Religion and Secularism


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Teaching materials used for Level 1 course entitled 'Education and Faith' at York St John University.

Devised by Jonathan Vincent

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Religion and Secularism

  1. 1. 1ED100: Education and FaithSecularism andReligionIs God dead and havewe killed him?
  2. 2. Humans can decide what isright and wrong withoutreligionAgree Disagree
  3. 3. Religion is a force for goodin the worldAgree Disagree
  4. 4. Politicians should onlymake laws that reflect theneeds of all people insocietyAgree Disagree
  5. 5. Religious beliefs should be afactor in law-makingAgree Disagree
  6. 6. The more we know aboutthe world, the less we needreligionAgree Disagree
  7. 7. Parameters of discussion – ‘religion’“Religion is a system ofthoughts, feelings and actionsthat are shared by a group…Itprovides a system andframework for consideringmoral and social issues –making it something relevantto public affairs”(Arthur et al, 2010,p11)
  8. 8. Parameters of discussion - ‘secular’“Secular is derived fromthe Latin word saeculummeaning ‘the presentage’…the origins of ourcurrent understanding of‘secular’ lay within theChristian tradition andcame to mean theopposite of sacred.”(Arthur et al, 2010, p26)
  9. 9. “God is dead…and we have killed him”(Thus Spoke Zarathrustra, 1884)
  10. 10. The ‘Secularization Thesis’Max Weber (1989, p29) wrote:“the fate of our times ischaracterised byrationalization andintellectualization and aboveall the ‘disenchantment of theworld’.”By which he was describingthe SecuarlizationThesis, namely the idea thatmodernity necessitates thedecline of religion.(Arthur et al, 2010, p1)
  11. 11. Tension between Religion and Secularism
  12. 12. Tension between Religion and SecularismReligion Secularism
  13. 13. For secularists, faith is counter torationality. Pinker (2006) states,“Faith – believing something withoutgood reasons to do so – has no placein anything but a religious institution.”(Arthur et al, 2010, p99)Tension between Religion and Secularism
  14. 14. In Watson (2012, p177) Lord Laws asserts:‘The precepts of any one religion – any beliefsystem – cannot, by force of their religiousorigins, sound any louder in the general lawthan the precepts of any other. If theydid, those out in the cold would be less thancitizens, and our constitution would be on theway to a theocracy, which is of necessityautocratic.’Tension between Religion and Secularism
  15. 15. Tension between Religion and SecularismIn 2003 the European Court forHuman Rights supported Turkishgovernment’s decision to dissolve andIslamic party by affirming the viewthat ‘the principle of secularism’ wasa necessary presupposition ofdemocracy. (ECHR, 2003)
  16. 16. Tension between Religion and SecularismReligion Secularism
  17. 17. J M Roberts (1986, p37)writes,“We would none of us todaybe what we are if a handful ofJews nearly two thousandyears ago had not believedthat they had known a greatteacher, seen himcrucified, dead, and buriedand then rise again.”Tension between Religion and Secularism
  18. 18. A history of tension: religion and secularism
  19. 19. European citizenship is generally regarded asbeing identified with secular citizens. It is arguedthat secular European citizenship requires nothingbut ‘reason’ to ensure progress and liberation.“These secular self-understandings go on toestablish exclusively secular lineages betweenthemselves and the ancient Greeks who, theyclaim, originated the concept of citizenship.”(Arthur et al, 2010, p18)A history of tension: Ancient Greeks
  20. 20. However, Sagan cites (1991), the classical realitywas that the Athenians regarded the divine anddemocracy not as enemies but as close friends.Athenian democracy was in no way a secularaffair – it was rooted in the deeply religious andpolytheistic universe. Being a good citizenshipmeant being a good religious follower.A history of tension: Ancient Greeks
  21. 21. Jesus’ social teaching“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours isthe kingdom of God....But woe to you whoare rich, for you have already received yourcomfort.” Luke 6:20-25Blessed are the peacemakers, for they willbe called children of God. Matthew 5:9“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.Do not condemn, and you will not becondemned. Forgive, and you will beforgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.”Luke 6:37-38“Love your enemies, do good to those whohate you, bless those who curse you, prayfor those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-29
  22. 22. “Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprangthe ideals of freedom and a collective life insolidarity, the autonomous conduct of life andemancipation, the individual morality ofconscience, human rights and democracy, is thedirect legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and theChristian ethic of love…To this day, there is noalternative to it…we continue to draw on thesubstance of this heritage. Everything else is justidle postmodern talk.” Habermas (2006: 150ff)Jesus’ teachings: western influence
  23. 23. After 3 centuries ofpersecution, relationship betweenChristian and politics became muchchanged by Emperor Galerius’deathbed Edict of Toleration(311), followed closely by his successorConstantine’s Edict of Milan (312/3)where on calling for the Christian Godto assist in success inbattle, Constantine converted and theage of Theocracy began – Christian andRoman citizenship were effectivelyunified.The Roman Era
  24. 24. The Roman Era
  25. 25. Middle Ages (6th – 14th century)In the post-Roman Empire period there was a reshapingof Europe in the creation of nation-states unified by acommon Christian belief delivering considerableintellectual, political and theological achievements in thearchitectural glories of European cathedrals, universitiesand the provision of schools.
  26. 26. Middle Ages (6th – 14th century)In retrospect, Reformation thinkers believed MiddleAges were neither political or theologicalprogressive, they tended to emphasize theeschatological belief in heaven/hell over concernsof this world.Politically the monarch had control of the Churchbut at the height of its power the Church couldtrump the political authority by excommunicatingthe king.
  27. 27. Reformation (16th century)The Reformation did more than expressdissatisfaction with ecclesiastical politics of RCChurch – it created a break within the religio-political paradigm greater than anything before.The Reformation began by reversing thebalance, raising supremacy of state over religionthrough national churches – England, Swedenand Germany.
  28. 28. The Renaissance (14th-17th Centuries)Until the Renaissance educationwas largely dominated byChristian theology and study ofBible but at this time aresurgence of classicalstudies/traditions to developthinking of figures such asAquinas, Bacon, Machiavelli, Montaigne – it formed thefoundations of both theReformation and theEnlightenment period.
  29. 29. Enlightenment: DescartesThe Cartesian shift ofepistemic focus from theauthority of received traditionto reason and experience (orexperiment) as the key sourceof human knowledge alsoclearly opens the way tosubsequent radical scepticismabout such theological‘proofs’. (Carr, 2012, p158)
  30. 30. Schonfeld (2007) contends that ‘Modern thoughtbegins with Kant…the appearance of Critique ofPure Reason in 1781 marks the beginning ofmodern philosophy.’Like many enlightenment thinkers he stressed idealsof autonomy, rationalism and the perfectibility ofhuman beings. With this came the pedagogy ofmodernity: rationalist, instrumental and scientific inan age of discovery and exploration.Enlightenment: Kant
  31. 31. Hume argued, unless theexperience of the ‘invisibleworld’ could be made clearand immediate to humanperception, a matter ofempirical fact, then for him ithas no sense. He argued thatsense and understanding islimited to those propositionsthat could either beempirically or logically verified.(Radford, 2012, p233)Enlightenment: Hume
  32. 32. Momentum ofreason’s supremacyover religionreached its peakwith Darwin’s Originof Species whichcalled into questionthe Bible’sauthenticity basedon revelation.Enlightenment: Darwin
  33. 33. The Enlightenment can be seen as the “restagingof the battle between Christianity and the secular(political and philosophical) authority inantiquity, one in which, following in the wake of anow divided and weakened post-ReformationChristianity, the victory of religion would finally bereversed and reason would reign…”(Arthur et al, 2010, p65)Enlightenment
  34. 34. Modern secularismDewey’s Democracy and Education (1916) represents theculmination of a political and pedagogical movement whoseheritage is the Enlightenment, revolutionary democracy andpre-Christian antiquity.Dewey’s educational philosophy can be simplified aroundthree principles:1. Politically, that education should reflect democraticideals;2. Educationally, that democratic ideals should be reflectedin teaching and learning;3. That both politics and education should be secular(Arthur et al, 2010, p76)
  35. 35. Assumptions that all societies would naturallybecome devoid of religion as a result ofdemocratization and development of humanknowledge have been confounded by thecontinuation and resurgence of religion in the world.Habermas (2006) used the term “post-secular todescribe a society that is epistemically adjusted to thecontinued existence of religious communities.”(Bowie et al, 2012)Post-secular age?
  36. 36. Consider…Is there still a place forreligion in the publicsquare(politics, educationetc.)?
  37. 37. Arguments for secularism in public squareNo country can make public laws or claims on the basis ofreligious codes, values or ideas that are not held by all thepeople – this is essentially un-democratic.Laborde (2010) argues that the future of democracy dependson secularism but is careful to note that:“...secularism properly understood – as a political philosophy– need not be anti- religious. The secular state is not a statecommitted to substantive atheism or to the marginalisationof religion from public and social life. It is, rather, a state inwhich citizens share a language – a secular language – fordiscussing political issues.”(Laborde, 2010, p10 cited in Watson, 2012, p175)
  38. 38. Watson (2012) argues:- Religion is too broad/complex to be seen as one thing tobe rejected- It is hypocritical for secular thesis to claim to embracedifference but in doing so reject large portions of society- It is unrealistic to expect religious people (in politicalpositions) to divide their personality into public/privatespheres- The rejection of religion can lead to fundamentalism –pressure of not being heard in society leads to extremism- Secularism has created a social vacuum – what will fill it?Arguments for religion in public square
  39. 39. An inclusive via media?Obama (2006) managed to include both religious andnon-religious fairly in this statement as a basis forpublic policy-making:“We value a faith in something bigger thanourselves, whether that something expresses itself informal religion or in ethical precepts. And we valuethe constellation of behaviours that express ourmutual regard for one another:honesty, fairness, humility, kindness, courtesy andcompassion.”(Cited in Watson 2012, p181)
  40. 40. Implications for education“In the original political sense of a ‘seculareducation’ it simply meant that public schoolingdid not advantage any particular faith group.Philosophically, there is an emphasis on neutralitybetween varied religious and non-religiousworldviews; an education that neither promotesnot inhibits religion and schools that are notinstitutionally biased.(Arthur et al, 2010, p52)
  41. 41. Implications for educationThe aims of sec education are premised onthe belief that there is nothing beyond thenatural physical world; no soul, nomystery, no supernatural – Ultimate valuesexclusively reside in human beings... In thissense, secular education seems to nurture asecular mentality that marginalises religionfrom culture and intellectual life andcontributes to the secularisation of society. Itimposes a secular worldview that challengesthe religious commitment to believingchildren. Martin (2005) calls it the ‘secularistindoctrination of the state’ but Dawkins(2007) counters with the assertion thatreligious education is a form of ‘child abuse’.(Arthur et al, 2010, p30)
  42. 42. Democratic Learning:Community of EnquiryHow it works:- Write down a question that you think would beworth discussing as a whole group- In small groups (4-5), share your questions- Choose one question from your group and writeit nice and big on the paper provided- As a whole group, read through the selectedquestions- Choose one question to discuss*Adapted from Lipman, 1991
  43. 43. References:• Arthur J, Gearon L and Sears A, (2010), Education, politics and religion:reconciling the civil and the sacred in education, Routledge, London• Bowie B., Peterson A. & Revell L., (2012) Post-secular trends: issues ineducation and faith, Journal of Beliefs & Values: Studies in Religion &Education, 33 (2), 139-141• Carr, D. (2012) Post-secularism, religious knowledge and religiouseducation, Journal of Beliefs & Values: Studies in Religion & Education, 33(2), 157-168• Habermas, J. (2006) Time of Transitions, Polity Press, London, pp. 150-151• Lipman, M., (1991) Thinking in Education Cambridge University Press, NewYork• Nietzsche, F., (1884), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Cambridge Texts in theHistory of Philosophy), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge• Radford M., (2012), Faith and reason in a post secular age, Journal of Beliefs& Values: Studies in Religion & Education, 33 (2), 229-240• Watson, B. (2011) Democracy, religion and secularism: reflections on thepublic role of religion in a modern society, Journal of Beliefs & Values:Studies in Religion & Education, 32 (2), 173-183