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India As A Secular State

AN EFFECTIVE WAY of discouraging a hopeful reader is to subject him to a series of definitions in the first pages of a book. To devote the first half of a chapter to the matter of definition is even more deadly. Thus I am not unmindful of the risks involved when I do precisely that. One might wish that the definition of the secular state could be handled in a footnote, but the term is so little understood in its fullness that a more detailed treatment is demanded.

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Donald Eugene Smith

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Intiyā oru mataccārpaṟṟa nāṭāka


Oxford University Press

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In this chapter I shall attempt to present, first, a definition of the secular state which will provide the theoretical framework necessary for the consideration of problems dealt with in later chapters. Second, in order to give depth and perspective to the discussion, the definition is followed by a broad historical survey of the development of the secular state in the West. The term “secular state” is commonly used in present-day India to describe the relationship which exists, or which ought to exist, between the state and religion. This in itself is sufficient reason for using the term in this book. In addition, the closest equivalent in Anglo-American usage, “separation of church and state,” would be singularly inappropriate and misleading in discussing a country in which the majority religion is Hinduism. The ideas which have contributed to the conception of the secular state were not produced in a vacuum, as will be shown in the historical survey later in the chapter. However, it may be well at the outset to indicate in general terms the historical orientation of the conception we are expounding.


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