Is secularism neutral?

One of the readings this week was Nilüfer Göle’s “Decentering Europe, Recentering Islam”. One aspect of the relationship between Europe and Islam she discusses that I want to touch on is the idea of Islam in secular chronotopes. That is the idea that all human and social interaction develop in their own time and space. She argues that secularism and democracy in Europe and Islam which has ties to a long history and past are still working this out as they quite different in many ways. She also explores this in the European public sphere using the example of the burka and the assumption that secularism is neutral and therefore better. Obviously this is cherry-picking on a whole lot longer article that explores many aspects of these ideas however I did find it one of the more interesting parts of her paper because of this question. Is modern life/secularism neutral?

I honestly can’t exactly answer that. I feel like it comes very close, though everything has an agenda nowadays. I agree with the separation of church and state. Though the elimination of the burka doesn’t have much to do with that. Obviously the absence of any religion is most likely neutral. I suppose it depends on one’s views and commitment to the state one is in. If you don’t accept that your religion should be a private affair, and you disagree that any time it conflicts with your functioning within the state or the functioning of the state itself that it should be discarded, then I suppose you wouldn’t view it as neutral. You’d be angry that you cannot do what you want. However, if you were to consider that ALL religions need to have this parameter and you accept that this is the best way for order to function in the state with so many differing views, and accept that you have to make some adjustments in order to enjoy that harmony, then one would have to admit it is neutral. The only time this would change is if there were certain other parties agendas being pushed by the state onto you and other religions that could be argued didn’t need to be pushed. Then it becomes a whole other problem, and that looks like very different things to very different people. Not sure where I’m going with this, It’s a big but important topic and I wanted to write down some of my initial thoughts and maybe see what other people think if you wonder about that balance as well.

2 Replies to “Is secularism neutral?”

  1. The only thing I would like to perhaps add to, is my personal belief that neutrality really is a myth in a sense. Lack of antagonism does not in itself denote neutralism in said conflict. In this case, I tend to feel that your point on the absence of religion could be yet another point of view rather than neutral. Overall, I think central to your argument is the idea that one side can stick with the lack of religion while the other may push heavily for its inclusion. I would argue in this case, both sides may have points to argue, though neither can argue they are representing neutrality in this case. Of course there is no right or wrong answer as you mention, it is an interesting point to think about.

  2. Hi Gabe, thank you for your response this week. The question on whether secularism is neutral is one that I think may be too difficult to answer just as you express with the difficulty one would have to apply every possibility to. As Conrad mentions, neutrality in a sense is somewhat theoretical and even mythical in a way as you note that many things have agendas in today’s political climate. The separation of church and state is necessary, I feel in an increasingly globalized world but of course it is difficult to decide how to balance a still arguably religious world into politics today. One example for this week is the increasingly growing ultra-conservative Christian voters of Hungary under Viktor Urban which could still be said to be secular – in some ways, but certainly skewed toward Christian identity. Similar can be said for the United States and their growing ultra-conservative Christian base. Another personal experience for me, as an example, is the allowance of Catholic schools for education in a Western world but the banning of burqas in civil offices, as seen by Quebec and Switzerland as examples – it seems not to be secularization but rather isolationist decisions on certain government levels.
    I may myself be somewhat rambling but the question of secularization is one that has been historically difficult to completely capture. Ultimately, I think the largest question is how do we determine what is under the control of religion and what is under the control of secular? When we find that balance, then secularization is neutral. I hope my thoughts make sense.

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