- 1. The doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.
- a. As the name of a definitely professed system of belief, promulgated by G. J. Holyoake (1817-1906).
- b. In wider sense, as denoting a mode of thought more or less implicitly held and acted upon.
- 1851 G. J. HOLYOAKE in Reasoner 10 Dec., I will lay before the meeting the present position of Secularism in the provinces.
- 1854 (title) Secularism the practical Philosophy of the People. Ibid. 5 The term Secularism has been chosen..as expressing a certain positive and ethical element, which the terms ‘Infidel’, ‘Sceptic’, ‘Atheist’ do not express.
- 1855 MISS COBBE Intuit. Mor. 161 note, The earlier Judaism is quite anomalous in its mixture of morality and secularism.
- 1869 M. PATTISON Serm. (1885) 172 Influential leaders of opinion warn us against..materialism, secularism, unbelief.
- 1884 J. PARKER Larger Ministry 28 Secularism cannot be more industrious than Christianity calls upon its followers to be.
- 1872 Q. Rev. Apr. 517 The Nonconformists who advocate pure Secularism in national education have in effect come down from their religious position altogether.
In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and freedom from the government imposition of religion upon the people, within a state that is neutral on matters of belief, and gives no state privileges or subsidies to religions. In another sense, it refers to the view that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be based on evidence and fact unbiased by religious influence.
In its most prominent form, secularism is critical of religious orthodoxy and asserts that religion impedes human progress because of its focus on superstition and dogma rather than on reason and the scientific method. Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius and Epicurus, Enlightenment thinkers like Denis Diderot, Voltaire, John Locke, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, and modern freethinkers, agnostics and atheists such as Bertrand Russell, Robert Ingersoll, Albert Einstein, and Sam Harris.
The purposes and arguments in support of secularism vary widely. In European laicism, it has been argued that secularism is a movement toward modernization, and away from traditional religious values. This type of secularism, on a social or philosophical level, has often occurred while maintaining an official state church or other state support of religion. In the United States, some argue that state secularism has served to a greater extent to protect religion from governmental interference, while secularism on a social level is less prevalent. Within countries as well, differing political movements support secularism for varying reasons.
The term "secularism" was first used by the British writer George Holyoake in 1851. Although the term was new, the general notions of freethought on which it was based had existed throughout history. In particular, early secular ideas involving the separation of philosophy and religion can be traced back to Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and the Averroism school of philosophy. Holyoake invented the term "secularism" to describe his views of promoting a social order separate from religion, without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. An agnostic himself, Holyoake argued that "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth, whose conditions and sanctions exist independently, and act forever. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."
Barry Kosmin of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture breaks modern secularism into two types: hard and soft secularism. According to Kosmin, "the hard secularist considers religious propositions to be epistemologically illegitimate, warranted by neither reason nor experience." However, in the view of soft secularism, "the attainment of absolute truth was impossible and therefore skepticism and tolerance should be the principle and overriding values in the discussion of science and religion."
In political terms, secularism is a movement towards the separation of religion and government (often termed the separation of church and state). This can refer to reducing ties between a government and a state religion, replacing laws based on scripture (such as the Torah and Sharia law) with civil laws, and eliminating discrimination on the basis of religion. This is said to add to democracy by protecting the rights of religious minorities.
Secularism is often associated with the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, and plays a major role in Western society. The principles, but not necessarily practices, of separation of church and state in the United States and Laïcité in France draw heavily on secularism. Secular states also existed in the Islamic world during the later Middle Ages. Due in part to the belief in the separation of church and state, secularists tend to prefer that politicians make decisions for secular rather than religious reasons. In this respect, policy decisions pertaining to topics like abortion, embryonic stem cell research, same-sex marriage, and sex education are prominently focused upon by American secularist organizations such as the Center for Inquiry. Most major religions accept the primacy of the rules of secular, democratic society but may still seek to influence political decisions or achieve specific privileges or influence through church-state agreements such as a concordat. Many Christians support a secular state, and may acknowledge that the conception has support in biblical teachings, particularly Jesus' statement, "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.". However, some Christian fundamentalists (notably in the United States) oppose secularism, often claiming that there is a "radical secularism" ideology being adopted in current days and see secularism as a threat to "Christian rights" and national security. The most significant forces of religious fundamentalism in the contemporary world are Fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam. At the same time, one significant stream of secularism has come from religious minorities who see governmental and political secularism as integral to preserving equal rights. Some of the well known states that are often considered "constitutionally secular" are France, India,, Mexico  South Korea, and Turkey although none of these nations have identical forms of governance.
In studies of religion, modern Western societies are generally recognized as secular. This is due to the near-complete freedom of religion (one may believe in one religion, many religions or none at all, with little legal or social sanction), as well as the general belief that religion does not ultimately dictate political decisions. Nevertheless, the moral views originating in religious traditions remain politically important in many of these countries, such as Canada, France, Turkey, the United States and others (see Laïcité). In some, religious references are considered out-of-place in mainstream politics. For example, among the first to delineate the nature of a secular society, D. L. Munby characterizes a secular society as one which:
- Refuses to commit itself as a whole to any one view of the nature of the universe and the role of man in it.
- Is not homogenous, but is pluralistic.
- Is tolerant. It widens the sphere of private decision-making.
- While every society must have some common aims, which implies there must be agreed on methods of problem-solving, and a common framework of law; in a secular society these are as limited as possible.
- Problem solving is approached rationally, through examination of the facts. While the secular society does not set any overall aim, it helps its members realize their aims.
- Is a society without any official images. Nor is there a common ideal type of behavior with universal application.
Positive Ideals behind the secular society
- Deep respect for individuals and the small groups of which they are a part.
- Equality of all people.
- Each person should be helped to realize their particular excellence.
- Breaking down of the barriers of class and caste.
Modern sociology, born of a crisis of legitimation resulting from challenges to traditional Western religious authority, has since Durkheim often been preoccupied with the problem of authority in secularized societies and with secularization as a sociological or historical process. Twentieth-century scholars whose work has contributed to the understanding of these matters include D. L. Munby, Max Weber, Carl L. Becker, Karl Löwith, Hans Blumenberg, M.H. Abrams, Peter L. Berger, and Paul Bénichou, among others.
Secularism can also be the social ideology in which religion and supernatural beliefs are not seen as the key to understanding the world and are instead segregated from matters of governance and reasoning. In this sense, secularism can be involved in the promotion of science, reason, and naturalistic thinking.
Secularism can also mean the practice of working to promote any of those three forms of secularism. As such, an advocate of secularism in one sense may not be a secularist in any other sense. Secularism does not necessarily equate to atheism; many secularists are religious, while atheists often accept the influence of religion on government or society. Secularism is an essential component of a secular humanist social and political ideology.
Some societies become increasingly secular as the result of social processes, rather than through the actions of a dedicated secular movement; this process is known as secularization. Secular ethics
- Kosmin, Barry A. "Contemporary Secularity and Secularism." Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives. Ed. Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC), 2007.
- Yavuz, Hakan M. and John L. Esposio (2003) ‘’Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gulen Movement’’. Syracuse University, pg. xv-xvii. ISBN 0815630409
- Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 147 ("But with the Second World War just ahead, secularism fo the antireligious type was soon to disappear from mainstream American society, to be replaced by a new complex of ideas that focused on secularizing the state, not on secularizing society.")
- Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 25 ("Together, early protosecularists (Jefferson and Madison) and proto-evangelicals (Backus, Leland, and others) made common cause in the fight for nonestablishment [of religion] – but for starkly different reasons.")
- Holyoake, G.J. (1896). The Origin and Nature of Secularism, London: Watts and Co. p.51
- Abdel Wahab El Messeri. Episode 21: Ibn Rushd, Everything you wanted to know about Islam but was afraid to Ask, Philosophia Islamica.
- Fauzi M. Najjar (Spring, 1996). The debate on Islam and secularism in Egypt, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ).
- Secularism, Catholic Encyclopedia. Newadvent.org
- Kosmin, Barry A. "Hard and soft secularists and hard and soft secularism: An intellectual and research challenge."
- Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 14 ("[Legal secularists] claim that separating religion from the public, governmental sphere is necessary to ensure full inclusion of all citizens.")
- Ira M. Lapidus (October 1975). "The Separation of State and Religion in the Development of Early Islamic Society", International Journal of Middle East Studies 6 (4), p. 363-385.
- Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 6-8
- Washington Post, November 15, 2006 "Think Tank Will Promote Thinking"
- "Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism"
- book of Luke, chapter 20, verse 25.
- Bob Lewis (2007-05-19). "'Jerry's Kids' Urged to Challenge 'Radical Secularism'". The Christian Post.
- Rev Jerry Falwell (2001-09-15). "Jerry Falwell - Quotations - Seventh quotation".
- Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 13
- "Preamble of the Constitution of India"
- See article 3 of the 1917 Mexican constitution, and Article 24. See also Schmitt (1962) and Blancarte (2006).
- The Idea of a Secular Society, D. L. Munby, London, Oxford University Press, 1963, pp. 14-32.
- Holyoake, George J. (1896). English Secularism. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company.
- MSN Encarta, Age of Enlightenment
- Paul, Gregory S. (2005). "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, A First Look". Journal of Religion and Society 4
- The Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo; Norway Daily No. 238/02; 16 December 2002.
- Boyer, Pascal (2002). Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. ISBN 0-465-00696-5
- Holyoake, G.J. (1898). The Origin and Nature of Secularism. London: Watts & Co.
- Jacoby, Susan (2004). Freethinkers: a history of American secularism. New York: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0-8050-7442-2
- Nash, David (1992). Secularism, Art and Freedom. London: Continuum International. ISBN 0-7185-1417-3 (paperback published by Continuum, 1994: ISBN 0-7185-2084-X)
- Royle, Edward (1974). Victorian Infidels: the origins of the British Secularist Movement, 1791-1866. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-0557-4 Online version
- Royle, Edward (1980). Radicals, Secularists and Republicans: popular freethought in Britain, 1866-1915. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-0783-6
- Taylor, Charles (2007). A Secular Age. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02676-6
- Berger, Peter L. (1967) The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
- Chadwick, Owen (1975). The Secularization of the European mind in the nineteenth century. Cambridge University Press.
- Cox, Harvey (1996). The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. NY: Macmillan.
- Kosmin, Barry A. and Ariela Keysar (2007). Secularism and Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives. Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. ISBN 978-0-9794816-0-4; ISBN 0-9794816-0-0
- Martin, David (1978). A General Theory of Secularization. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-18960-2
- Martin, David (2005). On Secularization: Towards a Revised General Theory. Aldershot: Ashgate. ISBN 0-7546-5322-6
- McLeod, Hugh (2000). Secularisation in Western Europe, 1848-1914. Basingstoke: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-59748-6
- Wilson, Bryan (1969). Religion in Secular Society. London: Penguin.
- King, Mike (2007). Secularism. The HIdden Origins of Disbelief. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. ISBN 9780227172452
- Adıvar, Halide Edip (1928). "The Turkish Ordeal". The Century Club. ISBN 0-830-50057-X
- Blancarte, Roberto (2006). "Religion, church, and state in contemporary Mexico." in Randall, Laura (ed.). Changing structure of Mexico: political, social, and economic prospects. [Columbia University Seminar]. 2nd. ed. M.E. Sharpe. Chapter 23, pp.424-437. ISBN 978-0765614056.
- Cinar, Alev (2006). "Modernity, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey: Bodies, Places, and Time". University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-816-64411-X
- Juergensmeyer, Mark (1994). The New cold war?: religious nationalism confronts the secular state. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08651-1
- Schmitt, Karl M. (1962). "Catholic adjustment to the secular state: the case of Mexico, 1867-1911." Catholic Historical Review, Vol.48 (2), July, pp.182-204. 
- Urban, Greg (2008). "The circulation of secularism." International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 21, (1-4), December. pp.17-37.