The secular contract: Sovereignty, secularism and law in Australia

Holly Randell-Moon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


What does it mean to say that a nation-state is secular? Secular law typically begins when a state has no religious competitor for authority. For this reason, it can be said that the Australian state is secular because its authority is derived from its own laws. What makes Australian law sovereign, the highest authority within the state, is its secularity. However, given Australia's colonial heritage, it is not just the absence of religious authority, such as a state religion, that gives the state its secularity. The law's foundations in colonial violence and the extinguishment of Indigenous sovereignty as a competing authority are also a crucial way in which secular Australian law can continue to operate as the sovereign authority within the state. Using the work of Charles W. Mills, I will critically interrogate how legal and political characterisations of the law as secular work to disavow the state's racialised foundations in colonial violence in the form of a "secular contract". In developing this notion of a "secular contract" I hope to show that secularism be must re-thought of as not simply the operation of law without religion, but also, as complicit with the ways indigenous sovereignties in (post)colonial states are negated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)352-367
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • law
  • politics
  • race
  • religion
  • secularism
  • sovereignty

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