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Global Gradations of Secularism: The Consociational, Communal and Coercive Paradigms

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

AbstractIn engaging with heterogeneous societies, states have oscillated between three modes of dealing with social diversity: accommodation, segregation and eradication. Accordingly, this article cross-examines three typologies of secularism: Consociational secularism (Lebanon), communal partition (India and Pakistan) and coercive secularization (China and Turkey). The article argues that while each state shared the challenge of establishing state sovereignty in pluralistic societies, the central authorities’ attempt to impose homogenization varied according to the strength of state institutions, the hold of communal ideologies and the degree of disparate socio-economic interests. The legitimacy of regimes hinged on the perceived impartiality of the state in meeting the demands of diverse socio-economic and ethno-religious constituencies. The article argues that the potential for fragmentation was particularly high when socio-economic fault-lines overlapped with, and reinforced ethno-religious fissures. When sectarian solidarity trumped loyalty to the state, partition along communal lines unfolded within the caldron of civil war, as was the case in Lebanon in 1975 and the Indian Subcontinent in 1947 and 1971. By contrast, the authoritarian states of Maoist China and Kemalist Turkey could enforce, albeit violently and at great human cost, a rigidly secular, cultural homogenization in part because they were perceived to be lessening socio-economic inequalities despite their assault on traditional identities. In all cases, and regardless of whether or not a dominant majority existed or not, sovereignty and state legitimacy was ultimately predicated not so much on the absence or presence of democracy or diversity, but on the provision of a critical measure of justice for all citizens irrespective of origin or identity.

Affiliations: 1: Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Email:, URL:


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