Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey, and the Future of Secularism by Sumantra Bose - review by David Motadel

David Motadel

Losing their Religion

Secular States, Religious Politics: India, Turkey, and the Future of Secularism


Cambridge University Press 380pp £29.99 order from our bookshop

Few modern ideas have had more traction than the Enlightenment belief in the eventual triumph of reason over religion. Indeed, generations of sociologists have argued, with little opposition, that the historical evolution of modern society would inevitably lead to a decline in the authority of religion, a process Max Weber celebrated as the ‘disenchantment of the world’.

In recent years, evangelical fanatics in America, Islamists in the Middle East, Hindu extremists in South Asia and like-minded groups around the world have worked hard to prove this view wrong. Only few of us are still betting on the death of religion. Yet in practice, linear narratives of religious revival have been just as problematic as those of secularisation. The reality is often much more complex than such accounts suggest. Looking at the cases of Turkey and India, the two leading examples of secular states in the non-Western world, Sumantra Bose’s Secular States, Religious Politics offers invaluable insights into these messy realities.

Following the proclamation of republics in Turkey in 1923 and India in 1950, the principle of secularism became the cornerstone of both states, marked by official religious impartiality and the absence of a state religion. And yet in sharp contrast to the separation of church and state in the West,

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