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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds In so far as modernity was defined as secular, or modernity if we moderns define ourselves as secular, then we’re going to find ourselves in tension with religion. But even with secularity in our global age, where we have become aware of the very different ways of being modern and of being secular, we realise that there are different forms of secularity. And, ultimately, when we talk of secular states, there are two fundamental types of secular states. One which emerges to solve the problem of religion, to put religion in its place, to manage religion, and to, in a way, control it, regulate it. Because religion is a problem for modern societies, as well as for the public sphere, for democracy.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds And this is their response to the states that had established religions. And it was necessary for the sake of democracy to disestablish those churches. But then there is another experience in these disputes of the United States or of India in which the secular state, secularity was actually constructed, even if they didn’t use the term, for the sake precisely of furthering and making possible religious pluralism. So rather than religion being a problem, religious pluralism was a fact. And so it was not viewed as a problem, but as a fact that had to be simply accepted and used.

Skip to 1 minute and 38 seconds And so there is this other concept of secularity which is not a response to religion as a problem, but a response to the challenge of religious pluralism, and how to establish modern democratic religious pluralist societies. And I think that today, now with a global context, we are more and more being forced to adopt the second model or conception of secularity. Because all of our societies are becoming increasingly more religiously pluralistic. And the secular state cannot be any more a state that either privileges one religion over the other, or one which simply wants to get rid of religion, because one that allows the religious possibilities of all citizens.

Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds And it’s a fact that in the last 30 years, the secular state has been, has to be reformulated what secularity means everywhere, from India to Turkey to France to the US to China. So we are entering a new kind of process in which those issues have become, ultimately, open to contestation. This is part, I think, of the kind of global processes we find ourselves in. So it’s a further democratisation, it’s a further reflexivity about the fact that the European model of secularity really doesn’t work for the rest of the world, isn’t necessarily a model for the rest of the world.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds But at the same time, there is no doubt that also in the last 30 years, we’ve seen religion involved in conflicts everywhere. Now the question is, is religion the cause. Because sometimes we Europeans have a theory about ourselves which goes like that. Once upon a time, we Europeans were also religious. And because we were religious, then we had the terrible religious wars. Now to get a rid of religion, we secularised the state. And thereafter, we have been happily living together. Well, the 20th century in Europe was the bloodiest, the most genocidal century, let’s say, in history. And none of these conflicts had very much to do with religion. Not World War I, not the Holocaust.

Skip to 3 minutes and 52 seconds Not the Bolshevik Gulag, not the Armenian Genocide, et cetera, et cetera. Those came out of modern secular ideologies, processes of nations states. Now many of the conflicts that we see today as being religious conflicts are actually part, also, of the very process of nation state formation. So we should be a little careful when we attribute these conflicts to religion. On the other hand, in situations in which precisely religious pluralism is not allowed, and no a kind of system to manage with religious difference has been established, then religious pluralism is a problem. So the question is, do you solve the problem of religious pluralism by precisely regulating state religion, or do you solve it by precisely alone, religious pluralism.

Skip to 4 minutes and 40 seconds And what are then the conditions for religious pluralism in societies around the world? Here we see tremendous differences from China to Russia to India to South Africa to Brazil. So you cannot say there is one pattern. On the one hand, Islam has been a critical issue. We tend to attribute the violence to Islam itself as a religion, but obviously we know of many contexts in which Muslims and Hindus, Muslims and Christians can live together without any problem. But then something happens that challenges these patterns, stable patterns. Usually it has to do with the nation state and the view of needing to create a homogeneous nation state. And then many of these conflicts emit out of these conditions.

Skip to 5 minutes and 27 seconds Very clearly that in the same way that there are so-called religious wars of fairly modern Europe, if you call them the wars of state formation– which is what they were– then obviously you change the dynamic of what it is. If you realise that, let’s say, that Jews, Muslims, and Christians could live together in Spain under this Muslim and Christian kingdoms. But then comes the model of a catholic state. It tries to homogenise the population. It needs to get rid of Jews and Muslims. And so the moment you have a project of a homogeneous nation state, it leads necessarily to non-religious cleansing.

Skip to 6 minutes and 6 seconds And it’s interesting that the moment you have this illusion of empires, which, quite likely, were religious pluralist, whether the Ottoman, whether the Habsburg, whether the Russian. And then you have the process of nation state formation usually is leading to these conflicts.

Interview José Casanova

In this video, Professor José Casanova from Georgetown University (U.S.) discusses the links between religion, secularism and modernity.

This interview was conducted in the framework of another of University of Groningen’s free online course on religion and conflict, which you can find elsewhere on FutureLearn. Professor Casanova speaks about violent conflict, but also about religious pluralism and Europe’s self-identity.

While watching the video, think about what Professor Casanova says about secularisation and whether it applies to the context of contemporary Europe.

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