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Secularity (adjective form secular,[1] from Latin saeculum meaning "worldly", "of a generation", "temporal", or a span of about 100 years[2]) is the state of being separate from religion, or of not being exclusively allied with or against any particular religion. Historically, the word "secular" was not related or linked to religion, but was a freestanding term in Latin which would relate to any mundane endeavor.[2] The idea of a dichotomy between religion and the secular originated in the 18th century European Enlightenment.[3] Furthermore, since "religion" and "secular" are both Western concepts, other cultures do not necessarily have words or concepts that resemble or are equivalent to them.[3]

One can regard eating and bathing as examples of secular activities, because there may not be anything inherently religious about them. Nevertheless, some religious traditions see both eating and bathing as sacraments, therefore making them religious activities within those world views. Saying a prayer derived from religious text or doctrine, worshipping through the context of a religion, and attending a religious school are examples of religious (non-secular) activities.

The "secular" is experienced in diverse ways ranging from separation of religion and state to being anti-religion or even pro-religion, depending on the culture.[4] For example, the United States has both separation of church and state and pro-religiosity in various forms such as protection of religious freedoms; France has separation of church and state (and Revolutionary France was strongly anti-religious); the Soviet Union was anti-religion; in India, people feel comfortable identifying as secular while participating in religion; and in Japan, since the concept of "religion" is not indigenous to Japan, people state they have no religion while doing what appears to be religion to Western eyes.[4]

A related term, secularism, involves the principle that government institutions and their representatives should remain separate from religious institutions, their beliefs, and their dignitaries. Many businesses and corporations, and some governments operate on secular lines. This stands in contrast to theocracy, government with deity as its highest authority.

Etymology and definitions[edit]

Secular and secularity derive from the Latin word saeculum which meant "of a generation, belonging to an age" or denoted a period of about one hundred years.[2] In the ancient world, saeculum was not defined in contrast to any sacred concerns and had a freestanding usage in Latin.[2] It was in Christian Latin of medieval times, that saeculum was used for distinguishing this temporal age of the world from the eternal realm of God.[2] The Christian doctrine that God exists outside time led medieval Western culture to use secular to indicate separation from specifically religious affairs and involvement in temporal ones.

This does not necessarily imply hostility to God or religion, though some use the term this way (see "secularism", below); Martin Luther used to speak of "secular work" as a vocation from God for most Christians.[citation needed] According to cultural anthropologists such as Jack David Eller, secularity is best understood, not as being "anti-religious", but as being "religiously neutral" since many activities in religious bodies are secular themselves and most versions of secularity do not lead to irreligiosity.[5]


According to sociologist Peter Glasner, there are ten versions of secularity whose thrust is primarily institutional, normative, or cognitive; and most of these versions do not lead to irreligion or atheism:[5]

  • Decline — the reduction in religious identification and participation.
  • Routinization — institutionalizing through integration into the society. Often compromising with the society.
  • Differentiation — a redefined place such as when accepting its status as one religion in a plural religious field or morphing into a more "generic" and therefore mass-appeal religion.
  • Disengagement — the detachment of certain facets of social life from religion.
  • Transformation — gradual change over time in a similar sense that Protestantism became for Christianity.
  • Generalization — a particular kind of change in which it becomes less specific, more abstract, and therefore more inclusive. Has moderation of controversial and divisive claims.
  • Desacralization — culture and rationality guide people while leaving out religious beings and forces.
  • Segmentation — the development of specialized religious institutions, which take their place beside other specialized social institutions.
  • Secularization — the processes of urbanization, industrialization, rationalization, bureaucratization, and cultural/religious pluralism through which society moves away from the "sacred" and toward the "profane".
  • Secularism — the only form that leads to outright rejection of religion, usually amounting to atheism.

Modern usage[edit]

Examples of secular used in this way include:

Related concepts[edit]

  • Secularism is an assertion or belief that religious issues should not be the basis of politics, and it is a movement that promotes those ideas (or an ideology) which hold that religion has no place in public life. French frequently uses laïcité as an equivalent idiom for sécularisme. Secularist organizations are distinguished from merely secular ones by their political advocacy of such positions.
  • Laïcisme is the French word that most resembles secularism, especially in the latter's extreme definition, as it is understood by the Catholic Church, which sets laïcisme in opposition to the allegedly far milder concept of laïcité. The correspondent word laicism (also spelled laïcism) is sometimes used in English as a synonym for secularism.
  • Laïcité is a French concept related to the separation of state and religion, sometimes rendered by the English cognate neologism laicity and also translated by the words secularity and secularization. The word laïcité is sometimes characterized as having no exact English equivalent; it is similar to the more moderate definition of secularism, but is not as ambiguous as that word.


All of the state universities in the United States are secular organizations (especially because of the combined effect of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution) while some private universities are still connected with the Christian or Jewish religions such as Boston College, Emory University, the University of Notre Dame, Wheaton College and Yeshiva College. Other universities started as being religiously affiliated but have become more secular as time went on such as Harvard University and Yale University. The public university systems of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, and Japan are also secular, although some government-funded primary and secondary schools may be religiously aligned in some countries. Exactly what is meant by religious affiliation is a complex and contested issue since the ways in which religious identity is framed is not consistent across different religious and cultural traditions.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. "Secularity". ("1. The condition or quality of being secular. 2. Something secular.")
  2. ^ a b c d e Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John, eds. (2017). "Introduction: The Study of Secularism". The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199988455. 
  3. ^ a b Jeurgensmeyer, Mark (2017). "4. The Imagined War between Secularism and Religion". In Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John. The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199988455. 
  4. ^ a b Eller, Jack David (2017). "30. Varieties of Secular Experience". In Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John. The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199988455. 
  5. ^ a b Eller, Jack (2010). "What Is Atheism?". In Phil Zuckerman. Atheism and Secularity Vol.1: Issues, Concepts, Definitions. Praeger. pp. 12–13. ISBN 9780313351839. 
  6. ^ Lewin, D. (2016) Educational Philosophy for a Post-secular Age. London: Routledge