The Religion & Culture Web Forum
Secularism, Religious Renaissance, and Social Conflict in Asia
By Richard Madsen
University of California, San Diego
The concept of secularism as a political, social, and cultural phenomenon developed in the midst of and in reference to Western countries. This month, Richard Madsen applies this framework to East and Southeast Asia, finding that, while it “does not perfectly fit, the lack of fit is useful for highlighting particular dilemmas faced by Asian governments in an era of political and religious transformation.”
“…the secularity of modern Asian states has by no means led to widespread popular secularity – that is, to secularity in the second sense defined by Taylor, a loss of religious belief and practice among ordinary people. In terms of the quantity of people regularly taking part in religious practices, most Asian societies are more like the United States than Western Europe. The degree of religious practice varies from country to country, but almost everywhere, temples, mosques, churches, and shrines are ubiquitous – and full of people, especially during festival seasons. Even in China, where the government actively propagates an atheist ideology and has severely restricted open religious activities, it has been estimated that as much as 95 percent of the population engages from time to time in some form of religious practice. Moreover, throughout Asia, there have been impressive revivals and reformations of Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian religious belief and practice – a veritable religious renaissance.”
Responses may be found in the archived discussion board for this Forum (pdf).