The idea for this paper originated under special circumstances in the context of the international Promoting Pluralism Knowledge Programme. For several reasons, the relationship between the state and religion became a prominent issue in the regional programmes of India and Indonesia. Prompted by this development, we invited the prominent scholar Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im to participate in a seminar in May 2009, to discuss his ideas on Islam and the secular state with the participating academics and practitioners in the Knowledge Programme. In our deliberations, An-Na’im reiterated the significance of critical debate not only between different religious and other world view communities, but also within these networks themselves, in order to enrich the quality and complexity of internal debates. He therefore challenged scholars from other religious and world view traditions to critically examine their own particular relationship with the secular as well.
Convinced by the value of this challenge, the authors, who both work at the University for Humanistics in the Netherlands, endeavoured to study the relationship between Humanism, modernity and the secular. The authors work at the Kosmopolis Institute of the University for Humanistics in the Netherlands. This is a small, independent university, inspired by Humanist traditions. With their critical reflection on secularism and humanism, the authors want to contribute to an ongoing dialogue on secularism in the context of the international Promoting Pluralism Knowledge Programme, at the University for Humanistics and in a broader academic realm. However, in addition, they wish to encourage dialogue on these issues within the wider Humanist community, internationally as well as in the Netherlands. Internationally, secular Humanism is often perceived to be anti-religious. The authors wish to rethink this position as they believe that by critically rethinking Humanism, the Humanist community could possibly contribute more constructively to the ongoing global debate on the question of the secular.