Secular liberalism is a form of liberalism in which secularist principles and values, and sometimes non-religious ethics, are especially emphasised. It supports the separation of religion and state. Moreover, secular liberals are usually advocates of liberal democracy and the open society as models for organising stable and peaceful societies.

Secular liberalism stands at the other end of the political spectrum from religious authoritarianism, as seen in theocratic states and illiberal democracies. It is often associated with stances in favour of social equality and political freedom.[1][2]


Being secularists by definition, secular liberals tends to favour secular states over theocracies or states with a state religion. Secular liberals advocate separation of church and state in the formal constitutional and legal sense.[3] Secular liberal views typically see religious ideas about society, and religious arguments from authority drawn from various sacred texts, as having no special status, authority, or purchase in social, political, or ethical debates.[1] It is common for secular liberals to advocate the teaching of religion as a historical and cultural phenomenon, and to oppose religious indoctrination or lessons which promote religion as fact in schools.[2][3] Among those who have been labelled as secular liberals are prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Sam Harris.[2]

The label of "secular liberal" can sometimes be confusing as to what it refers to. While the term secular can sometimes be used as an adjective for atheists and non-religious people, chiefly in American usage, in British English it is more likely to refer to people who are secularists, which is to say, people who believe in keeping religion and government apart. The atheist writer Richard Dawkins can be categorised under both definitions, while the British Muslim liberal commentator Maajid Nawaz and liberal Christians who advocate secularism (such as Ed Davey, Tim Farron, and Barack Obama) only meet the latter. The Liberal Democrats political party in the United Kingdom is secular liberal in philosophy, but its membership is made up of people from many religions and non-religious approaches.

In a modern democratic society, a plurality of conflicting doctrines share an uneasy co-existence within the framework of civilization.

Contemporary application

Arab Spring

Secular liberalism is sometimes connected with the Arab Spring protests. One commentator labels it as a "secular liberal fantasy".[4] Others have labeled the motivations behind it, and the temporary governments created as a result as secular liberalism.[5][6][7]

Secular liberalism has a long and complicated history in Egypt. The history of secular liberalism was represented in early Egyptian political thought and literature, but the ideas were never effectively put into practice by the Wafd party. Liberal constitutional principles failed to gain a consensus of public opinion and were eventually forced to contend with the political realities of Nasserism. Middle Eastern liberalism, already detached from its Classical philosophical foundation, lacked the economic context in which Western liberalism succeeded, and was effectively replaced by secular authoritarianism in Egypt after the 1952 Egypt Revolution, which dealt more harshly with the Brotherhood. The failures of Nasserism and Pan-Arabism contributed to the growing power of an increasingly violent and radicalized Muslim Brotherhood, further weakening the principles of secularism that had long been challenged by certain political factions within Egypt.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b Rod Dreher (6 April 2011). "Secular Liberalism as Consensus". Real Clear Politics. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  2. ^ a b c "Secular liberalism misunderstood". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  3. ^ a b Hobson, Theo (29 April 2010). "Clegg should assert secular liberalism". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  4. ^ Jonathan Jones (9 December 2011). "Tahrir Square aflame: the visual basis of an imaginary revolution". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  5. ^ Bradley, John (2012). After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-230-33819-7.
  6. ^ John M. Owen IV (6 January 2012). "Why Islamism is Winning". New York Times. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  7. ^ Khan, Razib (2012). "Secular liberals the tip of the Islamist spear". Discover Magazine. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  8. ^ Hatina, Meir (2007). Identity Politics in the Middle East. London: Tauris Academic Studies. pp. 8–31.