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the Complete Review
the complete review - religion / government



Andrew Copson

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To purchase Secularism

Title: Secularism
Author: Andrew Copson
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2017
Length: 142 pages
Availability: Secularism - US
Secularism - UK
Secularism - Canada
  • Politics, Religion, and Freedom

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Our Assessment:

B : good, basic introductory overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 9/10/2017 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(N)owhere does Copson offer personal opinions or trenchant analysis. Instead he presents the various arguments in their own terms. This strategy works for presenting information, but lends the book a static feel. This short introduction will be used best as a narrative bibliography for further reading." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       This title was apparently originally intended to be part of the Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions-series -- Copson even writes at one point: "Since this book is only a very short introduction", and both the Publishers Weekly review and the Amazon-listing for the book credit it as being part of the series -- but is instead presented as a slightly larger hardcover stand-alone, and with its own subtitle (Politics, Religion, and Freedom). Nevertheless, it could easily have been fit into the series too, and what Copson offers is very similar to the basic VSI-template: Secularism is a concise overview of the subject, offering historical background, questions surrounding it, and its place in the contemporary world.
       Copson begins with the definition of secularism -- basically, the separation of state and religion. As he notes, and as becomes clear from the examples he discusses, such a separation is not easy to achieve or maintain.
       While making the case for secularism, Copson is also willing to entertain the arguments against it (and acknowledge situations of potential overreach). The thin, blurry line between secularist policy and the use of the cover or excuse of secularism to promote anti-religious (usually aimed against a specific religion or religions) policies also comes up repeatedly.
       Revolutionary France and the United States, and then twentieth-century Turkey and India serve as examples of the establishment of secularism -- each also serving as an interesting example of the state of secularism in contemporary times, as present-day political leadership in India and Turkey has strongly brought (a specific) religion back into areas it had been (more or less ...) excluded from, while both France and the United States again struggle more prominently with church-state separation in a variety of spheres.
       Secularism remains a popular official position and ideal -- over 70 of 195 national constitutions declare a separation of church and state, and only around thirty declare there is an official state religion -- but there are large gray areas. Several European countries that may seem particularly open in fact tie church and state closely together, such as Denmark (where, Copson notes, the clergy is appointed by the state), while for example the British monarch is the ''Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England', which is -- at least taken literally -- about as far from the secular ideal as one can get (in practice, of course, the monarch bothers little with defending or governing; nevertheless, it's surely of little comfort to those who prefer church and state at arm's distance, and certainly complicates the broader effort to keep religion out of state-action).
       The case for secularism seems an obvious, overwhelming one, especially in any culture that is not entirely homogeneous (as, surely, as far as belief-systems go, none but the tiniest voluntary communities can possibly be), but religion remains a powerful (and often unifying) force, and the power-hungry often piggy-back on it in their power-grabs -- and are then expected to favor it in governing (generally at the expense of various minorities), muddying the waters. Giving in to the temptation to appease powerful, well-organized religious interests for short-term gain continues to undermine would-be secularist societies.
       Copson provides a good theoretical and historical introduction and overview that also acknowledges some of the difficulties in adhering to secularism and maintaining it in the contemporary world. He is convinced that secularism provides the only fair framework for common life in any state -- a convincing position that nevertheless finds many detractors among those who see their religious way as the only possible (because god-given ...) right way, and continue not to want to see it separated from the political sphere.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 December 2017

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Secularism: Reviews: Andrew Copson: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books dealing with Religion

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About the Author:

       Andrew Copson was born in 1980

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© 2017 the complete review

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