Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture

ISSSC Website



Secular Americans

Understanding American "Nots"

Is Anyone
in Canada Secular?

Secularity in Great Britain

Läicité and Secular Attitudes in France

Secularism: The Case of Denmark

Secularism in India

The Secular Israeli Jewish Identity

Secularism in Iran: a Hidden Agenda?















Who is Secular
in the World Today?




by Barry A. Kosmin

By many accounts, secularism and once-magisterial secular traditions are embattled in a world where global clashes of ideas and belief, including the reassertion of aggressive forms of religion, shape contemporary life. In order to assess what’s happening accurately, it is necessary to find out how many secular people there are out there. But, even within the limits of the United States, that is proving to be a real challenge.

The very characteristics, traits, and beliefs of the secular are contested intensely, and terms like secularism and secularity are understood very differently by different types of Americans. On the international scale, the problem of definition is even more complex, because these concepts have discrete and distinct histories and associations in different countries.

The Institute for the Study of Secularism and Society (ISSSC) has taken as its mission the task of addressing this pervasive lack of definitional clarity. It also seeks to encourage serious academic attention to the role of secular values and the process of secularization. Therefore, it devoted the first in an annual series of international research conferences to the question: “Who is Secular Today?”  Charged to shed light and not heat, a group of leading international scholars presented their current research on secular people and secularism in a variety of national settings. Those reports are summarized here for a broader audience.

 The conference brought together a diverse group of people from very different settings and geographical locations—France, Denmark, Great Britain, Canada, India, Israel, and Iran, as well as the United States. Our scholar-presenters represent a variety of academic disciplines and backgrounds with a range of opinions on the issues under debate.  Each one is an expert in his or her own field and country.

 The following summaries focus on three issues: Firstly, on secularity and secularization, i.e., on people and public opinion, including estimates of the size of the “secular” segment of the population in each country and its socio-demographic and economic characteristics. The second focus is on secularism and national culture and the particular definition, or common understanding, of the term “secular” in each country. Here a remarkable variety of trajectories is to be found. Finally, we sought comment on political and social attitudes towards and among secular people in their country.

For those who wish to learn more about secularism in these countries, complete versions of these papers with their accompanying research findings with full bibliographies and references will appear in book form next year under the auspices of  the ISSSC.

A special insert printed in  Religion in the News Fall 2006


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