Secularism, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the "indifference to, or rejection or exclusion of, religion and religious considerations". In certain context, the word can refer to anticlericalism, atheism, desire to exclude religion from social activities or civic affairs, banishment of religious symbols from the public sphere, state neutrality toward religion, the separation of religion from state, or disestablishment (separation of church and state).
As a philosophy, secularism seeks to interpret life on principles taken solely from the material world, without recourse to religion. Secularism draws its intellectual roots from Greek and Roman philosophers such as Zeno of Citium and Marcus Aurelius; from Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Denis Diderot, Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; and from more recent freethinkers atheists such as Matthew W. Dillahunty, Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, and Christopher Hitchens. It shifts the focus from religion to other "temporal" and "this-worldly" things, with emphasis on nature, reason, science, and development.
In political terms, secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institution and religious dignitaries (the attainment of such is termed secularity). Defined briefly, secularism means that governments should remain neutral on the matter of religion and should not enforce nor prohibit the free exercise of religion, leaving religious choice to the liberty of the people. One form of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people.[Notes 1] Another form of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs or practices.[Notes 2] There exist distinct traditions of secularism in the West (e.g., French and Anglo-American) and beyond (e.g., in India).
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 (also known as secularization). 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 and the religious from governmental interference, while secularism on a social level is less prevalent. On the other hand, Meiji era Japan maintained that it was secular and allowed freedom of religion despite enforcing State Shinto and continuing to prohibit certain "superstitions;" scholar of religion Jason Ānanda Josephson has labelled this conception of the secular "the Shinto Secular" and noted that it follows a pattern established in certain European constitutions.
- Indifference to, or rejection or exclusion of, religion and religious considerations (Merriam-Webster)
- The belief that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country (Cambridge Dictionary)
- The principle of separation of the state from religious institutions (Oxford Dictionaries)
- A system of social organization and education where religion is not allowed to play a part in civil affairs (Collins)
- A theory, belief, ideology, or political modality that demarcates the secular from other phenomena (usually religious) and prioritizes, the secular over the non-secular in some regard.