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Nikki R.


Secularism and the State: Towards Clarity and Global Comparison

Debates about the process of secularization have, in recent years, centred on the work of a group of sociologists and historians, mostly British, who have put forth and debated what is known as the secularization thesis.1 This correlates modernization with secularization, and generally measures secularization primarily through declining church membership and declared religious beliefs. In most of this discussion, secularization is attributed almost exclusively to socio-economic change, without significant reference to the state, to ideas, or to political movements. While there have been modifications of the thesis over time, one recent definition shows that it still retains its essential characteristics: the secularization thesis is a research programme with, at its core, an explanatory model which asserts that the social significance of religion diminishes in response to the operation of three salient features of modernization, namely 1) social differentiation, 2) societalization, and 3) rationalization.2 These factors are defined later, but clearly all three involve societal change rather than changes in ideas, political movements or the state. Advocates of the

secularization thesis have also tended to see it as a progressive one-way process; societies and their constituent members become more secular as they become more modernized. This article, in contrast, contends that such an overwhelmingly societal and non-political view cannot adequately explain secularization. Furthermore, it cannot explain the rise in recent decades and in many parts of the world of anti-secular movements and ideas. The secularization thesis concentrates heavily on Great Britain, with some attention to western Europe. Its advocates attribute American exceptionalism to such factors as a multiplicity of churches and ethnicity, or to the supposedly secular nature of American church teachings.3 The non-Christian and non-Western worlds are generally omitted from this debate. There secularization has, as I will show, been more influenced by government action than by autonomous societal changes, and trends toward secularization have sometimes been dramatically reversed. The original secularization thesis, and even its modifications, tended to see secularization as a one-way street. Religious revivals in the US or elsewhere were generally ignored or explained away. A leader of this school even wrote a book on the rise and fall of the US religious Right, published in 1988.4 Reversing the old saying, one might comment, Ill see it when I believe it. The Complex Nature of Secularism It is not just the conclusions of the secularization thesis that can be challenged, but also its limited concept of secularization and the secular which centres on declining religious belief and church membership. Secularization theory shares the linear-progressive viewpoint of modernization theory, and is really a sub-category of that theoretical approach. Although it is broadly true that societal secularization has usually accompanied modernization, the theory is undialectical and plays down contradictory forces. Hardly noted are the counter-examples to the view, including the fact that government secularization policies often bring about anti-secular reactions, especially among certain classes and groups. In recent decades, rapid modernization has contributed not only to secularism but to major anti-secularizing trends, especially in countries with growing fundamentalist movements.
1 This article had its origins in a paper written for a conference on past and future fins de sicle held at the Library of Congress in late 1994 and organized by Bruce Mazlish and Alvin Kibel. Thanks for helpful suggestions are due to them and the other participants, and also to others who have read and commented on the paper, including Charles Tilly, Perry Anderson, Robin Blackburn and Theda Skocpol. 2 Roy Wallis and Steve Bruce, Secularization: The Orthodox Model, in Steve Bruce, ed., Religion and Modernization: Sociologists and Historians Debate the Secularization Thesis, Oxford 1994, pp. 89. 3 For the secularization thesis and some articles critical of it, see especially Bruce, Religion and Modernization; the US is the focus of Roger Finkes contribution, An Unsecular America, pp. 14569. The whole idea of a uniform process of secularization is attacked in David Martin, The Religious and the Secular: Studies in Secularization, London 1969. 4 Steve Bruce, The Rise and Fall of the New Christian Right: Conservative Protestant Politics in America 19781988, Oxford 1988. The book does make valid points about the narrow base and legislative failures of the Christian Right.


Even Bryan R. Wilson, a founding father of the secularization thesis, notes that many who write of it limit their evidence to church membership, their subject of study to Christianity, and their idea of secularization to just one of its many meanings.5 One may add that even such major Christian countries as France and Italy are rarely mentioned in such works. Nor is history much mentioned by the sociologists involved. One may agree with these sociologists that modernization and its subcategories of urbanization, migration, and industrialization were by and large associated in the West with a weakening of religious institutions and belief. But we might find other modernizing forces that correlate with secularization, including such cultural factors as the rise of literacy and public education, and the emergence of new types of reading material and entertainment. There seems no reason to pick some aspects of modernization and not others as causing secularization. Further, there is little reason to think that levels of church membership or declared belief are sufficient measures of secularization. Secular attitudes and behaviour are characteristic of many church members and believers. In many societies, modernization has produced two major cultures in each religion, roughly, that of the secular and that of the true believer, and in many areas there has been a reaction against secular nationalist culture and rule. Particularly in the US, in some ex-communist countries, and some non-Western ones there has been a religious reaction which also has political implications. Studies including more countries might yield more complex and dialectical generalizations than those posed by the secularization thesis.6 A different trend in the scholarly study of secularization and secularism is to stress the role and writings of intellectuals like Locke, Milton, Voltaire, Jefferson and others. While, like the purely sociological view, this outlook contains some truth, both views greatly understate the role of politics and the state in both social secularization and the spread of secularist views. Secularism and the State While the word secularization is commonly used mainly for a social trend and the word secular is applied largely to governmental policy, the two are profoundly, if dialectically, related in a way not covered by the secularization thesis. A secularized population encourages a secular state, but secular states also encourage mass secularization, especially of the schools and of those receiving schooling. Some consideration of the secularization of the state and of politics is needed to understand the secularization of society.
Bryan R. Wilson, Reflections on a Many-Sided Controversy, in Bruce, Religion and Modernization. 6 Some of the pros and cons of the secularization thesis are discussed in various articles by Karel Dobbelaere, who also provides bibliographies: Secularization: A Multi-Dimensional Concept, Current Sociology, vol. 29, no. 2, Summer 1981, pp. 1213; Secularization Theories and Sociological Paradigms: A Reformulation of the Private-Public Dichotomy and the Problem of Societal Integration, Sociological Analysis, vol. 46, no. 4, Winter 1985, pp. 377386; Some Trends in European Sociology of Religion: The Secularization Debate, Sociological Analysis, same issue, pp. 10737.

No state today is entirely secular or entirely non-secular. The very strengthening of a state demanded by modern economies requires considerable state control of public education, civil law, welfare and other spheres that is more secular than anything that existed in the past. A large degree of secularism is a necessary concomitant of the modern industrial world. Even fundamentalist Iran soon adopted a series of essentially secular laws and procedures, and Khomeini in a sense secularized religion, especially in his startling 1988 decree which stated that Quranic obligations, like daily prayer, could give way to reasons of state.7 A similar secularization will probably occur in any fundamentalist government that hopes to keep power. At the opposite extreme, no state yet seen has been purely secular, whether the word is used to mean state separation from religion or state control of religion. (State separation and state control are not absolutes, and do not exhaust all the political meanings of secularism, which is a contested and changing concept.)8 The two currently salient political meanings of state control and state separation are often not distinguished. For many Westerners the word secular means essentially the separation of church and stateto use the American formulation. Secularists in this sense are those who believe in that separation, whatever their private religious beliefs. This wording of a common idea is especially American, and America may come closer to such a separation than any other major Western country. Americans can note that this separation has not hurt religion in the US, but has allowed for the flowering of a variety of sects and churches, both Christian and non-Christian. Even this formulation, no matter how it is worded, may not be an adequate description of reality which is much more varied than any such phrase would imply. First, to judge by the situation in some of the most secular Western countries, church and state are nowhere wholly separate, and usually have important ties, whether or not the church-state relationships favour a single established or dominant religion. (For purposes of brevity, the word church here will be taken to mean the institutions of all organized religions, and the word state will refer to all levels of governmentcentral, provincial and local.) In Germany and Spain, for example, the state collects reliSee especially Ervand Abrahamian, Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic, Berkeley 1993, p. 57: The government in Islam, Khomeini elaborated, is a primary rule having precedence over secondary rulings such as praying, fasting, and performing the hajj . . . In short, the state, so long as it was a truly Islamic state, could overrule the highest-ranking clerics and their interpretation of the sacred law. 8 In John Ruedys excellent summary, Secular is a term used to distinguish the temporal or worldly from the spiritual, while secularism has come to denote a philosophy that privileges the domain of the temporal and diminishes that of the spiritual. The former grows to cover civil affairs and education, while the latter is increasingly restricted to the areas of private belief, worship, and conduct. While secularism as a philosophy is central to the Western experience, it should be borne in mind that the concept has evolved historically and that it is still doing so. What was considered the proper province of human rational decision was different in the fifteenth century than in the nineteenth century and is even more different in the late twentieth. Secondly, it should be stressed that the struggle over the frontier between the secular and the religious is one characterized by continuous tension and that, up to now, the exact line of the frontier between the two has never been agreed upon. One must also recognize that in the West there has seldom been agreement among secularists as a group, nor among the religious as a group, as to where exactly that frontier should be. Introduction to John Ruedy, ed., Islamism and Secularism in North Africa, New York 1994, p. xiv.

gious taxes that are used to support the church; in France the state helps support churches and some mosques; and in Great Britain there is an established religion, a law of blasphemyhowever rarely employed that covers only the majority religion, and state support for various forms of religious education.9 Even in the US, which at least since the 1962 Supreme Court decision against prayer in the schools has been arguably the most secular of major Western countries, the state indirectly supports the vast network of church schools and institutions by exempting them from taxes as nonprofit organizations and by certain other indirect subsidies. Nor is what may seem like a strict church-state separation always rigorously enforced; prayer in schools, for example, is still quite widespread in several areas of the US despite its being illegal.10 And in 1997 the Supreme Court may have heralded a less-strict church-state separation when it reversed a recent decision of a past Supreme Court and said that public school teachers could teach certain special classes in parochial school classrooms. (An apparently anti-religious Supreme Court decision also in 1997 seems more limited in its church-state implications.) Another church-state issue coming to the fore both federally and at state level is the proposal, already enacted in a few states, for state-subsidized vouchers for poor children to attend privatemostly religiousschools. Such a provision has recently been successfully challenged as unconstitutional in a Wisconsin appeals court, but voucher proposals remain very much alive. In the US, and to a degree elsewhere, state-school issues have been central to conflicts over secularism, and the lines of acceptance and conflict on these and other questions are continually changing. Besides the ambiguity of such concepts as separation of church and state, particularly when the ideal is compared to actual conditions, there is the fact that some applications of secularism in practice mean something quite antithetical to the ideal of church-state separation. They produce instead increasing control of the church by the state. This is clearest in a number of non-Western countries, including modern Turkey, Pahlavi Iran, Bourguibas Tunisia, and Nassers Egypt. In such countries, with strong religious institutions that formerly controlled of much of law, education and social welfare, the state had to take power from those institutions to introduce modernizing and centralizing changes. Such
Peter G. Forster, Secularization in the English Context: Some Conceptual and Empirical Problems, The Sociological Review, vol. 20, no. 2, May 1972, pp. 15368. Forster notes that sociologists tend to dismiss the importance of English state defense of the Church, but that it includes the position of the monarch as head of church as well as state, the bishops in the House of Lords, the Mayors Sunday, the oath in court, religious broadcasting on the BBC, church parades in the armed forces, subsidies to church schools, and above all the collective worship and religious instruction in state schools. Though these observances are not generally obligatory, one must generally contract out to avoid them . . . Nearly every English child is exposed to the religious component of dominant values . . . when the truth of Christianity is affirmed at morning assembly. (pp. 1645) Recent writers have noted the frequent use in urban schools of legally allotted religious time to teach things other than Christianity, however. 10 One article estimates that 25 per cent of US schools still begin with Bible or prayer reading, and many end with released time for religious instruction. N.J. Demerath III and Rhys H. Williams, A Mythical Past and an Uncertain Future, Church-State Relations Tensions and Transitions, New Brunswick 1987.

state control of religious institutions has been more important in the West than is usually realized, with the modern state taking over much of education, including parts formerly controlled by churches, and regulating church behaviour in a variety of ways. Especially in backward European countries whose rulers wanted to catch up with the West such as Russia both before and under communismstate control and manipulation of religion and the church were notable. Communist countries are often not referred to as secular, perhaps because the state control of the church was so obvious, and yet on this point there was little to choose between communist countries and Ataturks secular Turkey which, if anything, more forcibly changed religion and permissible religious practices. On this point, as on some others mentioned, there appears to be a continuumfrom countries with little control by the state over the church to countries with a great deal of controland it is not always clear which countries should be called secular. The phenomenon of continuities and continuums between the secular and the non-secular exists in belief as well as in practice. It is nonetheless true that in the realm of belief there are clusters on each end of the continuumon the one side, those who do not believe religion should mix in politics at all, and, on the other, those who strongly believe that it should. The latter are often referred to as fundamentalists. Many secularists are ideological and politically committed, as are anti-secularists. Indeed, secularism has been called an ideology, and some secularists behave in ideological fashion. The Non-Western Experience of Secularism The usual procedure in making comparisons covering both Western and non-Western countries in modern times is to begin with the West, where a whole series of modern developments came earliest, and then proceed eastward. This is a logical approach but, in the case of secularism, an important new perspective may be gained if we first turn to what happened in the past two centuries in many non-Western countries where secularization was an important issue, and then see if this sheds light on Western developments. In the non-Western world, secularism, whether or not the word was widely used, seems to have been especially important in Muslim countries and in South Asia. The basic reasons for its importance in Muslim countries are not hard to find. First, as in Judaism and Christianity, the prevailing religion was monotheistic and scriptural, implying a basic minimum of common belief and practice among believers. In all three religions, education, law, and social practice all had strong religious elements, involving both considerable control by religious institutions and a set of beliefs guiding ideology and activity. In addition, Christianity and Islam had religious institutions with considerable economic and political power. Such cultural, political, and economic power in the hands of religious institutions was tied to traditional ways of doing things which affected both economic and political structures. Thus, as modernization developed, the old religious institutions came under attack by intellectuals and rulers. These institutions were inadequate to, and could not quickly adapt to, modern technology,

science, centralized and bureaucratic political structures. This is a simplified and schematic picture of the rise of political secularization in both the Christian and Muslim worlds, and, to a degree, of that in Judaism. Islamic history is different from Western Christian history, partly because modernizing trends began earlier and have been more gradual in the West, and also because Islam has not had a strong secular legal tradition. These are two of the factors that have made secularization more difficult and contentious in recent decades in the Islamic world than in the West, while all the main scriptural monotheistic religions have been more resistant to secularization than have other religious traditions. In India there was a variation on the above pattern. Hinduism was far from scriptural or monotheistic, and it has even been argued that it was not, in premodern times, really a religion at all, if religion is taken to mean a common body of beliefs.11 Its institutions were more local and varied than were those of Christianity or Islam, but they were, often allied with government, law and education. In India, the rise of secularism, before and after independence, was largely tied to the creation of a nation-state, originally as part of the anti-British struggle. If identities remained primarily religious, there was no chance of creating a unified nation. And if Hinduism was to be openly favoured over other religions, there was similarly no chance of developing a multireligious national liberation struggle, or of keeping the nation united after independence. The fact that other religions, notably Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism, were more scriptural and unified gave the Hindus who took the secular approach of the Indian National Congress and later the Congress Party all the more reason to work to keep religion out of politics. Western works about secularism usually stress intellectual or social belief, but in non-Western countries these were less important than governmentaland sometimes oppositionalpolitical motivations, often tied to economic interests. There were relatively few intellectual figures with relatively little influence espousing secularism before it became a major political or governmental cause. As for popular belief, there is no doubt but that non-Western modernizing governments greatly preceded their populations in secularist beliefs and practices. This primacy of governments in secularization has been somewhat obscured by the fact that not only Western but also indigenous scholars often prefer to discuss the achievements of intellectuals rather than those of governments. While more intellectuals preceded governments in secularism in the West, even in this field scholarship often overstates the role of intellectuals. A brief summary of secularization in the Middle East since the nineteenth century may illustrate my point. Here the stress will be on the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, which had the longest and ultimately the most radical secularization process; but the trends discussed were found elsewhere, and other countries will be mentioned.

See especially the chapters by Guenther D. Sontheimer and Robert Eric Frykenberg in Sontheimer and Hermann Kulke, eds, Hinduism Reconsidered, Delhi 1959.

Secularization in the Middle East Secularization in the Middle East is inseparable both from Westernization and from efforts to strengthen the central state. While it is often said that state and church were inseparably intertwined in pre-modern Islam, this is not really true. In the first Islamic centuries, after the first four pious caliphs, dynasties often paid little attention to what was said by Islam or the religious classesat most no more attention than premodern Western rulers did to Christianity.12 Administration and foreign relations were carried out with minimal attention to Islam. While there was much less non-religious law than in the West, Islamic rulers did have large legal spheres in which the state, not the religious judges, made decisions, and some basis in tradition or in writing by which such law worked. In the period called early modern in the West, the Safavid dynasty in Iran and the Ottomans in the Ottoman Empire ruled states in which the religious classes, or ulama, were more a corporate body than ever before. Especially in the Ottoman Empire, there were governing institutions with considerable independence of religious bodies. These societies were not, however, secular in any modern sense, as dominant ideas took a religious form; the ulama controlled most education, law, and social services, and also had possession of religious taxes and of inalienable donations of so-called vaqf land and goods. Not only were religious institutions and intellectual hegemony far stronger than in most modern societies, but the central state was weaker and, at least in most periods, more decentralized. In its early centuries, the Ottoman state had a series of major and minor military victories over European Christians, and felt no need to emulate the West. Beginning in the late-seventeenth century, however, it began to suffer the reversals that continued over the next two centuries. The treaties of Karlowitz in 1699 and Kuchuk Kaynarca in 1774 marked major losses to Austria and Russia. In the nineteenth century, liberation movements among the Ottoman Balkan Christians cut away long-held territory, and further territory was lost in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Along with a growing realization of the strength of the West, this series of defeats created two opposite reactions from the eighteenth century onwards. One was to try to emulate the West, especially in military matters. The other was to react against unsuccessful Westernizing reforms by reasserting the old ways.13 Governmental reforms began as early as the early eighteenth century; one of them was to introduce a printing press with (Arabic) Ottoman characters. Like many other reforms that may not appear to us as attacks on religion and the religious classes, this
On Islam and the state, see especially Nikki R. Keddie, Iran and the Muslim World: Resistance and Revolution, London 1995, ch. 15, and the sources cited therein. Among the best-informed are Sami Zubaida, Islam, The People and the State, London 1989; Nazih N. Ayubi, Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World, London 1991 and Rethinking the Public/Private Dichotomy: Radical Islam and Civil Society in the Middle East, Contention, vol. 4, no. 2, Winter 1995, pp. 79105; and Ira Lapidus, The Separation of State and Religion in the Development of Early Islamic Society, IJMES, vol. 6, no. 4, 1975, pp. 36385. 13 Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey, Montreal 1964, ch. 2.

was taken as such. It was said that holy texts might be disseminated widely and be sullied, but there was also concern that the spread of learning beyond the religious classes would weaken their position. When wars with the West recommenced, the reforms of the so-called Tulip Period were largely abandoned under conservative pressure. Both the Ottoman and the Egyptian experience show that Westernizing governmental reforms depended for success on a change in the structure of the ruling classes. The old regimes in both areas were dependent until the nineteenth century on military groups who opposed the adoption of Western-style military forcesin Egypt the Mamelukes and in the Ottoman Empire the janissaries. Napoleons invasion of Egypt defeated and weakened the Mamelukes, making it possible for Mohammad Ali (180548) to deal them the final blow and then to strengthen and Westernize his armed forces. In the Ottoman Empire there was no similar early weakening of the janissaries, and they overthrew the first reforming sultan, Selim III. Sultan Mahmud ii (1808 39) spent years preparing to oppose the janissaries, and then massacred them in 1826, after which he undertook a series of primarily military reforms. Secularism and Military Education The military reforms of Mohammad Ali and Mahmud are not usually presented under the heading of secularization, but this was their result. Western uniforms and drill offended many of the ulama, and the first new, Westernized schools that were set up outside religious institutions were aimed at servicing the armed forces. These were military medical schools, technical schools, and attached translation bureaux. It was impossible to modernize without reducing the prerogatives of ulama and theiroften eliteallies, and undermining traditions increasingly identified as Islamic. The pragmatic and governmental impetus to early secularization was far more important than the ideological impact of the French Revolution or Enlightenment thinking.14 Other governmental reforms in nineteenthcentury Egypt and the Ottoman Empire also had secular connotations: the bringing of vaqf and of religious taxes under greater government control, the extension of modern, state-controlled education, the adoption of secular codes especially for trade, reforms in Islamic law and the beginnings of its codification. Such reforms were needed to strengthen the state in the face of Western incursion and internal revolt. Even a ruler seen as a religious reactionary, Abdul Hamid ii who reigned in the late nineteenth century, implemented many such self-strengthening measures. They were, however, particularly associated with Mahmud ii and

Keddie, Iran and the Muslim World, ch. 15. In a famous article, important for information other than its main thesis, Bernard Lewis argues that the French Revolution was quickly influential in Ottoman Turkey and could be so because its ideas were secular, not Christian. I have contested this idea in Iran and the Muslim World, as have other scholars. See The Impact of the French Revolution on Turkey, Journal of World History, vol. 1, July 1953, pp. 10525; also Serif Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought, Princeton 1962, 169ff; Niyazi Berkes, Secularism, pp. 835; and Ibrahim Abu Lughod, The Arab Rediscovery of Europe, Princeton 1963, p. 134, no. 28.

with the leading statesmen of the subsequent period, called the tanzimat or ordering, in 183976. In nineteenth-century Egypt such centralizing measures were undertaken especially by rulersMohammad Ali and later Ismail.15 In none of these undertakings did the limited utterances of intellectuals or changes in popular opinion regarding religion or church-state relations play a significant role. Modernization of the military, education and trade was carried outat first entirely and, even in the twentieth century, predominantlyfrom the top, so that past secularization in the Middle East should be seen as primarily a phenomenon of the state and politics, rather than of intellectual life or social belief and practice. Such secularization from above was a necessary accompaniment of the economic transformations taking place in these countries, which the old religio-legal structures with their lack of modern or secular law and their ties to agrarian society could not cope with. These transformations, like secularization, had to be heavily promoted by governments, given the weakness of indigenous capitalist classes and the strengthh of European economic competition. The economic changes achieved did not reach the stage of full-blown, much less free-market, capitalism. In the Middle East, the dominant form of secularizationthat initiated by stateswas not at all liberal and was rarely democratic. Not all liberal intellectual opinion in these countries was secularist. True, in states where such secularization was relatively slow in comingsuch as Iran, or even Egypt after the post-Mohammad Ali retreat on modernization a few nineteenth-century intellectuals were both liberal and anti-clerical. In the Ottoman centre, however, the first independent political intellectualsthe Young Ottomansattacked the over-centralization brought in by the tanzimat, including its religious policies. Their leading intellectual, Namik Kemal, constructed an Ottoman past with the equivalent of a Western-style of separation of powers, in which the ulama played a key role. The Young Ottomans were constitutionalists, and most of them believed in a constitution that would be less centralizing and secularist than were the tanzimat statesmen.16 In their search for more democratic and decentralized structures, the Young Ottomans did not adopt an anti-clerical position. The story of the Young Ottomans is one of several reminders that although secularism in the West is usually associated with the Left and with liberalism, this association is not inevitable, particularly when secularization is government-controlled. When such secularization is in conflict with constitutionalism and democratization, it may give rise to defences of religion not only from the Right but also from the Left.
15 On Egyptian nineteenth-century reform and secularism see Juan R.I. Cole, Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypts Urabi Movement, Princeton 1993; Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples, Cambridge, Mass. 1990; Afaf Lutfi al Sayyid Marsot, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali, Cambridge 1984, and the works they cite. 16 On Ottoman developments since the eighteenth century, including the Young Ottomans, see especially Berkes, Secularism in Turkey, and Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, London 1961. On the Young Ottomans see especially Mardin, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought.


Secularization Under Ataturk Twentieth-century Ottoman history saw further governmental secularization, first under the rule of the so-called Young Turks. They retained, however, an uneasy compromise with religious institutions. Since the late nineteenth century, the Sultan had pushed his claim to be the caliph of all Muslims, and the government was loath to take radical measures against religious institutions. This changed with the transformations brought in by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who inaugurated the most secular state in the Islamic world. Ataturk, unlike the rulers of other Middle Eastern countries, was in a position to do this for a number of reasons: 1) the sultan-caliph was compromised by his dependence on Western powers, especially England; 2) the sultan-caliph had acquiesced in the Allied dismemberment, not only of the Arab parts of the Ottoman Empire, but, more seriously, of Anatolia itself where regions had been given to Armenians, Kurds, and Greeks; these developments had fatally compromised the old regime and its religious allies; 3) Mustafa Kemal was a victorious general in World War 1, and his fame and ability helped him to rally the Turks to retake much of the territory occupied by the Greeks and othershe was thus seen as a strong national hero, unmatched in any other Muslim country; 4) defeat in war had weakened the entire old regime, making it possible to build a quasi-revolutionary state structuresomething that would have been far more difficult in any other Muslim country; 5) the Ottoman Turks had a longer and stronger history of governmental modernization than any other Middle Eastern people, leaving them more prepared for further changes. After a short period in which Ataturk used traditional religious language and did not attack the caliphate, from 1923 onwards, he moved to abolishing first the sultanate and then the caliphate and then, up until his death in 1938, getting parliament to pass a series of measures that thoroughly undermined the power of religious institutions. The Arabic call to prayer and the Arabic alphabet were outlawed, Turkish was romanized and there was a purge of Arabic and Persian words and elementsthese changes all had religious implications. For a time, there was no higher religious education permitted, and lower-level religious education was severely curtailed. Alone among Muslim countries, Turkey abolished use of the sharia, religious law which by then in Turkey, as in several Muslim countries, essentially covered only family and personal status matters. It was replaced by a slightly altered Swiss civil code. Women got equal rights in divorce and child custody; polygamy was outlawed; veiling was heavily discouraged; and women got to vote in national elections in 1934, well before they did in France, Italy and Switzerland. Such developments are signs of government-sponsored secularism, as traditional religious groups back patriarchal interpretations of their doctrines, and see in womens rights a weakening of their power. Probably the best work on secularism in any Muslim country, Niyazi Berkess The Development of Secularism in Turkey, reads: Two myths have sprung up and become established concerning the nature of the secularism emerging from the Kemalist Revolution. One is the belief that this secularism means the separation of religion and state after the fashion of French laicism; the other is the belief that it was a policy of irreligion

aiming at the liquidation of Islam.17 I would agree that neither the separation of religion and state nor irreligion is a correct characterization of Ataturks programme, but I disagree with Berkess subsequent point that the programme is best characterized as one aiming at ending the former bifurcation of religious and secular spheres, and at producing a more modern and rational Islam.18 Such a description does not capture the essence of what Ataturk was doing: the establishment of state control over religion and the religious classes. This included controlling and limiting religious education, outlawing religious brotherhoods, profoundly altering family and personal status matters and putting them under new state laws instead of religious laws, severely limiting forms of male and female dress associated with Islam, and decreeing new forms of secular Western dress. These were all to a large degree questions of control and of power, words that all too rarely enter the discussions of secularism. Berkes also suggests that Ataturk was trying to follow the popular will, but his acts clearly went far beyond what people would have asked for. Changes in the economy and society, such as rapidly increasing urbanization and the growth in capitalist relations, had created new middle and bureaucratic classes that backed secularizing changes. There were also intellectuals before and during the Ataturk period whose secularism was independent of the government. But the government under Ataturk moved considerably beyond what the majority of the population would have wanted or voted for. This is suggested, among other things, by the reintroduction of certain aspects of religion in the period following World War II when a multi-party system and free elections were established, and new parties challenged elements of Ataturkist secularism, culminating in an electoral plurality for the religious Welfare Party in December 1995. Secularism is a principle of the Turkish constitution, and secularists including the military forced the resignation of Welfare Party Prime Minister Erbakan in 1997. Some threatened to outlaw the party on the basis of acts they considered unconstitutional. Such acts, including expanding religious education and allowing more women to veil, would not cause any stir in most Muslim countries, or indeed most Western ones, but a real struggle for power is involved. In August 1977, a secular government proposal to expand the number of years all children must spend in secular public schools, to the detriment of religious schools and their views, aroused extensive conflict. There is no doubt, however, that most Turks became more secular and less religiously observant in the decades since 1925, and that the states secular policies, including education, were largely responsible for this. Secularization in Other Muslim Countries Government-initiated secularism is found in a number of other twentieth-century Muslim countries, even though none went as far as Ataturk. The most dramatic changes came when old regimes were overthrownthe Qajar dynasty in Iran by Reza Shah in 1925; the Egyptian monarchy by Naguib and Nasser in 1952; the Iraqi monarchy in
17 18

Berkes, Secularism, p. 479. Ibid., ch. 17.


1958 with the eventual victory of the Baath Party under Saddam Hussein; and the Dutch by nationalists in Indonesia. The old regimes had often tried to placate the ulama and other religious leaders and believers. The new regimes, in contrast, were more centralizing and nationalist, and they, like Ataturk, wanted to use the government to change the economy, whether calling their policies statism, socialism or something else. To establish governmental power over society, it was necessary to limit the power of the religious classes, including their ideological power. Primarily Islamic ideologies were often abandoned in favour of nationalist ones, as had also happened in Turkey over time, or were reformulated as adjuncts to nationalism, as in the widespread modern formula Arab-Islamic, which privileges an Arab nationalist view of Islam. Reza Shah (192541), like Ataturk, ruled a country that was formally independent, whereas in the Arab countries mentioned above there were various forms of foreign control, so that independent policies of secular nationalism could not be pursued until after World War II. Iran was a far less developed and more decentralized country than Turkey, and Reza Shahs first task was to build up an army and disarm potential separatists, especially nomadic tribes. Later he took a series of steps partly modelled on Ataturks, including imposed dress reform for both men and womenthough stricter for women than in Turkeythe extension of state education, control of vaqfs, and an official ideology of nationalism, stressing the pre-Islamic periods and denigrating Arabs and, by implication, Islam. Autocratic secular nationalism was continued by his son, Mohammad Reza (194179). In Iran, however, partly because it had much less modern history of reform, modernization, and socio-economic change than did Turkey and because the ulama was far stronger and more independent, there developed a larger backlash to secularization. Here is not the place to give the story of the 197879 revolution except to say that in many ways it has retained a number of secular features and has not meant a return to a traditional past. On the other hand, it expressed a phenomenon typical of the modern Middle East, which to some degree exists also in the US and many other countriesthe importance of two cultures, secular and religious; Western-oriented and traditionalist. In Iran and the Middle East this split is largely tied to certain social classes the popular classes and traditional bourgeoisie, on one side, and the new bourgeoisie and intellectuals, on the other. Iranian rule is now becoming more pragmatic and secular despite continued religious pretensions, and it seems possible that the Islamic revolution will ultimately secularize larger segments of society than it desecularizesboth those recoiling from government policies and those newly educated and participating in public life. This is suggested by the large majority achieved in the presidential elections of 1997 by the liberal cleric Khatami, followed by parliaments acceptance in August of a cabinet including moderates, with men who had spoken out for greater freedoms in the key posts of Minister of Interior and Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance.19

On the 1997 elections and cabinet, in addition to accounts in major newspapers, see the August 1997 analyses on the Internet by Gary G. Sick, ( There is a vast literature on Iran since Reza Shah, and only a few relevant works not cited elsewhere in this article can be mentioned here: J.-P. Digard, B. Hourcade, and Y. Richard, LIran au

Gamal Abdel Nasser, like Ataturk and Reza Shah a man of military background with goals of national independence and rapid modernization, also pushed Egypt further toward secularism via the path of growing state control over religion. This was shown especially in the expansion of the ancient Islamic university, al-Azhar, to include secular subjects and its increased control by the state. The Azhar sheikhs were ever-willing to issue decrees supporting government actions when needed, rather in the manner of the leaders of various religions in the Soviet Union. Syrian and Iraqi revolutionary leaders in recent decades have similarly followed a path of nationalism, economic statism, and secularism. The secularism of Middle Eastern governments tended to better the position of religious minorities, who had toleration but second-class status under traditional Muslim law, and so minorities, including Shii Muslims in countries with Sunni majorities, have tended to favour secular governments, even though the most secular of these governments were usually also partly or wholly autocratic.20 Secular Government in India In India, the position of minorities is crucial in explaining the secularism of the national movement and later the national government. While there were several movements that stressed Hinduism or Islam in prepartition India, the strongest national movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was that of the secular Indian National Congress. India had never been united with its contemporary borders, and Indian nationalism was essentially a creation of the anti-British struggle. To create unity among Indias numerous castes and religions, a nationality without religious or caste preference had to be created. The Congress has always found it difficult to maintain this secularist balance, however; Mahatma Gandhi incorporated a number of Hindu beliefs and practices into his programme, and the Congress provincial governments of the late 1930s often discriminated against Muslims, thus contributing to the support of the movement for the creation of Pakistan. More recently secularist rulers of India have been accused of granting too much to Muslims and to outcaststo the latter by affirmative action style education and employment programmes, and to the former by allowing aspects of Muslim family law to be enforced in the Muslim community.21
XXe Sicle,Paris 1996; E. Abrahamian, Iran between Two Revolutions, Princeton 1982; Said Amir Arjomand, The Turban for the Crown, New York 1988; Shaul Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs, revised ed., New York 1990; H.E. Chehabi, Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement in Iran under the Shah and Khomeini, Ithaca 1990; Nikki R. Keddie, Roots of Revolution, New Haven 1981. Recent events are thus far best covered in major newspapers and in magazines and journals. 20 On the secularism of (particularly Shii) minorities, see Nikki R. Keddie, Iran and the Muslim World, ch. 1o and Keddie, The Shia of Pakistan, Von Grunebaum Center Working Paper, Los Angeles 1993. 21 On Indian communalism, see especially Tapan Raychaudhuri, Shadows of the Swastika, Contention vol. 4, no. 2, Winter 1995; Daniel Gold, Organized Hinduisms: From Vedic Truth to Hindu Nation, in Martin E. Marty and Scott Appleby, eds, Fundamentalisms Observed, Chicago 1991; Sucheta Mazumdar, unpublished paper on gender and fundamentalism; Achin Vanaik, The Furies of Indian Communalism, Verso, London 1997.

However fragile Indian secularism has been, there seems no peaceful alternative in a country with about 100 million Muslimsmore than in Pakistanand millions of Sikhs, not to mention other groups. The rise of militant Hindu nationalism or fundamentalism is a threat to non-Hindus, and is paralleled by anti-secular fundamentalist movements in nearly all Muslim countries. All these movements suggest that top-down, government-controlled secularism has not satisfied large parts of their populations. In many of the countries discussed, after periods when secular nationalist, sometimes socialist, oppositional ideologies were popular, there is growing appeal of ideologies recommending a return to religion. What all these non-Western examples suggest is that the needs, first, of governmental self-strengthening and then of nationalist movements and states were the primary factors in secularist policies, changes and achievements. Although some secularist intellectuals and secularizing social trends existed in most of these countries before secularism was adopted by a twentieth-century movement or state, these were not the main forces in the decisions to adopt secularizing policies. In all the above countries, secularism was tied to nationalism, to modernization, and to the centralization of control over politics, economic life, ideology, and society. The above non-Western examples also indicate that actual policies followed by governments are often significantly either more or less secular than are their ideologies. In contemporary Iran, for example, many policies are more secular than ideology indicates. What may be the most resistant to change in such circumstances are the highly visible badges of Islam, like veiling, which immediately leads everyone to think this is an Islamic state. On the other hand, recent eyewitness accounts indicate that even within this highly visible and symbolic sphere, with its theoretical injunction to hide hair and body, women are increasingly bending the rules by uncovering some hair, wearing semi-transparent and stylish chadors, or wearing various forms of tribal or regional dress. In France, at the other extreme, official devotion to a laic ideology leads to official action against veiling in schools, while at the same time some Islamic and other religious institutions get state subsidies. Iran exemplifies states that are more secular than they claim, and France those that are less so. Even though this discussion has stressed examples from Asia, there is no clear or absolute line of demarcation regarding secularization from above between Asia and Europe. Autocratic state-sponsored secularization as a necessary accompaniment of other aspects of modernization was as characteristic of Russia from Peter the Great through Stalin as it was of modern Turkey or Iran. Secularism in the West The focus on secularism and nationalist centralizing government in nonWestern countries raises the question of whether anything similar may be discerned in the West. In virtually all countries that have experienced secularism we find, in different degrees, the three areas of secularism and

secularization that have been discussed in this article: intellectual, societal and governmental-political. In non-Western areas, where modernization was often defensive and primarily state-sponsored, we find government-sponsored or nationalist movement-sponsored secularization stronger and earlier than significant intellectual or societal secularization. In the West, although intellectual and societal secularization have generally been more significant than they are elsewhere, government-sponsored secularization has been far more important than is usually recognized in works on secularism or secularization. Hence, while secularism is frequently traced to intellectual roots, in Locke and Mill on toleration, or Voltaire and other Enlightenment figures who attacked the Church and organized religion, it could equally be traced to Henry viii, who confiscated monasteries and increased state control of the church, to enlightened despots who sponsored power over the Church, and certainly to the activities of the French Revolution, Napoleon, the new American republic, and increasingly secular European governments. These governmental actions included measures of toleration such as the emancipation of the Jewsand of Catholics in Protestant countries and vice versaand reduced privileges for the majority religion. All had a strong, often central, political and governmental element. States that are growing in strength and that want to extend their control to all who live within their borders have reasons to secularize, including the granting of relatively equal treatment to all religions and building up a non-religious national ideology and symbols. In older, less centralized, structures members of non-established religions could be ignored, persecuted or allowed considerable autonomy. In more modern states, however, with the growth of national markets, economies, and cultures, governments wanted contented and essentially interchangeable citizens of an increasingly unified state and society, which required that the rules of treatment be essentially uniform for different groups. In addition, modern states and their leaders want the primary loyalty of citizens to be to their state or nation, and help build up ideologiesif on a lesser scale than in the non-Western or communist worldsthat stress such loyalty to the state and nation rather than the church. (Those embraced by the nation usually came to mean those within its existing boundaries, sometimes with an irredentist addition of some beyond the boundaries, but never subtracting ethnic or religious groups that might want independence or unity with some other entity.) Nationalism, it has been noted, is in part a modern substitute for religion, and as such it must play down the role of religion in life, thought and government. By the seventeenth or eighteenth century, religious conflicts, whether in the religious wars in Europe or in persecutions in US colonies, had come to be seen as bloody, indecisive and inimical to national unity, so that it was increasingly felt best by governments to find a place for all religious groups. Modern states have tended to encourage nationalism irrespective of how strong this trend was among the general population or among intellectualsthe two groups that scholars have tended to stress in nationalism as in secularism. Nationalism or even national identity has been shown to be weaker and to emerge later among the general popula36

tion than most scholars previously thought.22 Most national identities are secularexcept when a church has been tied to a nationalist movement, as in Poland and Irelandand nationalist ideologies are usually secularist in their effect. Furthermore, religious toleration, favoured by most modern governments, is tied to a weakening of belief, as it is difficult, if one is a true believer, also to believe that followers of false doctrines should have the same freedoms and privileges as do the righteous. Naturally, things are not quite this simple, or we would find many governments promoting atheism and taking radical steps against religion in order to carry the discouragement of religious loyalties to its logical conclusion. Instead, governments in power find it useful to be on good terms with various religious institutions, once their wings are clipped, and there remained among rulers, as among many enlightened intellectuals, the idea that the masses of the population should be religious to keep them orderly. (This idea was, until the revival of fundamentalism, popular in the non-Western world. Several non-religious Iranians used to tell me that it was good that the masses were religious as otherwise they would become revolutionary!) Hence Western governments rarely go all the way towards suppressing religion, promoting atheism, or the like. There is a general liking by governments for moderate religions that can inculcate civic virtues, and a dislike only for radical sects, or foreign religions, like Islam in Western countries, that might threaten militancy or intrude on the old order. Secularism and Fundamentalism A comparison that concerns society more than the state has to do with organized and politicized religious attacks on secularism which, like the fundamentalisms that encourage such attacks, have in this century thus far occurred chiefly in four parts of the worldthe Muslim world, South Asia, Israel, and the US. They have not as yet been strong in Europe. There are not necessarily similar causes for these attacks in each region, but it is worth seeing if any comparisons can be made. The US is often seen as needing secularism because it houses so many religious denominations, including several of fairly equal strength. After some experience of repression in the colonial period by stronger denominations, most states and then the federal government opted for freedom of religion. The first amendment to the US constitution, saying that Congress shall make no law for the establishment of religion or interfering with the free exercise of religion followed many similar state laws, but these were not generally interpreted by state and federal governments to mean the strict secularism that recent supreme court rulings have tended to favour. The Bill of Rights was not intended to interfere with acts by state governments, and Congress only began to rule on free speech questions in the states in the late 1920s, and on religious establishment questions in the 1940s. The decision against prayer in the schools is as recent as 1962. In 1925, when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought on the Scopes case to challenge a Tennessee law
For a striking study of one case, see Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 18701914, Stanford 1976.

forbidding the teaching of evolution, the Court had never ruled on religious freedoms or free speech in the states. Although the first appeals courts reversal of Scopess conviction meant that the case, and hence the constitutional issue, could not be appealed further, and the Tennessee law remained on the books for decades, the ACLU soon achieved some key Supreme Court rulings on Bill of Rights questions.23 Nearly all laws touching free speech and religion were state and local laws, so the Supreme Courts agreement to rule on them was crucial. This is the situation as summarized by Leonard Levy: Those who framed and ratified the First Amendment meant that the establishment clause, like the rest of the Bill of Rights, should apply to the National Government only . . . According to the Fourteenth Amendment [1868], no state may deprive any person of liberty without due process of law. The preponderance of evidence suggests that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment neither intended its provisions to incorporate any part of the Bill of Rights nor to impose on the states the same limitations previously imposed on the United States only. However, the language of the Fourteenth Amendment allowed for the possibility that the Constitution prevented the states, as well as the United States, from violating the First Amendment.24 By a rule known as the incorporation doctrine, the Fourteenth Amendment was said to incorporate First Amendment rights. In the 1947 Everson case, the court laid down principles it has generally stuck to that aid to all religions was an illegal establishment of religion; and that no tax can be used to support religious activities or institutions. Further decisions have followed, and it is clear that the US now outlawsas many individual US states previously dida number of practices common in western Europe. On the other hand, the courts rulings since 1947 have been far more mixed and contradictory and less uniformly favourable to strict church-state separation than most people imagine.25 This mixed trend has thus far continued under the current court. In the US there has been in the twentieth century two cultures, even among Christians. While certain ideas were held in common by the main Protestant churches through most of the nineteenth century, beginning at the end of the century there was a rapid development in one stream of various Protestant denominations away from biblical literalism and toward religious modernism, liberalism, and the social gospel. This group tended to secularism in their attitude toward both church-state relations and everyday life. On the other hand, those who wanted to preserve old beliefs became more militant than they had ever been before. Their ideas included a group of Christian doctrines that in the early twentieth century were named the Fundamentals. There now developed a schism between the traditionalists, who tended to have less modern
23 24

Walker, In Defense of American Liberties, ch. 4. Leonard Levy, The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment, New York 1986, pp. 1223. 25 Ibid., pp. 1623.

education, to be centred in the south and midwest, and to be more rural in origin, and the modernists and secularists, centred among the better-educated urban groups. There was some correlation between religious denominations and degree of fundamentalism, but it was not complete.26 A Dialectical Conflict Secularism and fundamentalism appear to have a dialectical relationship with one another in the US and elsewhere. The early development of modernism and secularism in the late nineteenth century was followed by a rise in fundamentalism, which was in large part a reaction to various facets of modernism and to rapid urbanization and socio-economic changes and dislocations. A new wave of change, especially in civil rights and sexual and family questions beginning in the 1960s, was followed by a new wave of fundamentalism beginning in the 1970s. Such developments were far less sharp in Europe, for a variety of reasons. These included the much lower levels of religious belief and church affiliation in Europe; to have a large body of fundamentalists it is necessary to have a large body of believers, or, as in India and Israel, of believers in religious nationalism (communalism). Also important are the weakness in Europe, as compared to the US, of both the liberal to radical Protestant groups that veered toward liberalism and modernism and especially of evangelical Christians, who tended toward fundamentalism. In polls and in church membership figures, the US has always been shown to be far higher in both religious belief and church membershipincluding regular church attendancethan any western European country. This means that what is probably the most secular of major Western countries in its legal practice is also the most religious, whether this is measured by church membership and attendance or by religious opinions.27 Either general widespread religious adherence, as in the US and much of the Muslim world, or exclusivist religious nationalism (communalism), as in South Asia or Israel/Palestine provide the necessary basis for large-scale fundamentalism, whether in the East or the West.28
26 27

See Walker, In Defense of American Liberties, ch. 4. A variety of poll data show religious belief, including belief in a number of irrational ideas like Creationism, and also church membership and attendance are far higher in the US than in any other Western country. A Gallup poll in 1981 asking Are you affiliated with a church or religious organization? got a 57 per cent positive response from Americans, as compared to 4 per cent of French, 5 per cent of Italians, 13 per cent of West Germans, 15 per cent of Spaniards, and 22 per cent of the British. For the most complete survey data on religion in America, see Barry A. Kosmin and Seymour P. Lachman, One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society, New York 1993; the Gallup poll is reported on p. 9. 28 The similarities and differences between the areas characterized by religiosity and those characterized by religious nationalism (communalism) are discussed in Nikki R. Keddie, The New Religious Politics: Where, When, and Why do Fundamentalisms Appear? forthcoming in Comparative Studies in Society and History. In that article I also propose replacing the term fundamentalism, to which there are some valid objections, with New Religious Politics and the adjective religio-political, both defined for such discussions as excluding predominantly liberal or socialist religious politics. I have not adopted this change here, as it requires a lengthy explanation and justification. My own objections to the term fundamentalism are not strong enough to preclude my using it when it is still the only widely accepted common global term.

The dialectical relationship between the growth, first, of secularism and then of fundamentalism appears dramatically in the non-Western world. Although this can be discussed only briefly, it appears that secular nationalist governments, such as those of the Pahlavis, Bourguiba, and the Congress in India helped create a traditionalist-fundamentalist opposition that could point to the governments favouring of minorities and of Western ways and their undermining of religious traditions as ideological points on which to build religious and political opposition movements. Governments that culturally modernized in a more modest fashion saw less religious oppositiontrue thus far of most governments in the Arabian peninsula, for example. Governments in India also called forth religious and political opposition especially focused on these governments antiHindu favouring of minority religions and outcasts. Other factors also favour fundamentalist movements, including such socio-economic ones as the rapid urbanization of more traditional and often marginal rural people, under-employment among the growing educated classes, and increased income inequality, and such political factors as resentments against the Western powers, Israel, and a variety of government policies. In the US, too, some of the upsurge of political fundamentalism is a response to state action, such as Supreme Court rulings on abortion or aspects of sexuality. Yet state-encouraged secularization of thought has surely been greater over time than has the religious backlash. State power and action are not notable mainly for giving rise to religious reactions. Rather, this paper makes three main points. First, the history of secularism and the spread or retreat of secular culture cannot be understood without a serious discussion of the role of the state and politics. Second, the role of state secularism is dialectically interrelated with other factors, such as economic change, which both allows states to centralize and secularize and encourages secularized states to launch further economic change. Social and intellectual changes and perceptions of international and minority problems also often encourageand recently may discouragestate secularization which in turn further affects those spheres. Third state secularization has on the whole tended to increase the secularization of the population, even though there has been a serious backlash under certain historical conditions. This article has not seen states as the only important driving force behind secularization, but says that the state and other political forces are more important to secularization than is often stated. We should not be satisfied either with sociological discussions that are limited to large impersonal trends or with overwhelmingly intellectual interpretations.29
28 This brief treatment of complex comparative issues is necessarily simplified. There is only space to mention two further complexities: first, the state, like any institution, is not independent of intellectual and social forces that this article sees it as chiefly as acting upon, and the complexities of these interrelationships can barely be suggested here. Second, the role of the state in encouraging both secularism and anti-secularism may have a counterpart in a paradoxical role of religious politics in encouraging secularization. Some have suggested that Protestantism, which first encouraged religiosity and even religious politics, was an inadvertent cause of a later rise in secularism. And in contemporary Iran, religious politics has probably increased secularism both from widespread disgust with the government and from bringing new groups and classes into a now essentially secular politics. Just as state secularism may bring a reaction, so too may state religiosity. These examples support the general thesis of this article that secularism can only be understood with a comparative, dialectical, and comprehensive approach that includes the roles of politics and the state.