhakti saints were highly tolerant and open to the truth in other faiths. They never adopted sectarian attitudes and were never involved in power struggles. Indeed they kept away from power structures. Nizamuddin Awliya, a great Sufi saint of the 13th-14th centuries, saw the reign of five Sultans but never paid court to a single one. When the last Sultan of his life sent a message requesting him to come to the court, he refused. Then the Sultan sent the message that if Nizamuddin did not come to his court, the Sultan would come to his hospice. Nizamuddin replied that there were two doors to his hospice; if the Sultan entered by one, he would leave by the other. Such was the approach of Sufis and Saints to the power structure of their time. Dara Shikoh was heir apparent to Shajahan, the Moghul Emperor, but he had a Sufi bent of mind and was a great scholar of Islam and Hinduism. He wrote a book Majmau’l Bahrayn (Co-mingling of Two Oceans Islam and Hinduism) and, quoting from Hindu and Islamic scriptures, showed that the two religions had similar teachings. The difference lay in language (Arabic versus Sanskrit), not in teachings. Thus, Dara Shikoh also contributed richly to interreligious harmony in India. Most conversions to Islam and Christianity were facilitated by Sufis and missionaries with a spirit of devotion. Today in India, most of the Christians and Muslims still belong to these lower-caste communities. Even centuries after conversion, their caste status and economic status have not changed.

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Emergence of Competitive Politics
However, the entire social, economic and political scenario changed after the advent of British rule in the 19th century. Differences between the Hindu and Muslim elites began to emerge for various socio-cultural, economic, and political reasons. The British rulers, adopting the policy of divide and conquer, distorted medieval Indian history to make Muslim rulers appear as tyrants to the Hindu elite. This distorted history was taught in the new school system established by the British rulers. Economic and political competition also developed between the Hindu and Muslim elites, leading to communal tensions. The Hindu elite were quick to adjust to new realities and took to modern education, commerce, and industries. The Muslim ruling elite resisted the new secular education system and did not take to commerce and industry. They were thus left far behind in the race for progress. This secular education system was supported by the perceptive Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. He understood the importance of a modern education system and founded Mohammedan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College, which became the fulcrum of modern education for the North Indian Muslim elite. The orthodox Ulama, however, vehemently opposed modern secular education and declared Syed Ahmad Khan a kafir (unbeliever). Initially, the Hindu and Muslim elites cooperated with each other and Syed Ahmad Khan emphasised Hindu-Muslim unity. But the competitive nature of political and economic power drove a wedge between the two elites and communal tensions emerged. When the Indian National Congress was formed in 1885, it adopted secularism as its anchor in view of the multi-religious nature of Indian society. India could not head towards becoming a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) as India was not merely a Hindu country. Prior to partition in 1947, Muslims made up 25 percent of the population of the British Raj, and there were other religious minorities such as Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. In addition, Hindu society was highly fragmented and far from monolithic. The dalits (low-caste people) refused to call themselves Hindus; subsequently their leader, B. R. Ambedkar, adopted Buddhism in protest. Muslims, though not monolithic, had some semblance of unity, a fact communal Hindus used to try to unite Hindus as one community. At the same time, the Hindu elite was more confident than the Muslim elite in the emerging new power structure. The Muslim elite felt less secure and hitched their wagon to the British rulers. They wanted to build a power-


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sharing arrangement before the British left the country. But this could not be satisfactorily worked out and India was divided into two independent states, with the Muslim-majority areas of the Northwest becoming Pakistan. After independence and partition in 1947, a large population of Muslims was left in India; hence, leaders like Gandhi and Nehru preferred to keep India secular in the sense that it has no state religion and individuals are free to follow any religion of their birth or adoption. So, secularism in India is more a political than a personal or philosophical phenomenon. The Indian National Congress adopted secularism not as a worldly philosophy but more as a political arrangement among different religious communities. Thus, India has remained politically secular while its people continue to be deeply religious. Indian secularism is basically a political doctrine. All political parties have to conform to secularism as a political philosophy. The national election commission requires all candidates and political parties filing nomination papers to declare their acceptance of Indian secularism.

Secular Versus Communal
From the British period and onwards, the main political conflict in India was not between the religious and the secular forces; rather, it was between the secular and the communal. In the Western world, the main struggle is that of the church versus the state and civil society, respectively. But in India neither Hinduism nor Islam has any church-like structure; so there never was any struggle between secular and religious power structures. The main struggle has always been between secularism and communalism. The communal forces from among Hindus and Muslims mainly fought for a share in political power and they used members of their respective religions for their power base. Even after partition in 1947, the communal problem did not die in India. It reared its head again within a few years. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the mainspring of the Hindu right, remained in existence and spawned a new communal political outfit called the Jan Sangh. In independent India, the Jan Sangh was the core Hindu communal faction, continuously denouncing secularism as a Western concept alien to the Indian ethos. Jawahar Lal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, was a champion of secularism and secular politics. Theoretically, the Congress Party was also committed to secularism. However, the Congress Party contained several members and leaders whose secularism was in doubt. But Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and B.R. Ambedkar led India to commit itself to secularism and its constitution was drafted on secular lines. According to the Indian Constitution, there can be no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, gender, or class.

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Similarly, all citizens have the right to vote irrespective of religion, gender, or caste. According to Article 25, all those who reside in India are free to confess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice, subject to social health and to law and order. Thus, conversion to any religion is a fundamental right. But the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the RSS are opposed to this. According to them, there should be a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) in India, and Muslims and Sikhs should be second-class citizens with no political rights. Since the BJP is a political party, it cannot disagree with the Constitution openly and publicly. It also has to take a pledge of secularism to contest elections. Yet since it is an integral part of RSS ideology, it is responsible for RSS beliefs. In fact, all the truly secular forces in India consider the BJP to be a communal party. It always takes an anti-minority stance and accuses Congress, supposedly a secular party, of “appeasement” of minorities. It also describes Congress and other secular parties as indulging in “pseudo-secularism.” The RSS and the BJP, also known as the Sangh Parivar, not only reject secularism but incite violence against minorities. Since independence, several major communal riots have taken place in India. The first took place in Jabalpur in Central India, and the last major riot took place in Gujarat (Western India) in 2002, where more than 2,000 Muslims were killed and several women were raped. At the time of the Gujarat carnage the BJP ruled Gujarat. The Chief Minister of the BJP party, Narendra Modi, was allegedly involved in the carnage, along with the entire governmental machinery, and on this basis the U.S. government denied him an entry visa in early 2005. The BJP was also directly involved in high-pitched propaganda against the historic mosque called the Babri Mosque, and ultimately demolished it, claiming it to be a birthplace of Lord Ram, a Hindu god. Lal Krishna Advani, then President of the BJP, spearheaded the campaign against the Babri Mosque; the mosque was demolished in his presence. He later became Home Minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) administration. He is known as a hard-line Hindu. Shri Vajpayee, who became Prime Minister of India in the NDA government, is known as the moderate face of the BJP, though one can say there is hardly any ideological difference between the two. There is no doubt India has witnessed much communal violence due to the involvement of the RSS and the BJP, and occasionally the Congress party. Communalism is a powerful political weapon used by politicians. The Hindu masses are generally pawns in these power games. However, fanatics under the influence of the RSS ideology are involved, along with anti-social elements. It is also true that on certain major issues, like the birth place of Ram, people get misled by powerful communal propaganda and may side with the


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BJP, but that does not mean they are for violence and bloodshed. If they are properly informed, they withdraw their support. But secular forces are typically not as pro-active as communal forces are in these political-myth arguments. Communal forces actively work to spread inter-group hatred throughout the year, while secular forces typically become active only after communal violence has occurred and once peace is established they become nonchalant again. Communal forces thus came to power through propaganda, but were exposed during their five-year rule. They were voted out of power in great part because they were perceived to be behind the communal carnage in Gujarat in 2002, which even the former BJP prime minister, Vajpayee, acknowledged. This response clearly shows that people of India are by and large secular and do not like killing of others just because they are not Hindus. The BJP has been deserted by many of its former allies as they realize that association with communal violence is not politically tenable.

Secular and Unsecular People
Since secularism in the Indian context does not mean being “this-worldly,” it is difficult to divide Indians into believers and unbelievers. In fact, in India an overwhelming majority of people are religious, but tolerate and respect other religions and are thus “secular” in the Indian context. Even Sufis and Bhakti Saints are considered quite secular in that sense. Followers of the RSS and the BJP are very few, not more than 5-10 percent. Thus India has remained secular and democratic for its 60 years as an independent nation. There are some, but very few, rationalists and secularists who reject religion in its entirety. Though there are no census figures available, one can safely say they are less than 0.1 percent of Indians. Also, there are extremely orthodox people who exhibit rigidity and intolerance towards other faiths, not on communal grounds but on the grounds of religious orthodoxy, but they too are a minuscule minority. India’s extreme tolerance is perhaps due to the influence of the ancient Indian doctrine that the one truth is manifested in different forms, and to the Sufi doctrine of wahdat al-wujud (Real Being is one). This doctrine holds that there is only One Real Being and all of us are mere manifestations of that real being. Both of these doctrines breed inherent respect of others’ actions, beliefs, and existence. As the ancient Hindu doctrine leads to inclusiveness and peaceful coexistence so does the Sufi doctrine. For peaceful co-existence, another Sufi doctrine of sulh-i-ku (total peace and peace with all) is also important. Sufism has left a deep influence on the Hindu masses as much as on the Muslim masses. Thus,

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the real spirit of secularism in India is all-inclusiveness, religious pluralism and peaceful co-existence. With few exceptions, it is not religious leaders who divide but politicians seeking to mobilize votes on grounds of primordial identities like religion, caste and ethnicity. In a multi-religious society, basing politics not on issues but on identities can prove highly divisive. Politicians are tempted to appeal to identity rather than to offer policies to solve problems. Medieval society in India was religiously tolerant as it was non-competitive. Modern Indian society, on the other hand, has proved to be more divisive as it is based on competition. This competition becomes even more acute if economic development is uneven and unjust. Thus, in the case of India one can say that it is secular in as much as it is a religiously plural and tolerant nation. However, presently there are active and politically divisive forces creating communal pressure and widening the gap between the various religious communities. This tendency threatens the underpinnings of the Indian concept of secularism.

13. The Secular Israeli (Jewish) Identity:
An Impossible Dream?
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi


ertain 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. The case of Israeli Jews who consider themselves secular is unique because of its historical background, particularly the formal involvement of the state of Israel in religious institutions. Zionism, and the State of Israel it created, represents one response to the process of secularization among Jews, which has been more radical than in any other religious group. Jewish secularization has been vigorous and thorough ever since it started in the eighteenth century. It meant that Jewish identity was maintained by individuals who completely stopped participating in the behaviors inherent in the Jewish religion. This transformation amounted to a conscious attempt to remake a religious community into a nationality. Secularization in the Jewish case shows some universal features, together with uniquely Jewish aspects. If secularization is measured by distance from the historical dominance of religion, for Jews it has meant creating distance from the historical, rabbinic (Orthodox) Judaism created in the Middle Ages. Pre-modern Jewry had caste-like qualities, united by rules of excluding impurity and preserving the integrity of endogamy. These rules were articulated in the Talmud (canonized around 700 CE) and its derivative literature of


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rabbinical responsa, and led to the development of countless rituals during the subsequent centuries. Jewish communities across the medieval world, from Yemen to Germany, shared the same rules and could communicate easily and agree on the correct wording of a bill of divorce (the most important document in this tradition), the practice of ritual slaughter of animals for food, and menstrual taboos. There might have been slight differences of emphasis or practice between local communities but they all claimed to follow the Talmudic injunctions and maintained their loyalty to the letter and spirit of the Talmud. Jewish secularization in the modern period was tied to the rise of liberal capitalism in Europe and the corresponding economic decline of most Jewish communities. Three hundred years ago European Jewry was a small, marginal group, completely outside the mainstream of social and cultural developments, a minority of outsiders. In 1800, there were about 1.5 million Jews in Europe, out of a European population of 100 million, and a world Jewish population of some 2.5 million. The modernization of European Jews, which took place between 1780 and 1880, meant social and cultural dislocation on a massive scale. Emancipation for the Jews, the granting of citizenship and political rights, came against the background of the general European decline of religion and feudalism and the rise of secular nationalism, democracy, and socialism. The rise of the new bourgeoisie and the appearance of the ideals of equality, popular representation, and pluralism, which ran counter to religious traditions, made emancipation for excluded groups possible. Entry into the modern world via the granting of emancipation meant the collapse of the internal Jewish consensus and society. Tearing down the figurative walls of the ghetto and the concrete limitations on participation in society brought about not just the weakening, but the destruction, of traditional community structures. “Jewishness” was separated from Judaism, with the result that most Jews today are such only in a sociological sense. Secularized Jews were a European reality by the early 19th century, and a significant majority in Western Europe by its end. By that time, the process of secularization was making significant inroads into Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Most sociological Jews today are “assimilated” and far removed from historic Judaism. In most cases, they have little idea what its traditions are. Less than 10 percent of world Jewry today preserves historical Judaism. The Zionist vision, created under the impact of the Enlightenment and European nationalism and secularization, faces another kind of historical challenge among Israeli Jews. While about half of Israeli Jews are of European descent, the other half comprises individuals whose ancestors lived in the Islamic world.

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Because that world has not experienced the Reformation or the Enlightenment, European secularization has affected it to a minimal degree, and religion has remained more powerful than secular nationalism. Thus, Israeli Jews of nonEuropean descent are often more religious than their European counterparts.

The Role of the State
The State of Israel formally regulates the religious involvement of its citizens in many ways. The state maintains a list of recognized religions (16 at last count), and classifies all its citizens (and resident non-citizens) according to religious affiliation. Marriage and divorce can take place only within the (recognized) religious group. Religious conversions from one recognized group to another are registered and reported. Vital statistics are reported based on religion (e.g. “live births by mother’s religion”). Israel defines itself as the state of the Jewish people, meaning about 13 million individuals, only about half of whom currently reside in Israel. Jews are viewed by the state not only as a religious group, but as a national group as well. Yet joining this national group is only possible through a religious conversion. Thus the boundaries of the Jewish group are maintained by the system of religious courts, as well as by civil authorities. Attempts to have the state recognize an Israeli nationality (as distinct from citizenship) have been rejected time and again by the courts, and this rejection is supported by a solid majority of the public. The leadership of the state has always been totally non-observant. Moreover, leaders of the religious parties, which almost always participate in governing coalitions, are always excluded from the really important decisions. They are never involved in discussions about war, or the economy, and do not even seem to aspire to be part of such fateful deliberations. Of all Israeli prime ministers since 1948, David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir, Ehud Barak, Binyamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Menahem Begin, only the last ever attended synagogue services outside of fulfilling an official or ceremonial duty, and even he did so rarely. It is important to note also that Israel’s intellectual, literary, scientific, and artistic elite is also overwhelmingly non-observant. But at the same time the political leadership shows reverence for traditional symbols of Jewish identity and especially identity boundaries. For example, the prime minister of Israel will not be seen, while on an official visit abroad, to be travelling on the Sabbath. Neither will the prime minister of Israel be seen driving a car on Saturday in Jerusalem, even though he will not be seen in a synagogue. The state invests significant public resources in the maintenance of historical


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Judaism. This is done by financing an expensive system of lifelong Talmudic learning, in which more than 100,000 individuals are involved. Such a large religious education system is unprecedented in Jewish history. In addition to the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox educational systems, there is a system of rabbinical courts, where the judges enjoy the same salaries and benefits as civil judges, and other systems that provide ritual purity for those who desire it, at state expense. Most ultra-Orthodox men and a fair number of Orthodox men are full-time religious professionals, creating a modern “priestly class.” These occupations include those making sure that any menstruating Orthodox woman can find a ritual bath close to home, and those engaged in support of the kosher dietary taboos. Raising pigs and selling pork to Jews and Muslims is forbidden by law, representing a symbolic victory of millennia of Jewish dietary taboos, but the non-observant can easily get around these limitations. By law, Israeli Jews are not allowed to work on the Sabbath, and every year, businesses pay fines if they are caught employing Jews in economic activities. A business open on Saturday is immune if it can prove, with the help of government identity cards, that its employees are non-Jews. Those handing out the tickets for Saturday work are drawn from members of the Druze minority. The whole enterprise of maintaining Orthodox traditions employs many thousands of civil servants, all Orthodox. Ultra-Orthodox parties, which currently hold 18 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, (and are openly non-Zionist), act to increase religion budgets, and have a vital interest in maintaining the system. However, they would not be able to do that without widespread public support for the idea that the state should invest in maintaining the system of Jewish Sabbath observance. In Israeli society there is a clear, social line of division between two subcultures, the religiously observant and the non-observant. About 20 percent of the Jewish population continues to follow a historical Judaism where expectations for public behavior are quite clear. The nature of Judaism as a religion of practice makes this division both public and visible. Members of the two groups can identify each other immediately by distinctive cues, such as dress (for example, head coverings for Orthodox men and married women, and for the ultra-Orthodox black coats, long beards, side locks, etc.). The taboos concerning the Sabbath in Orthodox Judaism serve as the best example of behavioral divisions. Traveling in motor vehicles on Saturday (except for a real life-saving emergency) is out of the question for members of the religious subculture, as is watching television or using the telephone. In addition to Sabbath observance, historical food taboos mean that intimate social contact between the observant and the non-observant is limited. An observant Jew will

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not have dinner at the home of a non-observant family. In everyday discourse, finer distinctions are sometimes made. The varying levels of religiosity among Israeli Jews are reflected in the following labels: Haredi, denoting the very Orthodox, Dati (literally religious) denoting Orthodox, Masorti (literally traditional) denoting those who are partially observant, and Hiloni (literally secular) denoting the non-observant. These Hebrew terms are widely used in everyday life, and in both the spoken and written language. However, what should be kept in mind is that most non-observant Jews choose to take part in many Orthodox life-cycle rites. There is almost no support for the idea of civil marriage, and only slight support for the idea of civil burial. There is universal support for the idea of a religious conversion as the only way for non-Jews to become Jewish. Nevertheless, this issue is under constant discussion and debate in Israel. The non-observant claim that the rabbinical courts are too strict in their requirements for converts, and expect these courts to change their practices. The debate is provoked by so-called secular Israelis, who would like the conversion process itself to be “easy” or “liberal” while nonetheless agreeing that a religious conversion is the only way to join the “Jewish people.” Thus there can be no serious challenge to the monopoly principle that confers Jewishness on those undergoing the Orthodox rites of conversion, which are regarded as historically authentic. This is clear in the case of group conversions, when non-Jews or “lost tribes” from Ethiopia, Peru, or India, are recognized by the state as Jewish and only gain citizenship following Orthodox conversions. According to Talmudic law anybody born to a Jewish mother is Jewish. This matrilineal rule is universally accepted in Israel. In Israeli identity discourse, as in Orthodox religious discourse, nobody can be half-Jewish, or of Jewish descent. Either you are Jewish or not. In the Israeli media, discussions of Jewish identity often take the form of reporting on the presumed Jewishness of well-known individuals around the world, and the list of great Jews is indeed interminable. What is expressed when they are mentioned is justified pride in the achievements of a distant cousin, together with special glee in exposing those who have chosen not to call themselves Jews even if they had a Jewish mother. Thus, special pleasure is taken in outing Marcel Proust, who wrote in 1896: “...I am a Catholic, like my father and my brother, my mother is Jewish.”1 Israeli literary critics (who are self-described secularists; few Orthodox Jews read Proust) will not miss a chance to comment on what they regard as Proust’s denial of his true, objective, Jewishness. Israeli identity discourse, just like the classic anti-Semitic thinking, does not allow a choice in self-definition. It is not just the question of blood, but of the 23 maternal chromosomes.


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Social Characteristics
Religiosity levels among Israeli Jews have been systematically measured in numerous surveys. Ben-Meir and Kedem2 have developed two indices, for religious beliefs and for religious observance (behavior). These indices were based on a 1970s survey of a stratified random sample of the urban Jewish population in Israel. The belief scale starts with the belief in the immortality of the soul (29 percent agreement in the sample), then goes on to the belief in the coming of the Messiah (36 percent), to belief in the Jewish people as chosen (57 percent), and to the final item, belief in God (64 percent). Twenty-two percent did not drive on Saturday, and 44 percent reported keeping to the dietary separation between meat and milk. Seventy-four percent claim to fast on the Day of Atonement, 88 percent light Hanukka candles, and 99 percent take part in the Passover meal. Since the Ben-Meir and Kedem3 benchmark study, there have been several additional surveys assessing observance level among Israeli Jews. According to Kedem,4 the levels of non-observance between 1962 and 1988 ranged from 22 percent to 32 percent of the Jewish population. Self-identification as a secular Israeli means a lower likelihood of religious belief and a much lower likelihood of religious observance. The question of Jewish identity and self-definition is discussed quite often in the Israeli media, and the results of systematic surveys reported regularly. A 2004 survey showed that 81 percent of Israel’s population defined themselves as Jewish; 12 percent as Muslim; 3.5 percent as Christian (both Arab and nonArab); 1.5 percent as Druze; 1.5 percent as Atheist; and another 0.5 percent as followers of other religions. Among Muslims living in Israel, 11 percent defined themselves as very religious; 49 percent as religious; 21 percent as not so religious; and only 18 percent as not religious at all. In terms of religiosity, among Israeli Jews aged 20 and over, 44 percent defined themselves as secular; 27 percent defined themselves as traditional; 12 percent as traditionally observant; 9 percent as Orthodox; and 8 percent as ultra-Orthodox. The ideological gap between the elements of the population with a European Enlightenment heritage and those with a legacy of the Islamic world was clearly demonstrated in this survey. In 2004, there was a particularly high prevalence of the secular label, 63 percent, among native Israelis of European descent, compared to 33 percent among native Israelis of Asian origin, and 25 percent of native Israelis of North African origin. This was consistent with earlier surveys, which showed higher levels of observance among Mizrahim (Eastern Jews).5 In terms of income, secular Jews had the highest levels, followed by the Orthodox, the traditionally observant, and at the bottom the ultra-Orthodox.

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Secular Jews also had the highest level of education, with 32 percent reporting higher education. A 2005 survey by Ephraim Yaar for the Shmuel Neeman Institute for Advanced Study in Science and Technology at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa reported that 41 percent of secular Israelis believed in God (compared with 52 percent who did not). Sixteen percent of secular Jews believed in heaven and hell, and 23 percent agreed with the statement that “nature is spiritual or holy.” In a 2006 survey, 47 percent of the self-defined secular said they believed in God, but only 6 percent observed the Sabbath prohibitions.

Politics and Ideology
In terms of political attitudes, it is routinely reported that higher levels of religiosity among Israeli Jews are correlated with hawkishness and conservatism. This finding parallels those reported for religions all over the world.6 Thus, an April 2004 survey of attitudes toward the Sharon Gaza disengagement plan showed that while 85 percent of the ultra-Orthodox opposed disengagement, as did 67 percent of those defining themselves as “religious,” only 38 percent of the “traditional” and 17 percent of the “secular” opposed it. To properly appreciate the connection between Israeli secular culture and Judaism, it is useful to examine the state education system. The state school system in Israel for Jews (there is a separate system for Arabs) is divided into two parallel sub-systems, one religious and the other “secular.” Children of the religious subculture (not the ultra-Orthodox), raised according to Jewish Orthodox beliefs and behaviors, attend state religious schools. There is also an independent orthodox system, which is state-financed, but directed by the ultra-Orthodox community. What can be observed is that even the “secular” state schools follow a curriculum with large doses of Old Testament texts and Orthodox law. The stated rationale for that is that these are the building blocks of Jewish national identity, and without them such an identity will be totally devoid of content and meaning. The main difference between rabbinical Judaism and what is taught in Israeli state schools is the relative absence of the Talmud, which is perceived as an expression of Diaspora culture. In contrast, the state favors the Old Testament, representing a mythic, glorious, Jewish past rooted in the “Promised Land” in West Asia. The Zionist conception of Jewish history offers a division into distinct periods. Jewish history is divided into periods of activity and heroism (ancient history and modern Zionism, before 135 CE, when the last rebellion against the Romans ended, and after 1880, when Zionist settlement in Palestine began),


SeculariSm & Secularity

and the long period of submission and passivity (between 135 CE and 1880 CE). Thus the years when there was no Jewish sovereignty should be largely erased from the collective memory. Zionism, in rejecting rabbinical Judaism, started a “biblicalization” of Jewish history and identity. Biblical Hebrew and biblical mythology became the cornerstones of the new nationalism. The ancient Jewish past in the Holy Land was seen as marked by activism, pride, and a readiness to fight and die for national independence. The leap over the history of nearly 2000 years of rabbinical tradition and Diaspora experience, aimed at landing in a past of glorious national sovereignty, to be overshadowed only by future grandeur. The reinterpretation of the Hebrew Bible started with nineteenth century Hebrew literature and the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) movement, which discovered new heroes and new ideas in the ancient texts. Those who wanted to revive Hebrew found the Bible to be a source of classical Hebrew style, and a repository of great literature. Today’s interpretation of the Bible, as it is studied in all Israeli schools, is a direct continuation of the 19th-century approach. Observing a so-called secular Israeli nursery school today will demonstrate that children as young as three are taught the Genesis story of the creation, the Exodus story, starting with the baby Moses in the bulrushes, and so on. These stories are taught every year in the same order, in connection with related religious holidays. In elementary school they are taught as the starting point of national history. Thus most non-observant adults in Israel believe in the historicity of the Old Testament texts. Following 19th-century revitalization ideals, secular Israelis often claim that they represent a new, and still authentic, kind of Judaism, by trying to defend their historically recent conception. Orthodox Jews have no such problem. They don’t have to apologize because no one will ever doubt their Jewishness and their Judaism, which are historically authentic. If you claim to be Jewish you cannot gainsay these representatives of Jewish history and historical Judaism. Thus, in any debate about Jewish identity, and there are many of those in Israel, the secular side tends to be apologetic while the Orthodox side is confident and secure. Those who describe themselves as non-observant among Israeli Jews choose to follow a pattern of minimal observance, which is still acceptable in terms of the medieval rules of the rabbinate. “Secular” Jews claim a Jewish identity and so inevitably follow the minimal requirements of Orthodox Judaism whereby divorce (more important than marriage) can be handled only by rabbinical courts. Beyond the minimal requirements, secular Jews also follow the rituals of circumcision for male infants, mezuzah (door amulet), and bar-mitzvah for

13. the Secular iSraeli (JewiSh) identity


boys at age 13. As a result the Orthodox rabbinate still views them as worthy of Orthodox marriage and burial rites, because they are matrilineal Jews, whose lineage is not marred by an improper divorce. The Orthodox have agreed to a national consensus, which is rejected only by the ultra-Orthodox. The latter refuse to marry members of the secular sub-culture, just as they will not marry converts. This reasoning has to do with menstrual taboos, which make most Jews in the world today impure in their eyes. Secular Jewish Israelis are highly offended when the authenticity of their Jewishness is challenged. This is done often enough, and easily, by Orthodox spokesmen. All it takes is for the particular rabbi to refer to secular Jews as “rabbit eaters” (referring to their non-observance of food taboos), or as “men having sex with menstruating women.” In 1999, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the leader of the Shas ultra-Orthodox religious political party, described the justices of the Israel Supreme Court, as men who had sex with menstruating women. This caused a storm of denunciations from the secular camp. Yet the incident proved the power of ancient taboos, and the vacuity of the notion of Israeli secular Jews. If you are truly secular, why should you get upset over a factual description of your disregard for ancient taboos? Israel is an ideological state, a state with a mission, and the mission is to revitalize Jewish identity in its ancient homeland. Most secular Jews in Israel are committed to this mission. Whether secular or observant, there is a national consensus around the overall Jewish identity label. Thus, so-called secular individuals who are distant from the Talmudic tradition still help to keep its spirit alive. Zionism is dedicated to preserving Jewish identity, though in a new form. However, it cannot betray its links to a historical Jewish identity, which can only in essence be religious.

1. 2. 3. 4. Hayman, Ronald. Proust: A Biography. (New York: HarperCollins, 1990) p. 108. Ben-Meir, Yehuda and Peri Kedem. “Index of religiosity of the Jewish population of Israel.” Megamot, 1979, 24, 353-362. (Hebrew). Ibid. Kedem, Peri. “Dimensions of Jewish religiosity” Ed. Zvi Sobel and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. Tradition, Innovation, Conflict: Judaism and Jewishness in Contemporary Israel. (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1991). Ibid. Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin, and Michael Argyle. The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience. (London: Routledge, 1997).

5. 6.

Dr. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi is professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel. His many books include The Psychology of Religious Behavior, Belief, and Experience and Despair and Deliverance: Private Salvation in Contemporary Israel. Dr. Nathalie Caron, a historian of the 18th century, is maître de conférence (associate professor) in American Civilization in the Department of English and American Studies at the Université de Paris 10-Nanterre. She is the author of Thomas Paine contre l’imposture des prêtres (Thomas Paine against the imposition of priests). Dr. Abby Day is Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex, UK. Her current project, “Believing in Belonging: exploring religious belief and identity” follows from her empirically based doctoral research at Lancaster University, UK. Dr. Lars Dencik is professor of social psychology at Roskilde University, Denmark, and director of the Social and Cultural Psychology Program at the Danish Graduate School of Psychology. Dr. Ashgar Ali Engineer, a civil engineer, holds honorary doctorates from several Indian universities. He is 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. Dr. Ariela Keysar, a demographer, is 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. She was the study director of the American Religious Identification Survey 2001 and is co-author of Religion in a Free Market. Dr. Patricia O’Connell Killen, a religious historian, is professor of religion and director of the Center for Religion, Cultures and Society in the Western United States at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington. Dr. Barry A. Kosmin, a sociologist, is 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. He was principal investigator of the CUNY National Survey of Religious Identification 1990 and the American Religious Identification Survey 2001. Nastaran Moossavi was the McGill Teaching Fellow in International Studies at Trinity College in 2005-2006. Ms. Moossavi has been a member of the Board of the Iranian Writers’ Association since 2001. She is also the editor of two readers in Persian on women. 167


seCularism & seCularity

Dr. Frank Pasquale, a cultural anthropologist, is a research associate of ISSSC engaged in the study of the nonreligious population of the U.S. He has written and lectured widely on humanism, morality and ethics, and church-state relations. He resides in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Bruce Phillips is a sociologist at the University of Southern California and professor of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles. He has conducted research on inter-faith marraiges and local communities. Dr. Andrew Singleton is a lecturer in the Sociology Program, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. His research interests include youth spirituality, alternative religions, fatherhood, and men’s health. He is co-author (with M.Mason and R.Webber) of the book The Spirit of Generation Y: Young people’s spirituality in a changing Australia (John Garratt, forthcoming). Dr. William A. Stahl is professor of sociology at Luther College, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He is author of God and the Chip: Religion and the Culture of Technology and co-author of Webs of Reality: Social Perspectives on Science and Religion. Dr. David Voas, a social statistician, is the Simon Research Fellow at the Cathy Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester, England. He specializes in religious change in modern societies.