The Multiple Histories of Secularism: Muslim Societies in Comparison
Nader Hashemi* 4 agosto 2012

Discussion about the topic of secularism eventually grounds to a halt over confusion surrounding the meaning of the concept. Often the same word is invoked to describe a different social phenomenon. Those involved in the discussion assume they are talking about the same idea when in reality they have rather distinct concepts in mind. The reason for this misunderstanding is that the term “secularism” is inherently an ambiguous concept. There is no global consensus on what the term refers, where its origins lie and its various dimensions especially in relation to political questions.

In this article, I seek to advance conceptual clarity with respect to the topic of secularism with a focus on Muslim societies. I seek to uncover a part of the unique history of secularism in Muslim societies that has influenced debate on the topic. In the first part, I distinguish between the different social scientific categories of secularism focusing on the philosophical, sociological and political dimensions of secularism. In section two, I give a broad overview of the different histories of political secularism with some emphasis on the two dominant models that have been bequeathed to us from the Western tradition of political thought: Anglo-American Secularism and French Secularism (laicité). In the final section I explore the political history of Muslim societies that has informed and shaped the debate on secularism in the late 20th and early 21st century. In the course of doing so I provide a tentative answer to the question: historically, why did political secularism not emerge in Muslim societies?

In recent years, secularism has emerged as a new topic of intellectual inquiry. Notwithstanding the voluminous number of new monographs, essays, books and conferences on the topic, considerable confusion persists. This is especially true with respect to Muslim societies where it is believed that Islam and ideas that derive from Muslim political thought are inherently incapable of adapting to modern values, political secularism in particular, due to the alleged anti-modern and fossilized nature of the Islamic tradition. While recent developments in Turkey, Indonesia and Iran with respect to the cultivation of an indigenous Islamic form of secularism undermine this perspective, there remains a vacuum on the history of secularism in Muslim societies. This article, while not a comprehensive treatment of the topic, seeks to partially fill this void.

Three Dimensions of the Secular

An immediate problem one encounters in discussing the topic of secularism is agreeing on a working definition of the term. What does the word “secularism” actually mean? What values does it promote and what problems does it seek to resolve? Does secularism imply anti-clericalism, atheism, disestablishment, state neutrality and equidistance toward all religions, the rejection of religious symbols in the public sphere, the separation of the public and private spheres, the complete separation of religion from politics or more narrowly merely the separation of the institutions of the state from the influence of religion? All of the above, some of the above, or none of the above? If there is one thing that can be affirmed with certainty it is that the concept itself is deeply contested or as Charles Taylor has observed: “[i]t is not entirely clear what is meant by secularism.”[1]

One simple way of enhancing clarity about secularism is to think about the concept in relation to three core disciplines in the social sciences: philosophy, sociology and political science. Philosophically, secularism refers to a rejection of the transcendental and the metaphysical with a focus on the existential and the empirical. This is what Harvey Cox was referring to in The Secular City (1966) when he discussed secularism as “the liberation of man from religious and metaphysical tutelage, the turning of his attention away from other worlds and toward this one.”[2] Sociologically, secularism correlates with modernization in terms of a gradual process that leads to the declining influence of religion in social institutions, communal life and human relationships. This is arguably the most common understanding of secularism and is what Peter Berger called in The Sacred Canopy (1967) a “process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols.”[3] Politically, secularism entails a separation of the public and private spheres and more broadly a form of separation, which can vary, between the institutions of the state and the forces of religion.[4] This threefold breakdown of secularism is very similar to how other leading scholars have sought to characterize and breakdown the concept of secularism.

Nikki Keddie has listed three ways secularization is commonly understood today: 1) “an increase in the number of people with secular beliefs and practices;” 2) “a lessening of religious control or influence over major spheres of life;” and 3) “a growth in state separation from religion and in secular regulation of formerly religious institutions and customs.”[5] Similarly, José Casanova adopts a tripartite categorization of secularism. He makes a distinction between “secularization as differentiation of the secular spheres from religious institutions and norms, secularization as decline of religious beliefs and practices, and secularization as marginalization of religion to a privatized sphere.”[6] Finally, in more recent intervention, Charles Taylor has sought to breakdown the concept of secularism into three distinct but related categories. According to Taylor:

-Secularity 1 is the retreat of religion from the public sphere, the diminution of religion in people’s lives or the separation of church and state in public spaces.

-Secularity 2 is the decline of religious beliefs and practices that can be seen in Western liberal democracies in terms of church attendance. It is related to Secularity 1 but it is different in scope.

-Secularity 3 is the place of our self-understanding toward religion and the recognition that something has eclipsed it in terms of an alternative belief system. It is the problematization in Latin Christendom on this topic between 1500-2000 that looks at background conditions and the development of secularism from the longue duree.[7]

In seeking an understanding of secularism it is important to realize that the above categories are not mutually exclusive. For example, one can be philosophically non-secular, in the sense that the moral references and basic guidelines in life are derived from metaphysical sources. This same person can live a life that is sociologically non-secular in the sense that one spends most of his/her time in social institutions and relationships that are heavily infused with religious references and symbols yet simultaneously this same person can be politically secular in that they support a separation between religion and state. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi would both fall into this category; so would millions of Americans, Indians, Latin Americans and others.

The Different Histories of Political Secularism

A major reason why secularism generates confusion is because secularism has multiple histories. This is especially true in the context of political secularism where religion-state relations have evolved to incorporate the principle that a just society necessitates some form of separation between the realm of government and the domain of religion. Appreciating this fact and familiarizing oneself with these histories is essential to developing a firmer grasp of the topic. In short, the different histories of political secularism are a by-product of the unique political experiences and debates over the relationship between religion and state and controversies over the normative role of religion in emerging democracies. For example, in the Western tradition secularism has a different history and social impact in Protestant majority countries than in Catholic ones. This has led to at least two different political models of secularism: Anglo-American secularism (which is more religion-friendly in terms of religion’s role in the public sphere) and French secularism or laicité (which is hostile to the manifestation of religious symbols in the public sphere and in state institutions).[8]

Even within the Protestant tradition there is considerable variance between the different manifestations of political secularism. In American secularism, for example, there is no established religion while in the English context there is. None of this inhibits the functioning of democracy in either country nor does it tell us much about the role of religion in civil society. Rather, it is simply a reminder of the different historical experiences and political struggles over the role of religion in modern politics.

Also from within the Western political tradition one can speak of another tradition of secularism in societies where Eastern Orthodox Christianity was the dominant creed. The existence of the phenomena of Caesaropapism, where one person was head of both the church and the state, has given the development of secularism in this part of the world a unique inflexion.[9] Similarly, there is a Marxist tradition of secularism, which is Western in origin and which still survives today in Cuba, China, North Korea and Vietnam. Within this strand of Western secularism there is a considerable variety between the manifestations of political secularism that draw upon a Marxist philosophical tradition.[10]

Moving to the non-Western world we encounter a different set of historical experiences.[11]

Arguably, the most successful model of political secularism in this region of the globe is the fascinating case of Indian secularism. Until recently, India was responsible for producing the greater number of books, essay and monographs on the topic of secularism.[12]

Muslim societies have also had an experience with secularism during the 20th century. While it has not been a monolithic experience, in general terms these experiences have not been positive in the sense that the advent of political secularism has not been synonymous with the development of democracy, human rights and greater social and economic justice. Turkey’s experience has been unique as has the case of Indonesia.[13] Iran has had produced a unique internal debate on secularism in recent decades which is a direct result of its experience with Islamist rule.[14] Finally, in the Arab world we have several experiences with political secularism; republican regimes stand separate from the situation in the Persian Gulf monarchies and the situation in North Africa differs from that of Lebanon and those countries located in the Eastern Mediterranean. Collectively, these negative experiences with secularism in the Muslim world have been intellectually explained by leading Western social scientists as a function of Islam’s unique inner civilizational ethos which is allegedly and essentially hostile to notions of modernity, secularity in particular.

Secularism in Muslim Societies: The Establishment View

Islam has long been viewed as a religious tradition that is uniquely anti-secular. Influential scholars in the social sciences have argued that Islam’s early formative historical experience and its unique reaction to modernity have prevented secularism from developing. In one famous argument Bernard Lewis has written that the “reasons why Muslims developed no secularist movement of their own, and reacted sharply against attempts to introduce one from abroad, will thus be clear from the contrasts between Christian and Muslim history and experience. From the beginning, Christians were taught both by precept and practice to distinguish between God and Caesar and between the different duties owed to each of the two. Muslims received no such instruction.”[15] Similarly, Ernest Gellner put forward a sophisticated thesis on Muslim politics that sought to draw a distinction between the “high culture” of the urban clergy, which was characterized as scriptural and puritanical and which Gellner claimed is normative for the urban life of the entire Islamic world versus the “low culture” of the tribe and village life where folk Islam was practiced. Under modern conditions, Gellner argued, the puritanical Islam of the urban clergy is appropriated at the mass level due to political centralization, urbanization and mass education. Islamic fundamentalism is thus “the demand for the realization of this norm, and the popular support it enjoys stems from the aspiration to the High Culture by the newly urbanized masses.” This explanation of Muslim politics, argued Gellner, is compatible with the requirements of political modernity where contrary to the previously dominant assumptions of social theory modernity required secularization. Thus, Islam’s relationship to modernity is unique in that modernity strengthens religion’s hold over society and this explains why secularism has not flourished in Muslim societies.[16]

The strength of these arguments were enhanced by the writings of political Islamists in the 20th century who similarly rejected any separation between din wa dawla (religion and government) in their normative theories on what constituted a just political order. Moreover, events on the ground in the latter half of the 20th century with respect to the rise of religious opposition movements who were overtly hostile to secularism, gave further impetus to this “Islamic exceptionalist” narrative.

It is rightly noted that there is no equivalent translation of the term secularism in Arabic, Turkish or Persian. In Arabic the common term is ilmaniyyah (from world ilm, science) or almaniyyah (this-worldly); in Persian an adaptation of the English is used, secularism, while in Turkish the common term is laiklik from the French laïcité. The reason, however, for the absence of a semantic equivalent of the word secular in the major languages of Islam is not because of Islam’s fundamental incompatibility with secularism but rather because historically speaking Muslims have never had the need to think about secularism. An analysis of the origins of political secularism in the Anglo-American tradition sheds considerable light on this topic.

The Origins of Political Secularism in the Anglo-American Tradition: Lessons for the Muslim World

In his widely acclaimed book The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West[17], Mark Lilla observes that historically almost every human civilization based its original understanding of legitimate political authority on the divine nexus between God, man and the world. Political theology, Lilla suggests, is the original condition of civilizations as they try to make sense of the relationship between religion and politics and the natural order of the world that surrounds them. The question that is germane for this discussion is how did this divine nexus between God, man and society gradually erode in the case of Latin Christendom, thus leading to political secularism, and what are the comparative lessons today for Muslim societies?

As I have tried to suggest in this article, the history of secularism in the West is long, complicated and varied. It is also generally misunderstood in intellectual debates in the West especially when making cross-comparisons with Islam. Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age[18], is a good place to start the discussion. In retrospect, four broad social trends are discernible which had secularizing consequences for the West: 1) the rise of modern capitalism; 2) the rise of modern nation-states and nationalism; 3) the Scientific Revolution; and, most importantly, 4) the Protestant Reformation and the Wars of Religion during the 16th and 17th centuries. It is this latter development which is central to the rise of political secularism, especially in the Anglo-American tradition, and which is particularly helpful in illuminating the question of religion-state relations in Muslim societies.

Post-Reformation Europe saw the emergence of new debates about religious toleration, not only between Catholics and Protestants, but critically among the various Protestant sects. In an age of gross intolerance, most Christian denominations were interested in enforcing religious uniformity on their societies, each of them claiming exclusive knowledge of God’s will on earth and warning of the dangers of social disorder and chaos if religious toleration were allowed to flourish. In brief, religious toleration and political stability were thought to be negatively correlated. Uniformity of religious practice in the public sphere and the need for an established state religion was widely believed to be a prerequisite for peace, order and prosperity. This was the dominant view at the time, right up to the late 17th century, as discussed by Perez Zagorin in his magisterial work, How the Idea of Toleration Came to the West.[19]

It was left to John Locke to rethink the relationship between toleration and political order. In his famous A Letter Concerning Toleration (1685) he rejected his earlier support for the firm union of church and state and posited a new solution to the core political problem that was plaguing Europe. Religious pluralism in the public sphere and political stability were indeed compatible, Locke newly argued, on the condition that we can: “distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other.”[20] In other words, a soft form of secularism was required. The key interpretive point here is that political secularism emerged in England as the direct result of an existential crisis that was tearing the country apart. This conflict had been raging for many years and without a solution, Locke affirmed, Europe would not know peace, prosperity or stability. The colossal size of this crisis cannot be overstated. Mark Lilla rightly observes that without a resolution of this issue, the self-immolation of the West was a very real possibility. Quite literally, the future political stability of the Western world hung in the balance. Political secularism thus emerged in the Anglo-American tradition due to a critical crisis of survival. It was intimately and indelibly connected to these transformative events in the early modern period of Europe, or as Charles Taylor has written: “the origin point of modern Western secularism was the Wars of Religion; or rather, the search in battle-fatigue and horror for a way out of them.”[21] In short, the idea of a separation between church and state originates as a political solution out of this existential dilemma. A contrast between this picture and the case of the Muslim world, with respect to the relationship between religious toleration and political order, is most illustrative.

Muslim Toleration and its Consequences

Historians are in broad agreement that comparatively speaking, Muslim societies were more tolerant of religious pluralism than Christendom. The fact that until the mid-20th century, for example, the city of Baghdad had a population that was one-third Jewish, speaks to this point. I am not suggesting here that the Muslim world was a bastion of liberal tolerance as we understand this concept today or that minorities and dissidents were never persecuted; far from it. I am simply stating that Muslim societies and empires historically did not face the same all consuming wars of religion and debates over religious toleration and political order that were so central to European political history in the early modern period. Comparatively speaking, Sunni-Shia relations and the treatment of religious minorities were far more tolerant in the Muslim world than in Europe over the last millennium.[22]

The key political point that flows from this fact of relative Muslim tolerance (in contrast to centuries of Christian intolerance during the early modern period) is that no burning political questions emerged between state and society where religion was the key, all-consuming and overriding bone of political contention. As a result, no inner political dynamic emerged within the Middle East that would necessitate the development of intellectual or moral arguments in favor of religion-state separation as a way out of an existentialist political dilemma in the same way these arguments developed and were so critical to the rise of secularism in Europe during the 17th century.

The primary political problems facing Muslim societies that threatened socio-political order were the corruption and nepotism of the royal court, natural famines and disasters, and most importantly foreign intervention and invasions such as the Crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries, the Mongol invasion of 1258 (which sacked the Abbasid Caliphate), the Castilian re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, and increasingly in the modern period growing Russian, French, British and later American penetration, colonialism and imperialism (to varying degrees depending on the country, region and time frame in question).[23] Due to this significantly different historical experience with respect to religious toleration – and this is key to understanding the relationship between Islam and secularism – Muslim societies never had the need to think about secularism – in the same way the West did as there was no existential crisis that resulted from debates on religion-state relations where secularism might be posited as solution to a pressing political dilemma. Having noted this, I believe that Muslim societies do need to think seriously about political secularism today, especially if they are interested in constructing a political system where democracy and human rights prevail, especially gender equality.

Moreover, as Noah Feldman has recently argued in The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State,[24] religion-state relations in the Muslim world were far more stable and amicable than they were in the West. For over a millennium, religion often played a constructive role as an agent of stability and predictability. In contrast to the European experience where religion in the post-Reformation period became a source of deep conflict, in the Muslim world religion and the scholars who interpreted it, managed to place restrictions on the personal whims and ambitions of the caliphs and sultans by forcing them to recognize religious limits to their rule in exchange for conferring legitimacy on the state. In short, the rulers were not above the law – as they later became during the 20th century – but they were often constrained by it, thus limiting autocracy and arbitrary rule. Religion-state relations in the Muslim world have thus bequeathed different historical lessons and memories to the faithful where religion is viewed by large segments of the population not as a natural ally of political tyranny and a cause of conflict, but much more positively, as a possible constraint on political despotism and as a source of stability. According to Feldman, this partly explains why demands for a greater role for religion in politics have a sympathetic hearing in the Muslim world today (where Islamists are not in power). This brings us to the modern period.

The Modern Muslim Experience with Secularism

In the past 200 years, the Muslim world’s experience with secularism but has been largely negative. It is important to appreciate that in Europe secularism was an indigenous and gradual process evolving in conjunction with socioeconomic and political developments while supported by intellectual arguments – and critically by religious groups and leaders – that eventually sunk deep roots within its political culture. By contrast, the Muslim experience has been marked by a perception of secularism as an alien ideology imposed from outside first by colonial and imperial invaders and then kept alive by local elites who came to power during the post-colonial period. In short, secularism in Europe was largely a bottom-up process that was intimately connected to debates from within civil society, while in Muslim societies secularism was largely a top-down process that was driven first by the colonial state and then by the post-colonial state. As a result, secularism in the Muslim world has suffered from weak intellectual roots and with few exceptions, secularism has never penetrated the mainstream of Muslim societies.

Furthermore, most states in the Muslim world by the end of 20th century were developmental failures. A pattern of state-society relations unfolded in the post-colonial era that further impugned the reputation of secularism. An autocratic modernizing state, often with critical external support, suffocated civil society thus forcing oppositional activity into the mosque, inadvertently contributing to the rise of political Islam. A set of top-down, forced modernization, secularization and Westernization policies by the state – within a short span of time – generated widespread social and psychological alienation and dislocation. Rapid urbanization, changing cultural and socio-economic relationships coupled with increasing corruption, economic mismanagement, rising poverty and income inequality undermined the legitimacy of the state. These developments reflected negatively on secularism because the ruling ideologies of many post-colonial regimes in the Muslim world were openly secular and nationalist.[25]

Thus, for a generation of Muslims growing up in the post-colonial era, despotism, dictatorship, and human rights abuses came to be associated with secularism. Muslim political activists who experienced oppression at the hands of secular national governments logically concluded that secularism is an ideology of repression. This observation applies not only to Iran (under the Shah) but also to Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Iraq (under Saddam), Yemen – to a certain extent in Turkey (although Turkey is a unique case) and many other Muslim majority countries in the latter half of the twentieth century. Summarizing this trend, political scientist Vali Nasr has noted: “Secularism in the Muslim world never overcame its colonial origins and never lost its association with the postcolonial state’s continuous struggle to dominate society. Its fortunes became tied to those of the state: the more the state’s ideology came into question, and the more its actions alienated social forces, the more secularism was rejected in favor of indigenous worldviews and social institutions – which were for the most part tied to Islam. As such, the decline of secularism was a reflection of the decline of the postcolonial state in the Muslim world.”[26]


In conclusion, the broader point here is that one way of advancing conceptual clarity with respect to secularism, especially its political variant, is to be sensitive to the different histories of secularism, of which there are many. Prior the recent upsurge in scholarship on secularism, classic theories of modernization as articulated by Marx, Durkheim and Weber, suggested a convergence and homogenizing of industrial societies with respect to the triumph of secularism. This assumed a certain uniform trajectory of political development based on the Western experience which was then deemed to have a universal quality it. This view was widely accepted by social scientists in large part due to the absence, until recently, of a serious investigation of the topic. The other key reason was that social scientists general came from and worked within the most secular parts of society. The empirical reality by the end of the 20th century, however, forced a reexamination of this topic as scholars sought to explain the apparent increase in religiosity around the world.

A key discovery and new found realization is that there is more than one way of being modern. According Shmuel Eisenstadt, our contemporary world is characterized by “multiple modernities” that are fundamentally based on different historical experiences.[27] This applies both to the West, for which there are different models of religion-state relations and different levels of religiosity between the United States and Europe, as it does to the non-Western world. The Muslim experience with modernity, of which there are several, needs to be factored into any serious inquiry on modernity on a global level especially with respect to the topic political secularism and it discontents.

As I have sought to argue in this article, history, both in the early modern and late a modern era has bequeathed different lessons to different parts of our planet. In the case of the Muslim societies, historically speaking, state-society relations did not generate an inner dynamic whereby secularism/religion-state separation was posited as a solution to a pressing and existential political crisis that was rooted in the problem of religious toleration. This was because this existential crisis did not exist in the Middle East as it did in Europe. Thus, rather relying on an analytical approach that emphasizes the inner theological doctrine of Islam/Christianity or the early religious history of Christians and Muslims to explain the question of comparative secularism (as Bernard Lewis had done), is fundamentally misleading and misguided. It is the above alternative framework that is sensitive to different historical experiences, especially with respect to state-society relations and the problem of religion during moments of political crisis, which provide a more objective and nuanced account of this emotionally charged and poorly understood topic.



[1] Charles Taylor, “Modes of Secularism,” in Rajeev Bharghava ed., Secularism and its Critics (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), 31. For background see Emmet Kennedy, Secularism and Its Opponents from Augustine to Solzhenitsyn (New York: Palgrave, 2006), 10-180; Steve Bruce, God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), 1-44; Steve Bruce ed., Religion and Modernization: Sociologists and Historians Debate the Secularization Thesis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 1-7; David Martin, A General Theory of Secularization (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978), 12-99; Robert Bellah, Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 20-50; Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 3-32 and Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003), 21-66.

[2] Harvey Cox, The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective (New York: MacMillan, 1966), 17.

[3] Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of A Sociological Theory of Religion (New York, Anchor Books, 1967), 107.

[4] I borrow this simple way of thinking about secularism from Lutfhi Assyaukanie’s unpublished paper “Islam and Secularism in Indonesia.”

[5] Nikki Keddie, “Secularism and its Discontents,” Daedalus 132 (Summer 2003), 16.

[6] José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 211.

[7] A discussion of this can be found in the introduction of Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 1-22.

[8] Ahmet Kuru refers to passive American secularism and aggressive French secularism as two distinct models of political secularism. See his new study Secularism and State Policy toward Religion: The United States, France and Turkey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

[9] Nikolas Gvosdev, An Examination of Church-State Relations in Byzantine and Russian Empires with an Emphasis on Ideology and Models of Interaction (Lewiston, NY: E. Mullen Press 2001).

[10] S. Khan, “Towards a Marxist Understanding of Secularism: Some Preliminary Speculations,” Economic and Political Weekly, 22 (7 March 1987), 406-409.

[11] Wilson Brisset, “Secularism in the Global South: The Case of Ethiopia,” The Hedgehog Review 8 (Spring and Summer 2006), 146-151.

[12] Rajeev Bhargava ed., Secularism and its Critics (New Dehli: Oxford University Press, 1998). See the debate between Ashis Nandy and Akeel Bilgrami to two contrasting views of Indian secularism.

[13] On Turkish secularism see Ahmet Kuru, Secularism and State Policy toward Religion: The United States, France and Turkey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 161-235 and Hakan Yavuz, Secularism and Muslim Democracy in Turkey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 14-44. On Indonesian secularism see Luthfi Assyaukanie, Islam and the Secular State in Indonesia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009) and Bahtiar Effendy, Islam and the State in Indonesia (Singapore: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, 2003).

[14] Mehran Kamrava, Iran’s Intellectual Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 173-213.

[15] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong: The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (New York: Perennial, 2003), 103

[16] Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (New York: Routledge, 1992), 5-22. For the text of Gellner’s last lecture where he reaffirmed these views see Ernest Gellner, “Religion and the Profane,” Eurozine (28 August 2000). Available on-line at <>. For a refutation of the thesis that modernity requires a withering away of religion see Peter Berger, Grace Davie and Effie Fokas eds., Religious America, Secular Europe?: Theme and Variations (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008).

[17]  (New York: Knopf, 2007).

[18](Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

[19] (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).

[20] John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, edited by James Tully (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983), 26.

[21] Charles Taylor, “Modes of Secularism,” in Rajeev Bhargava ed., Secularism and its Critics (New Dehli: Oxford University Press, 1998), 32.

[22] This point was acknowledged by Bertrand Russell in “Reading History As It Is Never Written,” in Barry Feinberg ed., The Collected Stories of Bertrand Russell (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1972), 293. Also see Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2004), 390-397.

[23] Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) and Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, three volumes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).

[24] (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

[25] Vali Nasr, Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World (New York: Free Press, 2009), 85-115; Nader Hashemi, Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 133-170 and Muhammad Khalid Masud, “The Construction and Deconstruction of Secularism as an Ideology of Contemporary Muslim Thought,” Asian Journal of Social Science 33 (September 2005), 363-383.

[26] Vali Nasr, “Secularism: Lessons from the Muslim World,” Daedalus 132 (Summer 2003), 69.

[27] S.N. Eisenstadt, “Multiple Modernities,” Daedalus 129 (Winter 2000), 1-29.


The final/definitive version of Nader Hashemi’s essay was published in Philosophy&Social Criticism, vol 36 nos 3-4 March and May 2010, SAGE Publications Ltd, (LA, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC), all rights reserved, p. 325-338, Special Issue: “Postsecularism and multicultural Jusirdictions”, Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations Istanbul Seminars 2008-2009, Edited by: Alessandro Ferrara, Volker Kaul and David Rasmussen. Link to the issue


*Nader Hashemi is Assistant Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. Visiting Assistant Professor, University of California-Los Angeles and Global Fellow, UCLA International Institute (2007-2008); Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University (2005-2007); Research Affiliate, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University (2005-2006); Adjunct Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto (2004-2005); Adjunct Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Waterloo (2003-2004). Author of many articles and other publications, including most recently Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future (Melville House, 2011).