Classical secularisation thesis posits that as countries develop through modernisation and the advancement of science and technology, religion will gradually lose its position of power and importance in many aspects of societal life and governance. This prediction was largely based on the Western (European) experience which saw many countries undergo rapid secularisation as they modernise. Nevertheless, some scholars argue that the secularisation theory is empirically proven to be flawed. In Europe, for instance, we see the resurgence of religion in some segments of societies in part due to increased migration. Elsewhere, especially in Asian societies, religion has not waned in importance or influence. In some of these cases, the rise of religion is seen to conflict with the principles of secularism.
Yet, some scholars would argue that religion is not making a comeback, simply because it never disappeared from social and public life in the first place. Rather, what we are witnessing today is a multiplication of new options and affiliations: traditionally religious, fundamentalist, spiritual but not religious (SBNR), non-religious, and anti-religious. The presence of these new strands in society means that states, many of which are secular democracies, would need to find ways to engage with these groups meaningfully and to manage the way these diverse communities
co-exist in societies.
This webinar seeks to map the future trajectory of secularism as the governing principle of plural societies, in view of the continued prevalence of religion in public life. While doing so, it will address the perceived failures of secular states in managing religion and religious populations, as well as highlight accommodations made by states regarding religion. Specific case studies from the Indian context and the European context will be highlighted. The webinar will also look at tensions between religious communities and secular states, with a particular focus on minority Muslim communities, and ways in which these conflicts are managed. It will also explore the possibility of a new socio-political equilibrium and consider the changing role of religion in politics and public life.
About the Panellists
Abdullah Saeed is currently the Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies and Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is also Advisor to the Studies in Interreligious Relations in Plural Societies Programme & Peter Lim (Visiting) Professor of Peace Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). At RSIS, Abdullah Saeed teaches Islam, Diversity and the Religious Other. Among his recent published books are: Contemporary Approaches to the Qurʾan and its Interpretation in Iran (co-authored with Ali Akbar, 2019); Islam and Human Rights (2018); Reading the Qur’an in the Twenty-First Century (2014); Islamic Political Thought and Governance (edited, 2011); and The Qur’an: An Introduction (2008).
Rajeev Bhargava is Director of Parekh Institute of Indian Thought, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi and a noted Professor of political theory and Indian political thought. He has also been a Fellow at Harvard University, University of Bristol, Institute of Advanced Studies, Jerusalem, Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, and the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna. He has also been Distinguished Resident Scholar, Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, Columbia University, and Asia Chair at Sciences Po, Paris. He is Honorary Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford and currently a Professorial Fellow at the Institute of social justice, ACU, Sydney. His research focuses on multiculturalism, identity politics, and secularism in India. His publications include What is Political Theory and Why Do We Need It? (2010) and The Promise of India’s Secular Democracy (2010).
Grace Davie is Professor Emerita of Sociology at the University of Exeter. She is a past-president of the American Association for the Sociology of Religion (2003) and of the Research Committee 22 (Sociology of Religion) of the International Sociological Association (2002-06). In 2000-01, she was the Kerstin-Hesselgren Professor at Uppsala, where she returned for extended visits in 2006-7, 2010 and 2012, receiving an honorary degree in 2008. She has also held visiting appointments at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (1996) and at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (1998 and 2003), both in Paris. She is co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Europe (2021). Her recent books also include Religion in Britain: A Persistent Paradox (2015), Religion and Welfare in Europe: Gendered and Minority Perspectives (2017), and Religion in Public Life: Levelling the Ground (2017).