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The Problem of Religious DiversityEuropean Challenges, Asian Approaches$
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Anna Triandafyllidou and Tariq Modood

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474419086

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474419086.001.0001

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Secularism as Proto-Multiculturalism: The Case of Australia

Secularism as Proto-Multiculturalism: The Case of Australia

(p.228) 10 Secularism as Proto-Multiculturalism: The Case of Australia
The Problem of Religious Diversity

Geoffrey Brahm Levey

Edinburgh University Press

Political secularism was the West’s first attempt at multiculturalism. It was a political innovation that responded to pluralism by making room for it. Historically, the origins of secularism lie in a pragmatic response to the bloody religious wars of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The aim was to fi nd away in which different faith communities could co-exist amicably (Hunter 2008). Of course, applying the late-twentieth-century development of ‘multiculturalism’ to the advent of secularism is anachronistic and there are two features associated with the latter that distinguish it from the former. First, secularism developed from the idea of religious toleration, specifically, from a change in attitude to heresy and heretics (Zagorin 2003). Freedom of conscience then progressively became associated with a principle of equal respect towards citizens and state neutrality (Maclure and Taylor 2011). Multiculturalism typically entails a more respectful posture towards difference than mere forbearance or toleration and an affirmatively interventionist state rather than ‘hands-off’ neutrality or benign neglect. Second, as Locke (1963) made clear, religious toleration implied a certain separation between religious and political authority for the sake of both. Each could best execute its respective mission if it did not trespass on the other.

Keywords:   Secularism, Australia, Proto-Multiculturalism

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