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Secularism, Humanism, and Secular Humanism: Terms and Institutions


This chapter considers recent American attempts to recognize secular humanism as a religion in light of more than a century of debates over the religiosity of secularism and humanism. It offers a history of these terms’ codependent evolution in the United States by focusing on the individuals, groups, and institutions that have adopted them and shaped their meanings. The chapter also argues that those who use these terms today bear forth a fraught and sometimes self-contradicting inheritance. In order to recognize the stakes of contemporary struggles over the meaning and purpose of secularism, one needs a deeper understanding of how the term has come to bear its traces and how it fits within a shifting constellation of labels and concepts.

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