Section 116: the politics of secularism in Australian legal and political discourse

Holly Randell-Moon

in Religion, spirituality and the social sciences

Published by Policy Press

Published in print September 2008 | ISBN: 9781847420411
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447303190 | DOI:
Section 116: the politics of secularism in Australian legal and political discourse

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This chapter examines the implications of liberal secular theories that conceptualise that religion should be separated from politics and other institutional forms of power. It particularly examines the constitutional and legal understandings of secularism in Australia. Drawing on the critical insights on secularism in the work of Talal Asad, it is argued that secularism does more than represent politics as separate from religion; it functions to provide particular understandings of religion. The first section of the chapter discusses liberal secularism to provide a background on the representations of secularism in Australia's Constitution. It specifically examines Section 116 of the Australian Constitution which outlines the relationship of religion and state. Section 116 implies that the separation of religion and state is neutral rather than strictly demarcated. The chapter concludes by arguing that theories of secularisation overlook ways in which the dominant religion can be integrated into government operations. This integration is supported by ethnocentric assumptions of cultural compatibility between specific religions and a secular state. In Australia specifically, although it sees itself as a secularist, there is an implicit and an unacknowledged relationship between forms of religious expression and the Australian secular state.

Keywords: liberal secular theories; religion; politics; secularism; liberal secularism; Section 116; Australian Constitution; state; secularisation

Chapter.  5200 words. 

Subjects: Sociology of Religion

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