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Secularism Notes | Class 11 Political Science

This chapter introduces the students to the idea of secularism and its different models like the Indian and the Western models. The chapter enlists the in-depth discussion about the secular nature of the state. We also highlight Kemal Atatürk's Secularism and the role of religious denominations.


What is Secularism?

Inter-Religious Denominations

Inter-religious Domination is a situation where a Community, religion dominates the other. Suppressing religious minorities happens to be the major cause of the Inter-Religious Denominations.

Example: The Constitution of India facilitates its citizens by the right to equality and the right to live freely and with dignity but there are some forms of discrimination that continue in reality:

● More than 2,700 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and many other parts of the country in 1984. The families of the victims feel that the guilty were not punished.

● Several thousands of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits have been forced to leave their homes in the Kashmir valley; they have not been able to return to their homes for more than two decades.

● More than 1,000 persons, mostly Muslims, were massacred during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002. The surviving members of many of these families could not go back to the villages in which they lived.

In all the above-mentioned examples we saw religious discrimination in one form or the other. Here, one community is targeted and victimized on the account of their religious identity.

Intra-religious Denominations

Thus religious domination cannot be identified only with inter religious domination. It takes another conspicuous form, namely, intra-religious domination.

Intra religious domination: situations where a community/religion dominates its own members. For example, Dalits are at a very low hierarchy and they are treated inhumanely and like slaves by upper castes.

In religions such as Hinduism, some sections have faced persistent discrimination. For example, Dalits have been barred from entering Hindu temples. In some parts of the country, Hindu women cannot enter temples.

When religion is organised, it is frequently taken over by its most conservative faction, which does not tolerate any dissent. Religious fundamentalism in parts of the US has become a big problem and endangers peace both within the country and outside. Many religions fragment into sects which leads to frequent sectarian violence and persecution of dissenting minorities.

Secular State

What is a Secular State?

A secular state claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen based on their religious beliefs, affiliation or lack of either over those with other profiles.

A state must not be run by the heads of any particular religion. For this, a state is needed that could prevent religious conflict and promote religious harmony.

How can a state avoid being dominated by any religious groups?

Theocratic States

A theocratic state is one that is governed directly by a priestly order. Theocratic states, such as the Papal States of Europe in mediaeval times or the Taliban-controlled state today, lack separation between religious and political institutions and are known for their hierarchies, oppressions, and unwillingness to allow members of other religious groups to practise their religion freely.

Religious institutions and state institutions must be kept separate if we value peace, freedom, and equality. There are also states that are not theocratic but have a close relationship with a particular religion..

Example: The state in England in the sixteenth century was not run by a priestly class but clearly favoured the Anglican Church and its members. England had an established Anglican religion, which was the official religion of the state.

Today Pakistan has an official state religion, namely Sunni Islam. Such regimes may leave little scope for internal dissent or religious equality.

Way Forward

A state must not only refuse to be theocratic but also have no formal alliance with any religion. However, the separation of religion and state is a necessary but not sufficient component of a secular state.

A secular state must adhere to principles and goals that are derived in part from non-religious sources.

Peace, religious freedom, and freedom from religiously based oppression, discrimination, and exclusion, as well as inter-religious and intra-religious equality, are all principles that a secular state must adhere to.

Western Model of Secularism

All secular states share a common path in that they are neither theocratic nor proponents of any religion. The best way to describe the western model of secularism is mutual exclusion: the state will not intervene in religious affairs, and religion will not interfere in the affairs of the state.

Each of them has its own sphere with its own set of rules and jurisdiction. There can be no state policy that is solely based on religious principles. Any public policy cannot be based on religious classification. If this occurs, there will be an illegitimate religious intrusion into the state.

Any religious institution cannot be aided by the state. It is unable to provide financial assistance to religiously run educational institutions. It can't stop religious communities from doing what they want as long as they stay within the bounds of the law of the land.

This popular viewpoint takes an individualist approach to freedom and equality. The notion that a community has the freedom to follow practises of its own choosing has no merit. Community-based or minority rights have little room to grow.

The concept of state-sponsored religious reform has no place in this version of mainstream secularism. This feature stems from its belief that the separation of state and church/religion entails a mutual exclusionary relationship.

The Indian Model of Secularism

Indian secularism is fundamentally different from Western secularism. The country already had the feature of inter-religious tolerance. India is a diverse country having some space for every religion.

The advent of western modernity brought to the fore hitherto neglected and marginalised notions of equality in Indian thought. It sharpened these ideas and helped us to focus on equality within the community. It also ushered ideas of inter-community equality to replace the notion of hierarchy.

The Indian Model of secularism equally focusses on the inter-religious and the intra-religious dominations also equally opposed the oppression of Dalits and women within Hinduism, the discrimination against women within Indian Islam or Christianity, and the possible threats that a majority community might pose to the rights of the minority religious communities

● Indian secularism deals not only with the religious freedom of individuals but also with the religious freedom of minority communities

● Indian secularism has also made a room for and is compatible with the idea of state-supported religious reform. Thus, the Indian constitution bans untouchability. The Indian state has enacted several laws abolishing child marriage and lifting the taboo on inter-caste marriage sanctioned by Hinduism

● The secular character of the Indian state is established by virtue of the fact that it is neither theocratic nor has it established any one or multiple religions. It has adopted a very sophisticated policy in pursuit of religious equality.

This allows it either to disengage with religion in the American style, or engage with it if required.

The Indian Constitution grants all religious minorities the right to establish and maintain their own educational institutions which may receive assistance from the state. These strategies are adopted by the state to promote the values of peace, freedom and equality.

Criticism of Indian Secularism

India being such a diverse country, comprising many religions, is always the subject of fierce criticism. There are several grounds on which Indian secularism is being criticised.


It is often argued that the Indian constitution is anti-religious but stating a constitution against institutionalised religious domination, is not the same as being anti-religious.

It clearly protects religious identity rather than threatens it. It undermines some forms of religious identity: those, which are dogmatic, violent, fanatical, exclusivist and those, which foster hatred of other religions.

Western Import

Secularism is often linked to Christianity and considered unsuited for the Indian tradition. A secular state may keep a principled distance from religion to promote peace between communities and it may also intervene to protect the rights of specific communities.

India evolved a variant of secularism that is not just an implant from the west on Indian soil. The fact is that secularism has both western and nonwestern origins.

In the west, it was the Church-state separation that was central and in countries such as India, the idea of peaceful coexistence of different religious communities has been important.


The third accusation against secularism is the charge of minorities. Yes, Indian secularism does advocate minority rights. But it is also said that it should not be seen as a special privilege to some.

Minority rights are justified as long as these rights protect their fundamental interests. It is to treat them with the same respect and dignity with which all others are being treated. The lesson is that minority rights need not be nor should be viewed as special privileges.


A fourth criticism claims that secularism is coercive and that it interferes excessively with the religious freedom of communities.

By rejecting the idea of separation as mutual exclusion, Indian secularism rejects non-interference in religion. But it does not follow that it is excessively interventionist. Indian secularism follows the concept of principled distance which also allows for non-interference.

Indian secularism also permits state-supported religious reforms. Personal laws can be seen as manifestations of freedom from inter-religious domination or as instances of intra-religious domination.

Personal laws can be reformed in such a way that they continue to exemplify both minority rights and equality between men and women.

Such reform should neither be brought about by State nor group coercion nor should the state adopt a policy of total distance from it. The state must act as a facilitator by supporting liberal and democratic voices within every religion.

Vote Bank Politics

There is also a criticism relating to the promotion of vote bank politics. It is said that Indian secularism promotes vote bank politics.

The real concern is what precisely the vote is sought for. If the group which voted for the politician does not get any benefit from this act, then surely the politician must be blamed.

If secular politicians who sought the votes of minorities also manage to give them what they want, then this is a success of the secular project which aims, after all, to also protect the interests of the minorities

The mere fact that secular parties utilise vote banks is not troublesome. All parties do so in relation to some social group.

Impossible Project

A final, cynical criticism might be that secularism fails because it tries to solve an intractable problem by doing too much.

It is said that people of such diverse religious beliefs will not be able to coexist peacefully. As a result, it isn't ultimately correct. The history of Indian civilization demonstrates that such coexistence is possible.

The main reason for classifying it as an impossible project is that it is based on equality. With the intensification of globalisation, people from former colonies are migrating to the west, and people from other parts of the world are migrating to Europe and America, as well as some parts of the Middle East.

In terms of the diversity of cultures and religions present in their societies, the East is beginning to resemble India. These societies are keeping a close eye on the Indian experiment's future.

Atatürk's Secularism

What is Kemal Ataturk’s Secularism?

Secularism was practised in Turkey during the early years of the twentieth century. This secularism was not about the principled distance from organised religion, instead, it involved active intervention in and suppression of, religion.

This version of secularism was propounded and practised by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He came to power after the first world war & was determined to put an end to the institution of Khalifa in the public life of Turkey.

Kemal took action in an aggressive manner to modernise and secularise turkey.

The Fez, a traditional cap worn by Muslims, was banned by the Hat Law. Western clothing was encouraged for men and women. The Western (Gregorian) calendar replaced the traditional Turkish calendar.

In 1928, the new Turkish alphabet (in a modified Latin form) was adopted. The term “Secular” means being "separate" from religion or having no religious basis.

Secularism means the separation of religion from political, economic, social and cultural aspects of life, religion is treated as a purely personal matter.

It promotes freedom and equality within and between religions. As secularism is opposed to all forms of institutionalised religious domination, it challenges not merely inter-religious but also intra-religious domination.

What do we understand by ‘Religious Denominations’?

It refers to the fact when a subgroup within or of any sole religion operates under a common identity, name or tradition.

The term is referred to various denominations in Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism etc.


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