Accounting for Change in Diverse Societies

Religion, Secularism and the State

Publication Date: April 2017

Niraja Gopal Jayal

Niraja Gopal Jayal is a Professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her research interests include state-building, democracy in South Asia, and secularism in India. Her most recent publications include Citizenship and its Discontents: An Indian History and Representing India: Ethnic Diversity and the Governance of Public Institutions. She also serves on the Board of Governors for the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi.

The relationship between the state and religion acquires particular significance in diverse societies populated by citizens avowing different faiths. This relationship varies widely, encompassing a spectrum ranging from theological states to states that determinedly refuse to recognize religion. In between these two extremes, there are different, more or less rigid, models of secularism which have evolved in response to specific historical contexts. The need for secularism as state policy arises from the requirement of both protecting the individual’s freedom of religion, as well as the need to create and promote a democratic public space in which issues of shared civic concern may be resolved in keeping with liberal values such as freedom, human rights and self-determination. The principle of liberal political equality requires us to detach citizenship from any religious affiliation so that the moral equality of all individuals is reflected in their political equality.

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