The theories (and discussions) about secularism constitute a test case for the claims advanced in ‘The Heathen in his blindness: Asia, the West and the dynamic of religion’ about the universalizing drive of religion. I have suggested that religion spreads by secularizing itself, and that the distinction between the secular and the religious is drawn by and within a religion. If this is the case, then it must be possible to show that the current theories of secularism are secularizations of a particular set of theological claims. (Theology draws these distinctions and defends them.)
Because we are talking about empirical entities like the western culture, theories of secularism, etc. we are talking about the secularization of a specific religion and its claims, viz., Christianity. There are two kinds of questions: (a) Which Christian doctrines masquerade as secular doctrines in the theories about secularism? (b) What makes these Christian doctrines religious?
Currently, we are not even tackling the second question. This question is too complex and there is a lack of clarity as to what would constitute an answer. (I have only a general answer, which is found in `The Heathen …’) However, the first question is answered in two ways: (1) by developing a hypothesis about the structure underlying the theories of secularism; (2) by showing that this structure makes sense if and only if we make additional assumptions about Man and Society that Christianity makes.
The second answer is still too abstract. Jakob finished his doctorate on the issue of the rise of doctrines of `religious tolerance’. In his thesis, which is going to take the form of a first version of the book he and I are going to write together, it will be shown that all the political theories that we know of today (whether conservative or liberal) make a set assumptions that is continuous with different Christian theologies. The distinction of `the secular’ and `the religious’ itself will be shown to depend upon assumptions that Christian theology makes. (This will be done in detail.)
Then, we will show that the theses that liberal theories advance (with respect to the issue at hand) are derivable from these theological assumptions. That is, the liberal theories are `true’, if and only if the theological premises they use are also `true’. If it can be further shown that, empirically speaking, the western theorists explicitly assumed the truth of these assumptions in their attempts to build theories of state and politics, then we will have shown that their claims are theological in nature. If, furthermore, the later theorists assume the truth of the claims advanced by the earlier theorists, or merely tinker with them, they will be doing secularized theology.
In other words, all that can be shown is that the current theories of secularism (as they are now) presuppose the truth of Christian theological claims. The latter are about, as I said before, Man and Society. There must be a semantic and logical relationship between current theories of secularism and Christian theologies about the relationship between the secular’ and `the religious’. (And, among other things, that relationship is one of logical entailment.)
Thus, if we can show that (a) historically, there are no other assumptions present than theological ones; (b) show that there is a semantic and logical relationship between theological claims and the theories of secularism; then (c) we show that theories of secularism are secularizations of Christian theologies.
If this argument is true, your question about the identifying marks of secularism is answered. Secularism is recognizable as an object given a theory (ie. theology) about it. The identifiable markers are those that Christian theologies provide to identify the object. That is to say, without using Christian theology, you lack a way to identify the object called `secularism’. (This can also be put in an intuitive way thus: the Indian distinction between the `laukika’ and the `adhyatmika’ does not overlap with the `secular’ and the `religious’ distinction.)
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