Hivos International

Rethinking the Secular

The link between politics and religion is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, they have overlapped and intersected in complex and various forms and under different circumstances in locations all over the world. Their interaction has continuously led to diverse and changing outcomes, thereby reflecting relations of power at local, national and international levels. The conceptualization of ‘the secular’ too can be understood against this fluid background. As a social construction, secularism has taken on different forms and meanings in different nations and within different religious communities.

When we consider the ways in which politics and religion currently intersect in our age of globalization, we may conclude that religion has become an increasingly important consideration in global politics. Religious difference has indeed been posited as a crucial factor in international conflicts and increasingly challenges existing political settlements that define the relationship between the state and religion. Looking at it in this way, the idea of secularism is challenged, not as a move back to religious tradition or a protest against modernity, but as a contemporary challenge of how politics and religion are fundamentally related and how the sacred and the secular connect in the public and private lives of people.

Formations of the secular seem less and less autonomously determined at a national level, and seem increasingly globally interconnected. Individual national states are no longer the primary sites where new arrangements for coexistence can be negotiated and settled. Consequently, notions of the secular too are challenged and re-imagined by religious and political communities in a complex global discourse. Rethinking the secular has thus become a transformative project that goes beyond the boundaries of the nation state.

 

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