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Secularity (derived from the word "secular" which comes from Latin saeculum meaning "worldly", "of a generation", "temporal", or a span of about 100 years) [1] [2] is the state of being separate from religion, or of not being exclusively allied with or against any particular religion. [3] Historically, the word secular was not related or linked to religion, but was a freestanding term in Latin which would relate to any mundane endeavour. [4] However, the term, saecula saeculorum (saeculōrum being the genitive plural of saeculum) as found in the New Testament in the Vulgate translation (circa 410) of the original Koine Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων" (eis toùs aionas ton aiṓnōn), e.g. at Galatians 1:5, was used in the early Christian church (and still used today), in the doxologies, to denote the coming and going of the ages, the grant of eternal life, and the long duration of created things from their beginning to forever and ever. [5] The idea of a dichotomy between religion and the secular originated in the European Enlightenment. [6] Furthermore, since religion and secular are both Western concepts that were formed under the influence of Christian theology, other cultures do not necessarily have words or concepts that resemble or are equivalent to them. [7] In many cultures, "little conceptual or practical distinction is made between 'natural' and 'supernatural' phenomena" and the very notions of religious and nonreligious dissolve into unimportance, [8] nonexistence, or unawareness, especially since people have beliefs in other supernatural or spiritual things irrespective of belief in God or gods.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets, and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Religion may be defined as a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.

The Latin phrase in saecula saeculorum expresses the idea of eternity and is literally translated as "unto the ages of ages." The phrase occurs in the New Testament in the Vulgate and translates the original Koine Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων", found e.g. at Phillippians 4:20. The phrase expresses the eternal duration of God's attributes. Other variations of the phrase are found at e.g. Eph 3:21, as εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν, here referring to the glory of God the Father; this may be translated as "from all generations for ever and ever, amen".


Conceptions of what is and what is not religion vary in contemporary East Asia as well. The shared term for "irreligion" or "no religion" (無宗教, Chinese pron. wú zōngjiào, Japanese pron. mu shūkyō) with which the majority of East Asian populations identify themselves implies non-membership in one of the institutional religions (such as Buddhism and Christianity) but not necessarily non-belief in traditional folk religions collectively represented by Chinese Shendao (shén dào) and Japanese Shinto (both meaning "ways of gods"). [lower-alpha 1] [9] In modern Japan, religion has negative connotation since it is associated with foreign belief systems so many identify as "nonreligious" (mushukyo), but this does not mean they have a complete rejection or absence of beliefs and rituals relating to supernatural, metaphysical, or spiritual things. [10] In the Meiji era, the Japanese government consciously excluded Shinto from the category of religion in order to enforce State Shinto while asserting their state followed American-mandated requirements for freedom of religion; this has fed into the contemporary Japanese experience of "secularity" as well as the government's regulation of religious beliefs and institutions from the Meiji era into the present day. [11]

East Asia Subregion of Asia

East Asia is the eastern subregion of Asia, which can be defined in either geographical or ethno-cultural terms. Culturally, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam are commonly seen as being encompassed by cultural East Asia. Geographically and geopolitically, the region constitutes China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, and South Korea.

Irreligion is the absence, indifference, rejection of, or hostility towards religion.

Shinto Japanese traditional folk religion

Shinto or kami-no-michi is the traditional religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past.

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, performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and attending a religious seminary school or monastery are examples of religious (non-secular) activities.

A world view or worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual's or society's knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics. The term is a calque of the German word Weltanschauung[ˈvɛltʔanˌʃaʊ.ʊŋ](listen), composed of Welt ('world') and Anschauung. The German word is also used in English.

Prayer invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with a deity

Prayer is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship, typically a deity, through deliberate communication. In the narrow sense, the term refers to an act of supplication or intercession directed towards a deity, or a deified ancestor. More generally, prayer can also have the purpose of thanksgiving or praise, and in comparative religion is closely associated with more abstract forms of meditation and with charms or spells.

Worship act of religious devotion

Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. An act of worship may be performed individually, in an informal or formal group, or by a designated leader. Such acts may involve honoring.

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. [12] 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. [13]

The separation of church and state is a philosophic and jurisprudential concept for defining political distance in the relationship between religious organizations and the nation state. Conceptually, the term refers to the creation of a secular state and to disestablishment, the changing of an existing, formal relationship between the church and the state.

French Revolution social and political revolution in France and its colonies occurring from 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

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

Secularism, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the "indifference to, or rejection or exclusion of, religion and religious considerations." As a philosophy, secularism seeks to interpret life on principles taken solely from the material world, without recourse to religion. In political terms, secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institution and religious dignitaries. Under a brief definition, Secularism means that governments should remain neutral on the matter of religion and should not enforce nor prohibit the free exercise of religion, leaving religious choice to the liberty of the people. One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people. Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs or practices.

Business organization involved in commercial, industrial, or professional activity

Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling products. Simply put, it is "any activity or enterprise entered into for profit. It does not mean it is a company, a corporation, partnership, or have any such formal organization, but it can range from a street peddler to General Motors."

Etymology and definitions

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. [14] In the ancient world, saeculum was not defined in contrast to any sacred concerns and had a freestanding usage in Latin. [15] 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. [14] 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.

Christianity is a Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament. Most Christians get baptized, celebrate the Lord's Supper, pray the Lord's Prayer and other prayers, have clergy, and attend group worship services.

Eternity endless time, an infinite duration

Eternity in common parlance is an infinitely long period of time. In classical philosophy, however, eternity is defined as what exists outside time while sempiternity is the concept that corresponds to the colloquial definition of eternity.

Middle Ages Period of European history from the 5th through the 15th centuries

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.

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. [16]


According to the anthropologist Jack David Eller's review of secularity, he observes that secularization is very diverse and can vary by degree and kind. He notes the sociologist Peter Glasner's ten institutional, normative, or cognitive processes for secularization as: [17]

Modern usage

Examples of secular used in this way include:

A laïcité parade in Beirut Central District, Lebanon (see Secularism in Lebanon)


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, Colombia, 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. [18] [ page needed ]

See also


  1. Mark R. Mullins wrote:
    無宗教 mushūkyō, "no religion", in Japanese language and mindset identifies those people who do not belong to organised religion. To the Japanese, the term "religion" or "faith" means organised religions on the model of Christianity, that is a religion with specific doctrines and requirement for church membership. So, when asked "what is their religion", most of the Japanese answer that they "do not belong to any religion". According to NHK studies, those Japanese who identify with mushūkyō and therefore do not belong to any organised religion, actually take part in the folk ritual dimension of Shinto. Ama Toshimaru in Nihonjin wa naze mushukyo na no ka ("Why are the Japanese non-religious?") of 1996, explains that people who do not belong to organised religions but regularly pray and make offerings to ancestors and protective deities at private altars or Shinto shrines will identify themselves as mushukyo. Ama designates "natural religion" what NHK studies define as "folk religion", and other scholars have named "Nipponism" (Nipponkyō) or "common religion". [9]

Related Research Articles

Secular humanism, or simply humanism, is a philosophy or life stance that embraces human reason, ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.

Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of arts and culture as well as politics.

Religion in Japan

Religion in Japan is dominated by Shinto and by Buddhism. According to surveys carried out in 2006 and 2008, less than 40% of the population of Japan identifies with an organized religion: around 35% are Buddhists, 3% to 4% are members of Shinto sects and derived religions, and from fewer than 1% to 2.3% are Christians.

Secularization transformation of a society from close identification with religious values and institutions toward nonreligious values

Secularization is the transformation of a society from close identification and inn with religious values and institutions toward nonreligious values and secular institutions. The secularization thesis refers to the belief that as societies progress, particularly through modernization and rationalization, religion loses its authority in all aspects of social life and governance. The term secularization is also used in the context of the lifting of the monastic restrictions from a member of the clergy.

<i>Laïcité</i> French secularism

Laïcité, literally "secularity", is a French concept of secularism. It discourages religious involvement in government affairs, especially religious influence in the determination of state policies; it also forbids government involvement in religious affairs, and especially prohibits government influence in the determination of religion.

A secular state is an idea pertaining to secularity, whereby a state is or purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/nonreligion over other religions/nonreligion. Secular states do not have a state religion or an equivalent, although the absence of an established state religion does not necessarily mean that a state is fully secular in all respects. For example, many secular states have religious references in their national anthems and flags.

Secularism in India means equal treatment of all religions by the state.

Accurate demographics of atheism are difficult to obtain since conceptions of atheism vary across different cultures and languages from being an active concept to being unimportant or not developed. In global studies, the number of people without a religion is usually higher than the number of people without a belief in a deity and the number of people who agree with statements on lacking a belief in a deity is usually higher than the number of people who self-identify as "atheists". According to sociologist Phil Zuckerman, broad estimates of those who have an absence of belief in a deity range from 500 to 750 million people worldwide. Other estimates state that there are 200 million to 240 million self-identified atheists worldwide, with China and Russia being major contributors to those figures. According to sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera's review of numerous global studies on atheism, there are 450 to 500 million positive atheists and agnostics worldwide, with China having the most atheists in the world.

Islam and secularism

The definition and application of secularism, especially the place of religion in society, varies among Muslim countries as it does among western countries. Secularism is often used to describe the separation of public life and civil/government matters from religious teachings and commandments, or simply the separation of religion and politics. Secularism in Muslim countries is often contrasted with Islamism, and secularists tend to seek to promote secular political and social values as opposed to Islamic ones. Among western scholars and Muslim intellectuals, there are some debates over secularism which include the understanding of political and religious authorities in the Islamic world and the means and degree of application of sharia in legal system of the state.

Postsecularism refers to a range of theories regarding the persistence or resurgence of religious beliefs or practices in the present. The "post-" may refer to after the end of secularism or after the beginning of secularism.

Morality and religion is the relationship between religious views and morals. Many religions have value frameworks regarding personal behavior meant to guide adherents in determining between right and wrong. These include the Triple Gems of Jainism, Islam's Sharia, Catholicism's Canon Law, Buddhism's Eightfold Path, and Zoroastrianism's "good thoughts, good words, and good deeds" concept, among others. These frameworks are outlined and interpreted by various sources such as holy books, oral and written traditions, and religious leaders. Many of these share tenets with secular value frameworks such as consequentialism, freethought, and utilitarianism.

Secular Buddhism

Secular Buddhism—sometimes also referred to as agnostic Buddhism, Buddhist agnosticism, ignostic Buddhism, atheistic Buddhism, pragmatic Buddhism, Buddhist atheism, or Buddhist secularism—is a broad term for an emerging form of Buddhism and secular spirituality that is based on humanist, skeptical, and/or agnostic values, as well as pragmatism and (often) naturalism, rather than religious beliefs.

Secularism in Lebanon

The secularization process in Lebanon began under a 1920s French mandate, continuing under different governments since independence. Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy within an overall confessionalist framework; as a form of consociationalism, the highest offices are proportionately reserved for representatives from certain religious communities.

Phil Zuckerman Professor of Sociology

Philip Joseph Zuckerman, known as Phil Zuckerman, is a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He specializes in the sociology of secularity. He is the author of several books, including Society Without God (2008) for which he won ForeWord Magazine's silver book of the year award, and Faith No More (2011).

Desecularization is a sociological term that describes the proliferation or growth of religion, usually after a period of prior secularization. The theory of desecularization is reactionary to the older theory known as The Secularization Thesis, which referred to the gradual decline religion to a point of extinction. In the last few decades, scholars have gestured to continued church attendance in Western countries, the rise in religious fundamentalism and the prevalence of religious conflict as evidence of the continued relevance of religion in the modern world. A former proponent of the earlier secularization thesis, Peter L. Berger, has now expressed his support for the newer theory, stating that the "world today... is as furiously religious as it ever was.”



  1. "Secular". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. Zuckerman & Shook 2017, pp. 4–5 "The origin of the word “secular” is Latin: ‘saeculum’ typically meant a fixed period of time, an age, one hundred years or so (Feeney 2008: 145). The ‘saeculum’ was not defined in contrast to any sacred concerns, and had a freestanding usage in Latin.".
  3. "Secular". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  4. Zuckerman & Shook 2017, pp. 4-5.
  5. "CHURCH FATHERS: Against Heresies, II.34.3 (St. Irenaeus)". New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, Fathers of the Church.
  6. Juergensmeyer 2017, pp. 74–79.
  7. Juergensmeyer 2017; Zuckerman, Galen & Pasquale 2016, ch. 2.
  8. Zuckerman, Galen & Pasquale 2016, p. 31.
  9. 1 2 Mullins 2011, pp. 66–67.
  10. Zuckerman, Galen & Pasquale 2016, pp. 39–40.
  11. Josephson, Jason Ā. (2012). The Invention of Religion in Japan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 132–135, 226–245.
  12. Eller 2017, pp. 500-501.
  13. Eller 2017, pp. 501-504.
  14. 1 2 Zuckerman & Shook 2017, pp. 4–5.
  15. Zuckerman & Shook 2017, p. 4.
  16. Eller 2010, pp. 12–13.
  17. Eller 2010 , pp. 12–13. See also Glasner 1977.
  18. Lewin 2016.


Eller, Jack David (2010). "What Is Atheism?". In Zuckerman, Phil. Atheism and Secularity. Volume 1: Issues, Concepts, Definitions. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. pp. 1–18. ISBN   978-0-313-35183-9.
 ———  (2017). "Varieties of Secular Experience". In Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John R. The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 499ff. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988457.013.31. ISBN   978-0-19-998845-7.
Glasner, Peter E. (1977). The Sociology of Secularisation: A Critique of a Concept. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN   978-0-7100-8455-2.
Juergensmeyer, Mark (2017). "The Imagined War Between Secularism and Religion". In Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John R. The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 71–84. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988457.013.5. ISBN   978-0-19-998845-7.
Lewin, David (2016). Educational Philosophy for a Post-Secular Age. Abingdon, England: Routledge. ISBN   978-1-317-41055-3.
Mullins, Mark R. (2011). "Religion in Contemporary Japanese Lives". In Lyon Bestor, Victoria; Bestor, Theodore C.; Yamagata, Akiko. Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society. Abingdon, England: Routledge. pp. 63–74. ISBN   978-0-415-43649-6.
Zuckerman, Phil; Galen, Luke W.; Pasquale, Frank L. (2016). "Secularity Around the World". The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People and Societies. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199924950.001.0001. ISBN   978-0-19-992494-3.
Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John R. (2017). "Introduction: The Study of Secularism". In Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John R. The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 1–17. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988457.013.1. ISBN   978-0-19-998845-7.

Further reading

Iversen, Hans Raun (2013). "Secularization, Secularity, Secularism". In Runehov, Anne L. C.; Oviedo, Lluis. Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. pp. 2116–2121. doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-8265-8_1024. ISBN   978-1-4020-8265-8.
Smith, James K. A. (2014). How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Tayor. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. ISBN   978-0-8028-6761-2.
Taylor, Charles (2007). A Secular Age . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN   978-0-674-02676-6.
 ———  (2011). "Why We Need a Radical Redefinition of Secularism". In Mendieta, Eduardo; VanAntwerpen, Jonathan. The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 34–59. ISBN   978-0-231-52725-5. JSTOR   10.7312/butl15645.6.
Warner, Michael; VanAntwerpen, Jonathan; Calhoun, Craig, eds. (2010). Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-04857-7.