Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. 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.〔See also Separation of church and state and Laïcité.〕 Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs and/or practices.〔"Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives". Edited by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC), 2007.〕〔See also Public reason.〕
Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius; from Enlightenment thinkers such as Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; and from more recent freethinkers and atheists such as Robert Ingersoll and Bertrand Russell.
The purposes and arguments in support of secularism vary widely. In European laicism, it has been argued that secularism is a movement toward modernization, and away from traditional religious values (also known as secularization). This type of secularism, on a social or philosophical level, has often occurred while maintaining an official state church or other state support of religion. In the United States, some argue that state secularism has served to a greater extent to protect religion and the religious from governmental interference, while secularism on a social level is less prevalent.〔Yavuz, Hakan M. and John L. Esposio (2003) ‘’Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gulen Movement’’. Syracuse University, pg. xv–xvii. ISBN 0-8156-3040-9〕〔Feldman, Noah (2005). ''Divided by God''. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 147 ("But with the Second World War just ahead, secularism of the antireligious type was soon to disappear from mainstream American society, to be replaced by a new complex of ideas that focused on secularizing the state, not on secularizing society.")〕 Within countries as well, differing political movements support secularism for varying reasons.〔Feldman, Noah (2005). ''Divided by God''. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 25 ("Together, early protosecularists (Jefferson and Madison) and proto-evangelicals (Backus, Leland, and others) made common cause in the fight for nonestablishment (religion )but for starkly different reasons.")〕
== Overview ==
The term "secularism" was first used by the British writer George Jacob Holyoake in 1851.〔Holyoake, G.J. (1896). ''The Origin and Nature of Secularism'', London: Watts and Co. p.51〕 Although the term was new, the general notions of freethought on which it was based had existed throughout history.
Holyoake invented the term "secularism" to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. An agnostic himself, Holyoake argued that "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."〔(''Secularism'' ), Catholic Encyclopedia. Newadvent.org〕
Barry Kosmin of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture breaks modern secularism into two types: hard and soft secularism. According to Kosmin, "the hard secularist considers religious propositions to be epistemologically illegitimate, warranted by neither reason nor experience." However, in the view of soft secularism, "the attainment of absolute truth was impossible and therefore skepticism and tolerance should be the principle and overriding values in the discussion of science and religion."〔 〕
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