The Separation of religion and state: context and meaning

Stephen Chavura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper seeks to show the analytical limitations of the most popular terms describing the relationship between religion and politics, the two most popular being "separation of church and state" and "separation of religion and politics". Although the latter term is preferred it is still quite vague in its meaning and, strictly speaking, impossible to put into practice. I try to clarify the meaning of "separation of religion and state" by discussing the early writings out of which the tradition arose, those of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. I contend that the best way to define the meaning of the separationist doctrine is to place it within the context of the liberalism from which it emerged. This allows the separation of religion and state to be not only possible but also more relevant for pluralist societies and post-colonial societies who wish to avoid both religious domination and complete secularism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-46
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • politics
  • religion
  • church
  • state
  • John Locke
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • philosophy


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