Secularisation in Sociology is defined as the transformation of a society from getting influenced by religion to an independent secular one. Derived from the Latin word, secular means ‘present age or generation’ it was first defined by Brian Wilson in 1966 as “the process by which religious thinking, practices, and institutions lose social significance.” Prior to secularisation, human activity including work, healing, social and jurisdictional procedures was regulated by supernatural preconceptions. The introduction of secularism made these preconceptions lose their power and economy, justice, health, morality, education, and family were operated with considerable autonomy. 

M N Srinivas on secularization:

M. N. Srinivas had famously defined secularization as follows – ‘the term ‘secularization’ implies that what was previously regarded as religious is ceasing to be such, and it also implies a process of differentiation which results in the various aspects of society, economic, political, legal and moral, becoming increasingly discrete in relation to each other’. However, according to him, differentiation does not mean disconnection

Thus his definition has two aspects –
  • Notion of religion itself
  • Differentiation of Institutions

He further says, secularization as a process has been subsumed in Westernization which is a much broader term.

Elements/ Characteristics of secularisation 

The elements or characteristics of social change are determined by certain principles. 

  1. Separation of state from affairs of religion thereby creates a distance between religion and society.
  2. Related to work matters.
  3. Personalising religious affairs.
  4. Considering all rituals to be man-made or artificial.

Characteristics of secularisation are :

Secular meaning within religion.
  • Modification of religious doctrines and practices to changing needs of members in response to the changing society
  • Refraining religious institutions and individuals from getting involved with educational, philanthropic, and hospitals
Rational and reasonable 
  • Man is free to choose what they want. Rationalisation is based on making choices according to reason rather than following them blindly
  • Application of logic, intelligence, and wisdom over emotion and sentiments, thus speeding up secularisation in the society
  • Every secular man has the right to inquire about the causes and effects of the rituals performed
  • They have freedom of choice and cannot be influenced to follow rituals blindly
Scientific temper and outlook
  • Scientific influence forces man to question religion. This makes him a secular individual and an anti-fatalist who is not forced to follow doctrines and events that were initially made with the vision that humans were powerless to change them
  • The scientific approach revolts against the religious outlook of man from the past
  • While secularisation was brought mere 100 years ago, religious practices were conducted long before
  • With people getting smarter and more intelligent every decade, modern society has kept itself away from the influence of religious faith and symbols while making everyday life decisions

Causes and effects of secularisation 

There are seven causes for secularisation in India 

  • Education, western education to be specific, played an important role in diminishing Indian culture, and the practice of western culture became more prominent
  • Modern education encouraged the generation to seek a scientific attitude in solving problems and the traditional religious beliefs
  • Marriage is now based on a secular attitude rather than a sacred religious ceremony
Transportation and communication 
  • With modern education came the invention of telephones and railways which gave the opportunity to mix around with people of different countries. This led to an exchange of ideas and the growth of liberal thoughts
  • Caste system views regarding it changed
Reform movements 
  • Religious and reform movements by leaders like Keshav Chandra Sen, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and Mahatma Gandhi played their roles in bringing about secularisation in the country 
  • Developed and semi-developed parts (metro cities) are more secular by the influence of western culture, education, transport and communication, and economic problems
  • Rural areas are yet to be totally secularised
  • Widow Remarriage Act, 1856, Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850, Special Marriage Act, 1872 enacted by the British were against the orthodox believers of that time
  • Adoption of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1956, the Maintenance Act has also played their role in a secular country
Western culture 
  • India has been greatly influenced by western culture which lays importance on materialism, individualism, sensualism, non-religionism, and licence
  • Political parties and leads speak the language of secularism
  • Western culture has brought about changes not only in religion but also in literature and art
Indian Constitution 
  •  Articles 27-30 deal with rights to freedom of religion and make India a secular state
  • India is declared a secular country according to the amended preamble where every citizen has equal rights without discrimination of age, sex, caste, and creed

Secular meaning in India 

  1. India has a multi religious society and even definition of religion is not fixed. Indian secularism according to Rajiv Bhargava is not strict separation of religion and politics, but explained in terms of ‘principled distance between religion and politics’. Indian society had been historically tolerant towards religious affairs and secularism in modern sense arrived only during 19th century as a part of cultural and religious reform movements. Nationalism, freedom struggle, growth of western education etc helped its rise.
  2. There is also a plurality of view over its definitional and emergence aspects. A liberal plural view was taken by modern nationalists before independence. It called for separation of religion and other institutions and advocated religious pluralism. An ‘orthodox plural view’ was led by like of Gandhiji, Dayanand Saraswati, Ramakrishna Mission etc who saw Indian society as secular from beginning due to its marked tolerance. There was Marxist view also which interpreted secularism as disappearance of religion altogether.
  3. Our constitutional and parliamentary democratic framework adopts liberal plural view. The constitution of India enacted the 42nd amendment, where the Preamble stated that India is a secular country.  As of now, there were pleas made to the supreme court on the 28th of July 2020, to omit the words secular and socialist from the preamble. According to Nehru ‘It does not mean a society where religion is discouraged, it means freedom of religion and conscience, including freedom for those who may have no religion’.
  4. Our secularism is primarily directed against two evils – first, the religious strife between different religious communities and its extreme forms like communal violence and riots; and, secondly, the danger of religious communities overwhelming the state, each with its own view of ‘good life’ as valid for others too. Both arose as a problem in the second half of the 19th century. The conceptual construct of secularism is adopted in India by way of a solution to the problems, posed by fundamentalism and communalism. Thus, Indian secularism is not a result of tussle between the Church and the State as in case of Europe, but conceptualized as an anti-dote to twin evils of communalism and fundamentalism. It is more on lines of ‘sarva dharma sambhava’, rather than on strict ‘dharm nirpekhsta’. Articles of constitution like – Article 25-28 and also stress on freedom of faith and religion, rather than banishing it.
  5. There are other alternate views of the everyday meaning of the word secularism in India. The most common use of secular in everyday language is as the ‘opposite of communal’. So, a secular person or state is one that does not favour any particular religion over others. Secularism in this sense is the opposite of religious chauvinism and it need not necessarily imply hostility to religion as such. In terms of the state-religion relationship, this sense of secularism implies equal respect for all religions, rather than separation or distancing. For example, the secular Indian state declares public holidays to mark the festivals of all religions.
  6. Indian version of secularism also poses certain challenges. Supporters of Western notion of secularism accuse state of indulging into religious sphere as state supports many activities like Haj Pilgrim, manage shrines like Tirupati, Viashnodevi and so on.
  7. Another set of complications is created by the tension between the Indian state’s simultaneous commitment to secularism as well as the protection of minorities. The protection of minorities requires that they be given special consideration in a context where the normal working of the political system places them at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the majority community. But providing such protection immediately invites the accusation of favoritism or ‘appeasement’ of minorities.
  8. Andre Beteille comments that people of India are ‘bound more by culture than constitution’. Religion in India is not just practiced, but it is a part of dress, food and mannerism of people. In words of T N Madan, ‘religion and secular cannot be separated, in other words, religion cannot be in any meaningful sense privatized’. Thus, there is a difference in de-jure secularism as envisaged in constitution and defacto secularism as practiced by society.


Secularism is practised in all modern states. This has greatly benefited people from all castes and creeds to get an equal opportunity with no discrimination on grounds of caste, creed, and culture. Indian culture has now been based on social movements and spiritual traditions. 

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Akhilesh Singh

where are the effects of Secularization?