by Andrew Copson, OUP, 153pp, £12.99

“The case for secularism,” writes Copson, “is fairly simple.” The goals usually include a separation of religious and state institutions, freedom of thought and conscience, and a distaste for discrimination on grounds of belief. Copson is even-handed in his analysis but he undoubtedly regards secularism as a good thing. It derives its sense of liberty from respect for human dignity, though this is backed up by a healthy dose of self-interest.

As for secularism’s opponents, there are apparently those who fail to see why, since they regard their religious vision as authentic, they are not entitled to impose it. And we are also introduced to those of a “romantic conservative” bent, who insist that religion is the only reliable wellspring of a state’s law, morality and identity.

Copson comes a little unstuck, however, when he tackles perhaps the most robust challenge to secularism: that, for all its apparent objectivity, it is an ideology like any other. As Copson admits, even those with liberal leanings sometimes worry that secularism is “laden with values”.

Copson attempts to defuse this argument, but does not succeed. Similarly, his book contains wonderful sections on the many variants of secularism around the world, but can we really escape the fact that modern secularism has European origins and might be regarded as a cultural imposition?

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