Trevor Stammers and Stephen Bullivant

in Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199571390
Published online August 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199665037 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Textbook in Public Health


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In this chapter, we attempt to do three main things. First, we disentangle the philosophical and political concept of ‘secularism proper’ from the socio-religious concept of ‘secularity’, which occasionally also goes by this term. Although the two ideas are by no means unrelated, there is no straightforward correspondence between them. Secularity is indeed significant for the study of spirituality, but since a number of specifically secular spiritual traditions are dealt with elsewhere in this section, these have not been our focus here. Secondly, we explain and explore the distinction between two classic ‘modes of secularism’ — one seeking to exclude religious interests from public life entirely, and the other attempting to find a public ‘common ground’ in which they might all share. These are very broad distinctions, and are amenable to a great deal of both theoretical and practical variation. Nevertheless, they are useful lenses for appraising different secularist approaches to religion (and/or spirituality) and healthcare in contemporary societies. Finally, using the United Kingdom’s National Health Service as a concrete example, we explore two highly contentious secularist issues: conscientious objection and chaplaincy provision. These case studies, which also drew on other analogous controversies from the past few years, both presented and critiqued recent challenges to how the NHS is funded and run, drawn from both secularist modes. Whatever one’s position in these debates, it is clear that secularism is a topic of crucial, and perhaps growing, significance.

Chapter.  6018 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology ; Palliative Medicine

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