Atheism and Secularism Explained

Now that things are finally starting to get done – conference papers and abstracts submitted, book editing entering a new phase, PhD applications underway, book reviews in progress, house moved, US trip nearly over, distinction achieved in MSc by Research – it is time to start going through the 160 emails in my inbox which are largely interesting articles to disseminate and comment on through my blog.

Today’s offerings are a couple of PDF’s… the first quite short… the second very long. The first is an Events Report from the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network on Jonathan Lanman’s lecture earlier this year entitled ‘Atheism Explained‘, where Katie Aston engages with Lanman’s innovative cognitive anthropological approach.

The second is one that I cannot hope to read in the near future, but which looks thoroughly stimulating at the same time. If you have the time to read Akeel Bilgrami’s 36-page ‘Secularism: Its Content and Context‘ then I suggest you do. The abstract is as follows:

This paper addresses two sets of questions. First, questions about the meaning of secularism and second questions about its justification and implementation. It is argued that Charles Taylor‘s recent efforts to redefine secularism for a time when we have gone ‘beyond toleration’ to multiculturalism in liberal politics, are based on plausible (and laudable) political considerations that affect the question of justification and implementation, but leave unaffected the question of the meaning and content of secularism. An alternative conceptualization of secularism is offered, from the one he proposes, while also addressing his deep and understandable concerns about the politics of secularism for our time. In the characterization of secularism offered, it turns out that secularism has its point and meaning, not in some decontextualized philosophical argument, but only in contexts that owe to specific historical trajectories, with specific political goals to be met.


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About Chris

Scholar of religion/nonreligion... PhD Student (Lancaster University), blogger, singer, actor, thinker... Northern Irish living in Scotland. Co-founder of The Religious Studies Project. Director at the NSRN. Baritone masquerading as a tenor. Vegetarian for no particular reason.

2 responses to “Atheism and Secularism Explained”

  1. Michael Hampson says :

    Re: atheism; I am glad that people are finally taking seriously the notion that atheism, as a set of (a) assertions about god and (b) associated ethical consequences, is (to all intents and purposes) a religion, and should be regarded as such alongside other religions. Like other religions, it has both rational, liberal proponents and hysterical fundamentalists; alongside other religions, it should be given neither special privileges nor unique censure.

    Re: secularism; as an “ism” it has no definition other than in relation to the situation at a particular time in a particular state (or culture or organisation); in trying to get along without wars and conflicts, internal or external, we sometimes have to define the terms of a state or organisation’s relationship with religion, and occasionally, historically, the word ‘secularism’ (ill defined) has been useful at a particular moment for particular local reasons, but it has never meant the same thing twice, and never will, in the great swirl of history; some argue that secularism must deliberately exclude all religion, and therefore favour atheism; others that secularism is an expression of the state’s defence of individual freedom of religion, embodying pluralism or syncretism and therefore necessarily suppressing active atheism; perhaps ideally it should be the state’s deliberate distancing of itself from all religious questions, regarding atheism as just one set of religious assertions amongst others, no more and no less (as in the preceding paragraph), on which the state will express no view, and which the state will neither favour nor suppress.

    • Chris says :

      Sorry that I didn’t get back to you on this one, buddy. You pushed a lot of my buttons… some of which would provoke positive responses, and others negative… but essentially I get what you are saying. Too busy for a thought out response just now though :S
      Hope all’s going well… C

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