Notes of Ch 8 Secularism| Class 11th Political Science

What is Secularism?

Inter-Religious Domination

• Secularism is first and foremost a doctrine that opposes all such forms of inter-religious domination.

• An equally important dimension of secularism is its opposition to intra-religious domination.

Intra-Religious Domination

• Some people believe that religion is merely the ‘opium of the masses’ and that, one day, when the basic needs of all are fulfilled and they lead a happy and contented life, religion will disappear.

• It is unlikely that human beings will ever be able to fully know the world and control it.

• Religion, art and philosophy are responses to such sufferings. Secularism too accepts this and therefore it is not anti-religious.

• However, religion has its share of some deep-rooted problems.

• For example, one can hardly think of a religion that treats its male and female members on an equal footing.

• Thus religious domination cannot be identified only with inter-religious domination. It takes another conspicuous form, namely, intra-religious domination.

• Secularism is a normative doctrine which seeks to realise a secular society, i.e., one devoid of either inter-religious or intra-religious domination.

• It promotes freedom within religions, and equality between, as well as within, religions.

Secular State

• A state governed directly by a priestly order is called theocratic.

• Theocratic states, such as the Papal states of Europe in medieval times or in recent times the Taliban-controlled state, lacking separation between religious and political institutions, are known for their hierarchies, and oppressions, and reluctance to allow freedom of religion to members of other religious groups.

• However, many states which are non-theocratic continue to have a close alliance with a particular religion.
→ For example, today Pakistan has an official state religion, namely Sunni Islam. Such regimes may leave little scope for internal dissent or religious equality.

• To be truly secular, a state must not only refuse to be theocratic but also have no formal, legal alliance with any religion.

• A secular state must be committed to principles and goals which are at least partly derived from non-religious sources.

• To promote these ends the state must be separated from organised religion and its institutions for the sake of some of these values.

• In fact, the nature and extent of separation may take different forms, depending upon the specific values it is meant to promote and the way in which these values are spelt out.

• There are two conceptions:
→ the mainstream western conception best represented by the American state.
→ an alternative conception best exemplified by the Indian state.

The Western Model of Secularism

• All secular states have one thing in common: they are neither theocratic nor do they establish a religion.

• By the American model, separation of religion and state is understood as mutual exclusion: the state will not intervene in the affairs of religion and, in the same manner, religion will not interfere in the affairs of the state.

• Similarly, the state cannot aid any religious institution. It cannot give financial support to educational institutions run by religious communities.

• No policy of the state can have an exclusively religious rationale.

• On this view, religion is a private matter, not a matter of state policy or law.

The Indian Model of Secularism

• Indian secularism is fundamentally different from Western secularism.

• Indian secularism does not focus only on church-state separation and the idea of inter-religious equality is crucial to the Indian conception.

• Indian secularism deals not only with religious freedom of individuals but also with religious freedom of minority communities.

• A secular state must be concerned equally with intra-religious domination, Indian secularism has made room for and is compatible with the idea of state-supported religious reform. Thus, the Indian constitution bans untouchability.

• The Indian Constitution grants all religious minorities the right to establish and maintain their own educational institutions which may receive assistance from the state.

• Indian secularism allows for principled state intervention in all religions.

Criticisms of Indian Secularism


• It is often argued that secularism is anti-religious.

• Indian Secularism does undermine some forms of religious identity: those, which are dogmatic, violent, fanatical, exclusivist and those, which foster hatred of other religions.

• But the real question is not whether something is undermined but whether what is undermined is intrinsically worthy or unworthy.

Western Import

• Indian secularism is linked to Christianity, that it is western and, therefore, unsuited to Indian conditions.

• A secular state may keep a principled distance from religion to promote peace between communities and it may also intervene to protect the rights of specific communities.

• India evolved a variant of secularism that is not just an implant from the west on Indian soil.

• The fact is that the secularism has both western and non- western origins. In the west, it was the Church-state separation which was central and in countries such as India, the idea of peaceful coexistence of different religious communities has been important.


• A third accusation against secularism is the charge of minoritism.

• The most fundamental interest of minorities must not be harmed and must be protected by constitutional law. This is exactly how it is in the Indian Constitution.

• Minority rights are justified as long as these rights protect their fundamental interests.


• A fourth criticism claims that secularism is coercive and that it interferes excessively with the religious freedom of communities.

• It is of course true that Indian secularism permits state-supported religious reform.

• Personal laws can be seen as manifestations of freedom from inter-religious domination or as instances of intra-religious domination.

• Personal laws can be reformed in such a way that they continue to exemplify both minority rights and equality between men and women. But such reform should neither be brought about by State or group coercion nor should the state adopt a policy of total distance from it.

Vote Bank Politics

• Fifth, there is the argument that secularism encourages the politics of vote banks.

• In a democracy politicians are bound to seek votes. That is part of their job and that is what democratic politics is largely about.

• There is nothing wrong with vote bank politics as such, but only with a form of vote bank politics that generates injustice. The mere fact that secular parties utilise vote banks is not troublesome. All parties do so in relation to some social group.

Impossible Project

• Secularism cannot work because it tries to do too much, to find a solution to an intractable problem.

• Critics claim this will not work today when equality is increasingly becoming a dominant cultural value.

• Indian secularism mirrors the future of the world.

• It is doing so because with the migration of people from the former colonies to the west, and the increased movement of people across the globe with the intensification of globalisation, Europe and America and some parts of the Middle-East are beginning to resemble India in the diversity of cultures and religions which are present in their societies.
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