Chipping Away of the Secular Order?

Below are some [possible] premises about the connections between secular order and mass public education followed by some questions based on them about its possible dismantling.


1. Mass education and [a secular] nation state has emerged in tandem with each other over a period of, let us say, last 200 years or so.

2. The rise of [secular] nation-state has also involved secularization of knowledge in the academy. This secularization is very recent. The attitude of the early forbears of the so-called modernity toward religion was not similar to the attitudes of academy toward religion throughout the large part of 20th century. Those usually considered to be the forbears of modernity–such as Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, and several great mathematicians–were devoutly religious. There was, thus, a secularisation of the academy, which was not an inevitable development, but achieved through hard political struggle by the seculisers.

This is succinctly stated in an essay I recently read. Excerpt below:

There is indeed strong evidence that something very close to the secularization of knowledge did in fact occur. In the language of secularization theory, the relationship between religion and the making of knowledge was reshaped through the processes of privatization, differentiation, and rationalization. Once central to the public discourse of professors, religious faith became a private matter best discussed in the spheres of home and church rather than in the classroom. In a structurally differentiated university organized along disciplinary lines, theology went from being the “queen of the sciences” to a marginal field confined to seminaries and departments of religion. As scholars embraced a vision of scientific objectivity closed to spiritual values, religion was pushed to the margins of academic research. [See

About the struggle for secularisation, these authors claim:

 …secularization of knowledge was not a faceless process unfolding gradually, but an organized social movement with clearly identifiable leaders, organizations, social networks, cultural frameworks, and financial resources. Turn-of-the-century social scientists such as Albion Small and Lester Ward, organizations like the American Sociological Society, and philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie all played a role in driving religious interpretations of reality from academic life. By the 1930s, the movement to marginalize religion had largely succeeded. (p.312)

3. Based on 1. and 2. above [Secular] nation-state, [Secular] academy, and [Secular] mass education have come together as a tightly coupled triplet. Among other things, mass education has, as one of its central projects, the task of constituting a [secular] citizen-subject.

4. The attempts to constitute a citizen-subject are not thinkable in the absence of a nation-state framework. As Walter Mignolo puts it, “When the idea of “citizenship” came into view—and was linked to the materialization and formation of the nation-state in secular north Europe—it enforced the formation of communities of birth instead of communities of faith.” [Mignolo, W. D. (2006). Citizenship, Knowledge, and the Limits of Humanity. American Literary History, 18(2), 312. p. 312]. The citizen-subject is constituted as a member of the community of birth, or broadly speaking as member of a political rather than a religious community.


What is the current global state of health of the triplet of [Secular] nation-state, academy, and mass public-education? Are the current pressures on the nation state in the wake of transnational global flows of ideas, capital, and people chipping at this triplet? Can the shift from ‘government to governance’–as the sociologist Stephen Ball calls it–potentially threaten the connection between the state and education? Is the global thrust of privatisation of education inadvertently helping this [hypothetical for now] chipping away of the liberal democratic secular order?

About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

2 Responses to “Chipping Away of the Secular Order?”

  1. Nadeem Omar Tarar Reply 17/07/2011 at 8:57 am

    Thanks for your sharing your thoughts. In the western history, a secular order of knowledge had been created over the centuries, pushing the religious knowledge that held its control across cultures over the millennia. Not familiar with the global health of nation states, I believe the colonial order in India and elsewhere in the colonial world has not permitted a secular and liberal democratic order of knowledge to emerge in the colonized societies. Consequently, a different set of imperatives over determine the future of nexus between knowledge and society in Pakistan. Chipping away of a liberal order that you seek to investigate globally has never been part of dominant discourse in Pakistan.


  1. Chipping Away of the Secular Order [2]? | Just questions! - 17/07/2011

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