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SSSR Presidential Address Public Religions and the Postsecular: Critical Reflections


James A. Beckford, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK. E-mail:


The term “postsecular” is proliferating in the writings of scholars working in the humanities and social sciences. This article assesses the variety of meanings attributed to the term, groups them in six clusters of ideas, and raises questions about the tensions that exist between some of its different meanings. Taking the central idea that religions enjoy relatively high visibility in the public sphere of postsecular societies, the article then considers how well this applies to the case of Britain. It argues that the visibility of religion in Britain's public sphere—far from being postsecular in any of the current meanings of the term—is actually associated with the state's “interpellation” of selected religions as partners in the delivery of public policies for managing diversity, combating inequality, and promoting social enterprise.