The western concept of secularism has been for some time in deep and perhaps permanent crisis. Elaborated in the context of secularisation of society, the concept is simply unable to deal with the pervasiveness of religious belief on the one hand, and new cultural histories and new social geographies on the other. If secularism, Chandhoke suggests, has to endure as a constitutive principle of democracy, the concept has to come to terms with the ubiquity of religious beliefs, and with religion in the public sphere. Gandhian philosophy may well help us to mitigate the seriousness of the crisis. Central to Gandhian philosophy of secularism as a companion concept of toleration, and secularism as ‘equality of all religions’, is the notion of an epistemological deficit. Persons have the moral capacity to know the truth, but not the entire truth. Therefore no group can claim superiority over another on the ground that its truth is the ultimate truth, and that other truths are false or travesties of the real thing. This realisation leads slowly but surely towards respect for plurality of beliefs and toleration. This constitutes the core of political secularism in India. The antecedent concept of political secularism is thus equality.


Essential Readings:

Chandhoke, Neera 1999. Beyond Secularism: The Rights of Religious Minorities. New Delhi, Oxford University Press

Kapur, Ratna and Brenda Crossman 1999. Secularism’s Last Sigh? New Delhi, Oxford University Press.

Jacobsohn, Gary Jeffrey 2003. The Wheel of Law: India’s Secularism in Comparative Constitutional Context. New Delhi, Oxford University Press


Further Reading:

Tejani, Shabnum 2008. Indian Secularism: A Social and Intellectual History 1890-1950. Indiana University Press



Is secularisation a necessary precondition for the political doctrine of secularism?

Do you agree with the proposition that secularism is a constitutive aspect of democracy?

Why, in your estimation, is secularism in crisis in Europe?

Secularism and Toleration are companion concepts. Discuss.


Submitted by Neera Chandhoke

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