Christianity, secularism, and America: an exploration and critique of the historical, legal, social, and philosophical implications of secularism from an American perspective.
Baker, Terry Hunter.
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The historian C. John Sommerville has invited academics to treat secularism much as they have religion, which means he thinks it should be studied, written about, and taught critically. This dissertation represents an attempt to accept Professor Sommerville's invitation and perhaps to become a new student of a discipline we might call secularism studies. In a world divided into a growing number of religious factions, secularism has been supposed by many to be an answer to the fact of religious plurality. The logic of secularism is that by conducting our affairs without reference to God we can avoid religious division and deal with each other on a common basis. In the American context, it is often suggested that secularism is not only conceptually wise, but is mandated by our Constitution. Advocates of secularism also advance the idea that secularism is rationally superior to religious alternatives in the sense that it hews more closely to the path of science and empirical rationality. It is the contention of this dissertation that all of the above notions about secularism are misguided and that at least some religious societies, particularly Christian ones, are capable of successfully accounting for pluralism without oppressive hegemony, and, in fact, have an incentive to do so. The analysis of secularism centers specifically on how it evolved in the West, to what degree the framers of the American Constitution set out either a secular or Christian America (or avoided the question entirely), whether secularism can successfully claim to be a neutral method of running a society, and whether secularism really deserves a reputation as a running mate of scientific rationality.
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