Secularity, Religion and the Possibilities for Religious Citizenship

in Asian Journal of Social Science
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Scholarly predictions of the secularization of the world have proven premature. We see a heterogeneous world in which religion remains a significant and vital social and political force. This paper reflects critically upon secularization theory in order to see how scholars can productively respond to the, at least partly, religious condition of the world at the beginning of the twenty first century. We note that conventional multiculturalism theory and policy neglects religion, and argue the need for a reconceptualization of understanding of religion and secularity, particularly in a context of multicultural citizenship — such as in Australia and Indonesia. We consider the possibilities for religious pluralism in citizenship and for “religious citizenship”. Finally, we propose that religious citizenship education might be a site for fostering a tolerant and enquiring attitude towards religious diversity.



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In 2009, the Rudd government introduced a new Citizenship Test for immigrants who want to become citizens. The booklet of testable information that prospective citizens have to learn states, in a section entitled “Freedom of religion and secular government”, that Australia has a “Judaeo-Christian heritage, and many Australians describe themselves as Christians. Australia has public holidays on Christian days such as Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. However, the government in Australia is secular. This means that there is no official national religion. People in Australia are free to follow any religion they choose, as long as its practices do not break Australian laws. In addition to Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and many other religions are practised freely in Australia. Australians are also free to not follow a religion. The government treats all citizens equally, whatever their religion or beliefs” (Australian Government, 2009:18).


In October 2010, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, declared that multiculturalism had “utterly failed” in Germany. This was largely due to its inability to accommodate religious others (read: Muslim Turks), among other problems such as unemployment and social integration (BBC News Europe, 2010). Similarly, in February 2011, the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy both denounced state multiculturalism as a “failure” (BBC News UK Politics, 2011; Reuters UK Edition, 2011). In reply to these European statements, the Immigration Minister in Australia, Chris Bowen, reiterated his government’s support for multiculturalism, stressing that the difference between multiculturalism in these Western European countries and in Australia was that Australia “respected different cultures, but afforded ultimate primacy to Australian values” (The Australian, 2011). Up until this statement in February 2011, the Gillard government was not considered to be pro-multiculturalism.


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