Essay: Secularism as Political Movement and Cultural Formation

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Secularism as Political Movement and Cultural Formation

French Revolution

The Pre-Revolution Iran and secularism

Secularism as political movement and cultural formation

Revolutions in France, America, and Iran are the contemporary instances where revolution was used as a tool to further the secularist perspective, in culture and national institutions. These instances have also strengthened the notion that these must be coherent effort to secularize the societies where religion had gripped not only the state institutions but also the society. Secularism as a social and institutional idea has long been struggling within the western society, from France to the U.S. Secularist movements have helped further the national agendas and nationalism in the west and French revolution is an appropriate case whereby the control of monarchy was challenged.

Monarchy has long been exercising its control over the vast regions and with the overt as well as covert support of priests. The idea of divine rights of kings and heirs was replaced by the secular system of democracy whereby religion was no more a public matter but a private one. This also helped the middle classes of France and the U.S. To get involved in the process of democracy whereby the earlier religion-based Monarchial system deprived the middle classes of the participation in the government (Skocpol, 1979).

The French revolution is an ideal instance in history whereby secularism was encouraged as a challenge to the established old regime. The Catholic Church severely opposed the secularist movement and opposed the very foundation of French revolution as well. Since the Church of France held by the Catholics was obstructing the transition of France from a religious policy to a secularist country, majority of the social and institutional stakeholders were affecting the cause of French revolution termed 'Church' as the oppressor and hence its abolition from public life deemed necessary. This paper will explore how the secularist movements in form of French revolution and Iranian pre-revolution abolished the ages old system of religion-based governments and Kingships that derived their power from religious class.

French Revolution

It was ascertained through the 'French Revolution' that Kingships or religious patriarchy will not determine the course of nations but a national policy based on geographic governance assumed through the popular shall set the direction of future of France. This was validated in the French revolution whereby National Assembly in 1790 declared that France will never declare war on any other land unless compelled by a national interest based on self-defense of the country (Skocpol, 1979).

The idea of national sovereignty was new to the church and this was not accepted by the nobles. They in connivance with the established classes that included the priests, Kings, and noblemen tried to resist the French revolution. The idea of secularism however had got ingrained in the minds of French and it was then difficult for the hegemonic classes to unearth it from there. Despite trying hard and collaborating with each other to resist the change, the French were able to overthrow the ages old religion-based political system.

The fresh revolution of France enabled the popular will to be exerted and the way for secularism was paved by the forces opposed to religious dominion in France. Louis XIV enabled that France achieves the secularist outlook in coming decades whereby his effort was motivated by his own aspirations. The secularization in France as well as in Russia came late and people were adamant to protect their secular status. Before the beginning of the war, there was much discontent in the French that the parliament could not deliver upon the promised changes and social order that people thought it would obtain and win over from the Church.

The renaissance era was marked as an alternative path to secularization and arts as well as music got promoted in France, Italy, and other parts of Europe. The Protestants also played a vital role in enabling the secularization of social and political order, an order whereby religion was limited as a private matter and religion did not play a role in determining the role of key factor in social, economic, and foreign policies of governments. The Western Christianity was shaking by the French revolution and the consequences of this revolution were felt within the cultural, social, and even the economic realm of French life (Skocpol, 1979).

By separating the earthly and eternal lives, the secularism was established in the French society. The transition to a secular life was not smooth and violence occurred as well as disharmony within the society. France experienced the most troubling times during the French revolution when the society underwent the polarization of social segments of society. The state was separated from the church. There are peculiar characteristics associated to the French revolution and its contribution in the secularization of French society. Max Weber has played an important role in determining the secularization process of France and other societies. Weber described the secularist system as whereby the social and institutional segments are freed from the religious symbol, controls, and institutions (Bauberot, 2003).

There are other explanations of secularism in France. When the society no more spends a hefty amount on the super natural and tries to rationalize their association with religious cults and ceremonies, there is a growing tendency of secularism. It is observed that French revolution was a typical example whereby people got disassociated from the religious hegemony by their own choice and termed that majority of their problems stemmed from the excessive dominion of church in their lives.

The social behaviors of Frenchmen were also getting independent of the Church and this was facilitated by the French revolution. There was also an increased realization as a consequence of this revolution that social practices and the efforts that individual put in to change their lives are a known as a deciding factor rather than their dependence on priests. The dominance of Roman Catholic Church on the French Monarchy ultimately brought the systems, the monarchy and the church down to the knees with a new system getting established out of the French revolution.

The acquittal of Church from the taxes also gave rise to the popular sentiment that went against the church being established as a dominant institution. There was a direct clash between the church and the state inform of the French revolution. The formation of republic in France marked the end of Catholic Church dominion in the post revolution France. The assets of Church were seized and the priests were made to show their allegiance to the republic. This was made through a sustained effort. The Church did resist this move but to no avail. The more dominant forces in forefront of revolution did not allow the passing of any lenient terms.

The repercussions of French revolution were also felt in the rest of the Europe. This was replicated in other parts of the Europe since the fruits of secularism were experienced in the French society after the system of Church dominion was overthrown. The French provided the much needed support for the secular agenda to be reinforced in their society during the 18th and 19th century. There were two instances since the course of their history in which the Frenchmen proved that their inclination towards secularism is widespread and they can march for their rights not once but twice as they seek to end the dominion of Church. At both the instances, in 1789 and in 1809, the Frenchmen resisted the power of Pope and ultimately established a secular system in their society.

French revolution can also be viewed as a continuity of sustained effort of people of Europe to delink the state from the power and authority of Church. For achieving the very purpose of secular France, the authority of Church was limited by means of force and the pope was made to retire to the wishes of people. The French revolution also translated in the separation of power of the state to look into the internal religious matters of its citizens. The state was limited to the role of maintaining neutrality in religious matters of public and private spheres of life.

Proselytizing was banned by the French government in building that was public property. The schools were also deprived from any ceremonies held in connection to the religious obligations. The future generations were taught and trained to remain secular through the system that was in place. Church's influence in the educational system of France was also reduced through sustained measures taken by the state.

The French ensured that schools remain the religion free zone and the children were not made to align to the religious right. The individual no more owed allegiance to the Church or any group of religious quarter but to the nation state called Republic of France. This was a far removal of authority of Church. Nonetheless, Church had enjoyed absolute and uninterrupted power during the past few centuries whereby Kings were also made to prove their allegiance to the religion.

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Secularism as Political Movement and Cultural Formation.  (2013, May 26).  Retrieved July 17, 2019, from

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"Secularism as Political Movement and Cultural Formation."  26 May 2013.  Web.  17 July 2019. <>.

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"Secularism as Political Movement and Cultural Formation."  May 26, 2013.  Accessed July 17, 2019.