The future of secularism as the governing principle in plural societies provided the backdrop for a webinar titled “Shifting Securities: Global Trends of Secular-Religion Dynamics” held on 22 February 2022. Organised by the Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme, the webinar featured a distinguished panel of speakers: Professor Grace Davie from the United Kingdom, Professor Rajeev Bhargava from India, and Professor Abdullah Saeed from Australia. The webinar drew 80 participants.
Empirical evidence has debunked early secularisation theory, which predicted the decline of religion as society progresses. During her talk, Professor Davie shared the experiences of Britain and France as case studies of the different trajectories of secularism in Western Europe’s multicultural societies. She noted that the strong principles in France’s model of secularism, or laïcité, was more rigid than Britain’s traditionally more tolerant model of secularism. She added that secularism is always evolving to meet the unique challenges in multicultural societies.
Professor Bhargava’s presentation addressed the supposed “comeback” of religion in the 21st century, and why this does not mean that secularism is losing its relevance. Rather, he posited that religionisation (or the process of incorporating faith, belief, and religious practice into a comprehensive system called “religion”) and secularisation could occur simultaneously, observing that religionisation appeared to be outpacing the latter in India. He then highlighted two forms of political secularisation: one which leads to religiously homogenous societies, and the other which is borne from the need to deal with plurality. He concluded that states which are new to secularism, like post-independent India, might have a better future with the second model.
Professor Abdullah spoke about the understanding and responses to secularism from a Muslim perspective, stressing the importance of dialogue between secularism and Islam. Within Islam, a shift in the ideas that are central to the tension between secularism and Islam, such as blasphemy laws and the idea of equal citizenship, would be needed. At the same time, secular states should be sympathetic to religious needs while maintaining a somewhat neutral position. Most significantly, the dignity of human beings should be core to the discussions.
The session concluded with a Q&A session moderated by Ambassador Alami Musa, Head of SRP.