Secularity, also the secular or secularness (from Latin saeculum, "worldly" or "of a generation"), is the state of being unrelated or neutral in regards to religion and irreligion. Anything that does not have an explicit reference to religion, either negatively or positively, may be considered secular. The process in which things become secular or more so is named secularization, and any concept or ideology promoting the secular may be termed secularism.
Historically, the word secular was not related or linked to religion, but was a freestanding term in Latin which would relate to any mundane endeavour. However, the term, saecula saeculorum (saeculōrum being the genitive plural of saeculum) as found in the New Testament in the Vulgate translation (circa 410) of the original Koine Greek phrase εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων (eis toùs aionas ton aiṓnōn), e.g. at Galatians 1:5, was used in the early Christian church (and is still used today), in the doxologies, to denote the coming and going of the ages, the grant of eternal life, and the long duration of created things from their beginning to forever and ever. Secular and secularity derive from the Latin word saeculum which meant "of a generation, belonging to an age" or denoted a period of about one hundred years. The Christian doctrine that God exists outside time led medieval Western culture to use secular to indicate separation from specifically religious affairs and involvement in temporal ones.
"Secular" does not necessarily imply hostility or rejection of God or religion, though some use the term this way (see "secularism", below); Martin Luther used to speak of "secular work" as a vocation from God for most Christians. According to cultural anthropologists such as Jack David Eller, secularity is best understood, not as being "anti-religious", but as being "religiously neutral" since many activities in religious bodies are secular themselves and most versions of secularity do not lead to irreligiosity.
The idea of a dichotomy between religion and the secular originated in the European Enlightenment. Furthermore, since religion and secular are both Western concepts that were formed under the influence of Christian theology, other cultures do not necessarily have words or concepts that resemble or are equivalent to them.
In many cultures, there is little dichotomy between "natural" and "supernatural", "religious" and "not-religious", especially since people have beliefs in other supernatural or spiritual things irrespective of belief in God or gods. Other cultures stress practice of ritual rather than belief. Conceptions of both "secular" and "religious", while sometimes having some parallels in local cultures, were generally imported along with Western worldviews, often in the context of colonialism. Attempts to define either the "secular" or the "religious" in non-Western societies, accompanying local modernization and Westernization processes, were often and still are fraught with tension. Due to all these factors, "secular" as a general term of reference was much deprecated in social sciences, and is used carefully and with qualifications.
One can regard eating and bathing as examples of secular activities, because there may not be anything inherently religious about them. Nevertheless, some religious traditions see both eating and bathing as sacraments, therefore making them religious activities within those world views. Saying a prayer derived from religious text or doctrine, worshipping through the context of a religion, performing corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and attending a religious seminary school or monastery are examples of religious (non-secular) activities.
The "secular" is experienced in diverse ways ranging from separation of religion and state to being anti-religion or even pro-religion, depending on the culture. For example, the United States has both separation of church and state and pro-religiosity in various forms such as protection of religious freedoms; France has separation of church and state (and Revolutionary France was strongly anti-religious); the Soviet Union was anti-religion; in India, people feel comfortable identifying as secular while participating in religion; and in Japan, since the concept of "religion" is not indigenous to Japan, people state they have no religion while doing what appears to be religion to Western eyes.
A related term, secularism, involves the principle that government institutions and their representatives should remain separate from religious institutions, their beliefs, and their dignitaries. Many businesses and corporations, and some governments operate on secular lines. This stands in contrast to theocracy, government with deity as its highest authority.
- Lee 2015, pp. 31–37.
- Zuckerman & Shook 2017, pp. 4–5.
- "CHURCH FATHERS: Against Heresies, II.34.3 (St. Irenaeus)". New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, Fathers of the Church.
- Eller 2010, pp. 12–13.
- Juergensmeyer 2017, pp. 74–79.
- Juergensmeyer 2017; Zuckerman, Galen & Pasquale 2016, ch. 2.
- Zuckerman, Galen & Pasquale 2016, p. 31.
- See Asad 2003, esp. pp. 205–210; Walzer 2015, esp. pp. ix–xiv, 65, 76.
- Zuckerman, Galen & Pasquale 2016, pp. 19, 51.
- Eller 2017, pp. 500–501.
- Eller 2017, pp. 501–504.
- Asad, Talal (2003). Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford University Press.
- Eller, Jack David (2010). "What Is Atheism?". In Zuckerman, Phil (ed.). Atheism and Secularity. Volume 1: Issues, Concepts, Definitions. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. pp. 1–18. ISBN 978-0-313-35183-9.
- ——— (2017). "Varieties of Secular Experience". In Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John R. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 499ff. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988457.013.31. ISBN 978-0-19-998845-7.
- Lee, Lois (2015). Recognizing the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular. Oxford University Press.
- Juergensmeyer, Mark (2017). "The Imagined War Between Secularism and Religion". In Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John R. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 71–84. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988457.013.5. ISBN 978-0-19-998845-7.
- Walzer, Michael (2015). The Paradox of Liberation. Yale University Press.
- Zuckerman, Phil; Galen, Luke W.; Pasquale, Frank L. (2016). "Secularity Around the World". The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People and Societies. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199924950.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-992494-3.
- Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John R. (2017). "Introduction: The Study of Secularism". In Zuckerman, Phil; Shook, John R. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Secularism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 1–17. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988457.013.1. ISBN 978-0-19-998845-7.
- Glasner, Peter E. (1977). The Sociology of Secularisation: A Critique of a Concept. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-7100-8455-2.
- Iversen, Hans Raun (2013). "Secularization, Secularity, Secularism". In Runehov, Anne L. C.; Oviedo, Lluis (eds.). Encyclopedia of Sciences and Religions. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. pp. 2116–2121. doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-8265-8_1024. ISBN 978-1-4020-8265-8.
- Smith, James K. A. (2014). How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Tayor. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0-8028-6761-2.
- Taylor, Charles (2007). A Secular Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02676-6.
- ——— (2009). "The Polysemy of the Secular". Social Research. 76 (4): 1143–1166. ISSN 1944-768X. JSTOR 40972206.
- ——— (2011). "Why We Need a Radical Redefinition of Secularism". In Mendieta, Eduardo; VanAntwerpen, Jonathan (eds.). The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 34–59. ISBN 978-0-231-52725-5. JSTOR 10.7312/butl15645.6.
- Warner, Michael; VanAntwerpen, Jonathan; Calhoun, Craig, eds. (2010). Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-04857-7.
- The dictionary definition of secular at Wiktionary