Original Research - Special Collection: Eben Scheffler Festschrift

Faith, society and the post-secular: Private and public religion in law and theology

Christoffel Lombaard, Iain T. Benson, Eckart Otto
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 3 | a4969 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i3.4969 | © 2019 Iain T. Benson, Christoffel Lombaard, Eckart Otto | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 March 2018 | Published: 22 October 2019

About the author(s)

Christoffel Lombaard, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History and Missiology, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Iain T. Benson, School of Law, University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Australia; and, Department of Constitutional Law and Philosophy of Law, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Eckart Otto, Hochschule für Philosophie, Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München, Munich, Germany; amd, Department of Old Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


In pre-democratic – also pre-modern – times, religion had been at the centre of much of human life, filling the private as well as the public realm of people’s daily existence. However, with the change to democratic rule in major countries in the modern world (see, most influentially, Article 1 of the French Constitution after the French Revolution and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, influencing all other democracies in their wake), religion has for the most part reflexively been sidelined from public life. Or has it? Does religion not still hold a special place in law in democratic societies, but now in reverse? Firstly, whereas matters of religious faith had throughout the greater part of human history been included in matters of politics, it is now as a matter of course of law excluded, purposely so. Religion is thus still a ‘special case’, a unique aspect of humanity when compared to all other matters, in law as much as in politics and other aspects of public life. Secondly, in the post-secular cultural climate dawning across the world, matters of faith (religion, spirituality) are no longer as stringently excluded from public life, which impacts directly on how religion is touched upon in law, sociology, philosophy, music and other academic disciplines too. Our dawning post-secular age is bringing something new. Two scholars, who have been doing foundational work in this regard, have done so fully in parallel, not taking cognisance of the mutualities in their academic contributions. Otto in Munich, Germany, has been combining his two areas of expertise, the Pentateuch in the Hebrew Bible and the sociologist Max Weber, to indicate the trajectory through history of democratic impulses from Ancient Near Eastern founding documents into the current era. Benson in Sydney, Australia, has on his part been drawing on his expertise in law as practised in Canada and taught in Europe, South Africa and Australia to indicate how, in inclusively liberal democracies, law cannot justifiably be used to exclude religion from the public domain, as has been the usual modern case. Drawing together these parallel contributions, Lombaard places these initiatives within the emerging post-secular climate, which augurs a different way of being religious or non-religious, publicly as much as privately, in democratic societies in our time.


Public religion; Law and theology; Secularisation; Post-modernism; Religion and politics; Association; Post-secularism; Faith and belief


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