The Sacred Secular: Religion, Nonreligion and Politics in the Twenty-first Century - RSST6570

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2023 to 2024
Spring Term 6 30 (15) Lois Lee checkmark-circle


In the twentieth century, religion was seen as becoming increasingly irrelevant to politics. The secularisation of societies and the emergence of secular democracy as a dominant form of government were chipping away at religion's official and unofficial authority in all aspects of public life. In the twenty-first century, the ongoing relevance of religion to politics has become clear, and key theories of secularism, liberalism and democracy have been revisited. At the same time, the growth of nonreligious identities and worldviews have opened up new questions about the role that these outlooks should play in policy, law and society. This course explores the key conceptual and theoretical debates shaping contemporary understandings of secularism, including the nature of secularity and secularism, the nature and significance of religious diversity and pluralism in politics in the modern period, multiple secularities and postsecular approaches, and the role of religiousn and nonreligious traditions in political liberalism. The course explores case studies in detail, including differences and similarities between European (including Soviet), North American and Asian secularisms; the relationship between political secularism and the beliefs, practices and identities of local populations; and significant controversies (around blasphemy, reproductive rights and the right to wear religious clothing) and what they tell us about religion, nonreligion and political secularism in contemporary society.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40
Total Private Study Hours: 260
Total Study Hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
• Essay 1 (2,500 words) – 40%
• Essay 2 (3,000 words) – 50%
• Presentation (10 minutes) – 10%

Reassessment methods
• 100% Coursework (3,000 words)

Indicative reading

The University is committed to ensuring that core reading materials are in accessible electronic format in line with the Kent Inclusive Practices. The most up to date reading list for each module can be found on the university's reading list pages:

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1 Demonstrate knowledge of, and the ability to critically assess, major theoretical approaches to the topic of religion, nonreligion and the secular state;
2 Demonstrate knowledge of and the ability to critically compare discrete historical examples of political secularism, including European, other Western and non-Western cases;
3 Frame their own research interests and disciplinary questions in light of comparative, historical and theoretical approaches to the relationship between politics and religion;
4 Reflect critically on key concepts such as 'secularism', 'liberalism', 'democracy', and 'pluralism'.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1 Communicate information, ideas, problems, concepts, and analysis to specialist and non-specialist audiences;
2 Demonstrate refined essay-writing and argument-construction skills;
3 Demonstrate transferable skills such as proficiency in the use of appropriate IT resources, including word processing and critical evaluation of online material;
4 Demonstrate honed close reading and analytical skills;
5 Analyse theories, which are at the forefront of their discipline, in terms of their application to contemporary contexts or debates.


  1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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