Religion and Secularism-Towards a Reconciliation
Scott, Xavier Devon
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This dissertation examines the evolving relationship between religion and the state in political philosophy. I begin with an examination of what religion is. I argue that religion is not primarily a belief system about metaphysics but rather a social system, which is better understood in terms of politics than science. In the second chapter, I look at the origins of secular political philosophy in early-modern Europe and contrast it with medieval political theory. I note that this transition does not mark a separation of church and state, but in fact accomplishes the expropriation of religious functions by the state. Therefore, I argue that the modern, secular state should not be mistaken for a neutral arbiter between competing religious perspectives. The modern state is itself a very interested party in how religion is expressed, understood, and in which religions are supported by the state. In my third chapter, I look at the rise of secular ideologies in the context of what Charles Taylor calls the modern moral order. I note that secular ideologies have attempted to reform society on the basis of ideals that avoid taking a stand on questions of religion. I question whether societies are capable of functioning on the basis of principle alone and note the tendency of liberal and communist states to adopt different forms of nationalism. I show that where universalist ideologies were once on the rise and spreading across the globe, they are increasingly met with the particularisms of culture and religion. Finally, I return to the topic of religion in contemporary political life. I examine four features of religion that have come under attack. Each of these problematic features of religion, I argue, also preform salutary functions in society. I show that this is particularly the case in societies where secular institutions are failing to provide institutional support or a sense of belonging to their members. By recognizing the complexity of religions interaction with the secular state, we can develop more nuanced approaches that are able to avoid the extremes of xenophobia and cultural relativism.