A Secular Principle

Dialogic RE from A Catholic Perspective

by Antony Luby (Author)
©2021 Monographs X, 262 Pages
Series: Religion, Education and Values, Volume 999


The Catholic Church has recently issued a call for «educating to fraternal humanism» – most notably through the encyclical letter of Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti. Fraternal humanism envisions a pluralist society in which all voices are to be heard and this contrasts with previously held positions of outright rejection of pluralist societies (Augustinian Thomism) or Christianisation of such societies (Whig Thomism). This book proposes an alternative, Dominican Thomist vision of a procedurally secular society that comprises three realms, namely sacred, secular and profane. Such a Dominican Thomist enterprise is founded upon human reasoning whereby Catholic and liberal thinkers collaborate to build this society of three realms in which a fortified secular realm operates as a porous buffer against the sacred and profane realms. In such a society, the public sphere is pluralist and open to all voices. Derived from experience and classroom research into dialogic RE interventions; a socially productive pedagogy is advocated as a starting point for the development of a procedurally secular society. In particular, it identifies a common ground pathway that supports both critical RE from liberal education and critical faith pedagogy from the Catholic tradition.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • CHAPTER 1 Three Thomisms and Three Realms
  • CHAPTER 2 Dominican Thomism and the Doctrine of Virtue
  • CHAPTER 3 Secularity, Pedagogy and Religious Education
  • CHAPTER 4 Abductive Pedagogy for Social Production
  • CHAPTER 5 Laying Foundations for Dialogue
  • CHAPTER 6 Analysing Dialogue in Action
  • CHAPTER 7 Thematic Interrogation of Dialogue
  • CHAPTER 8 Beginning a New Conversation
  • Appendices
  • Index
  • Series index

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chapter 1

Three Thomisms and Three Realms

What does it mean to say that we live in a secular age?

Almost everyone would agree that in some sense we do … (Taylor, 2007: 1)


The claim that we live in a secular age is made in the opening words of Charles Taylor’s magnum opus, A Secular Age; his assertion has a wealth of scholarly support from experts such as Calhoun et al. (2011), Mendieta and van Antwerpen (2011), Parker and Reader (2016), Schuller (2006) and Williams (2012), to name but a few. Indeed, Stoeckl (2015: 1) boldly asserts that ‘European societies are secularized societies’, whilst in a discussion of American society, Moreland (2012: 27) bemoans that ‘nor is a Christian worldview an important participant in the way we as a society frame and debate issues in the public square’.

This opening chapter discusses three Christian responses to secularisation as envisaged by Augustinian Thomism (rejection), Whig Thomism (accommodation), and Dominican Thomism (subordination). Whilst Augustinian Thomism rejects outright the liberal values inherent within secularity, Whig Thomism seeks to re-Christianise these liberal values as they have Christian roots. Both of these Christian responses accept the term ‘secular’ as commonly used in the religious/secular dyad and, in so doing, tend to perpetuate an oppositional model of society of sacred versus secular realms. However, a third Christian response of Dominican Thomism seeks to unite the other two Thomisms in the pursuit of a subordinate end of ←1 | 2→creating a collaborative model of society comprising three realms, that is, profane, sacred and secular.

The form of procedurally secular society (Williams, 2012) envisaged herein is based upon the three realms’ model of society as espoused by the Early Church (Markus, 2006). In this societal model, the secular realm takes its place as the middle of the three realms. As such, it acts as a neutral or buffer zone between the sacred and profane realms, but the barriers between the realms are porous. This is illustrated through an Early Church case study whereby the eating of pagan meat was originally considered a profane activity; but, later, this practice was reclassified to the secular realm in order that Christians could more fully participate within society. Moreover, it is in the interests of all members of society to collaborate in the building up of the secular realm as its inherent neutrality affords a public sphere whereby all can freely and respectfully exchange their world views.

Impact of secularisation

From a Christian perspective, the prevailing scholarly view is espoused well by Moreland (2012: 27) namely, ‘Most people have little or no understanding of a Christian way of seeing the world … Three of the major centers of influence in our culture – the university, the media, and the government – are largely devoid of serious religious discussion.’ It should be acknowledged that this viewpoint is not without opposition. For example, Smith (2008: 2) contends that secularism is ‘the latest expression of the Christian religion … being Christian ethics shorn of its doctrine’. Another argument is proposed by Glendinning (2017: 203) who conceives that ‘the becoming-secular of Europe not as a movement of the becoming-atheist of humanity … but as a moment within the long-run event of the becoming – Christian of the world: it is a mutation within that movement, an alteration within an event that we can call the Christianisation of the world.’ However, whilst Smith may be accurate, to an extent, and Glendinning overly hopeful, these are minority views. It is widely accepted that we do live in a secular age, for example, Halman ←2 | 3→and Draulans (2006) draw upon data from a European Values Study and assert that ‘the findings provide evidence in favour of secularization theories …’ Indeed, discussion of secularism even pervades leisure time activities with the renowned Catholic music composer James MacMillan arguing that ‘Celtic fans should always … give space for gospel values to pervade what the club is about; even in a secular age’ (Purden, 2012: 9). Truly, the impact of secularisation is everywhere yet, strangely, the nature of secularism is contested and needs clarification.

Clarifying secularism

Despite the immanence of secularism within Western societies, there is debate as to its nature. Helpfully, Casanova (2011) offers clarification with the following three-fold definition of secularism:


X, 262
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (June)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. X, 262 pp., 6 fig. b/w, 11 tables.

Biographical notes

Antony Luby (Author)

Antony Luby has been a classroom teacher of religious education for thirty years and a senior lecturer in education studies for ten years. His research and scholarship has focused primarily on pedagogy through PhD, MSc, MTh and MPhil studies at the universities of Glasgow, Oxford, Aberdeen and Strathclyde. A fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching, his 100+ publications address a wide range of audiences including fellow academics (e.g. British Journal of Religious Education; Journal of Beliefs and Values); fellow practitioners (e.g. Chartered College of Teaching’s Impact); and fellow teachers (Closing the Attainment Gap in Schools: Progress through Evidence-based Practices).


Title: A Secular Principle
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274 pages