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Philosophical Secularism vs. Political Secularism

January 11, 2008

In an interesting session at the Pew Foundation’s Conference on religion and public life, professor Wilfred McClay addresses the role of secularism in the U.S. He notes that we possess a unique blend of secularism and religion. He clarifies the difference between philosophical secuarlism and political secularism by expoloring the notion that “If you know only your own religion, you don’t even know your own religion.”

He comments: Also, there’s a problem with the word “secularism.” It means so many different things. [But] the distinction I want to make is between philosophical secularism, which is secularism as a kind of godless system of the world, a system of beliefs about ultimate things, and secularism in a political sense: that is, secularism as recognizing politics as an autonomous sphere, one that’s not subject to ecclesiastical governance, to the governance of a church or religion or the church’s expression of that religion. A secular political order may be one in which religious practice or religious exercise, as we say, can flourish.

Read the rest.

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