Niels De Nutte - Speaker

Different governments have different attitudes towards religion. The situation in Belgium is a peculiar one, compared to other countries. Belgian law officially recognises several religions, making it a country with a positive to neutral attitude towards religion. Torfs discusses six denominations and one non-denominational worldview recognised and subsidised by the Belgian state. These are, in chronological order of recognition, Catholicism, Judaism, Anglicanism, Protestantism, Orthodox Christianity, Islam and the non-confessional worldview called vrijzinnigheid/laïcité. This typically Belgian version of secular humanism is the only recognised worldview that has no confessional background. Witte, Tyssens and others prove that Belgium historically had strong freethinker organisations. They heavily advocated a strict church-state separation, influenced by French laïcité. From the 1950s onwards, these organisations were steadily replaced by a new secular humanist movement. This new type of organised unbelief originated in Flanders, and Flemish organisations assumed a leading role in advocating legal recognition of their worldview. Walloon counterparts would later follow, but even today most prefer French laïcité to secular humanism. The decision to advocate recognition had great merit. After a change to the Belgian constitution in 1993 and subsequent laws, Belgian organised unbelief created an infrastructure in the form of centres for secular humanists and state funded moral counsellors (both professional and voluntary). For some, favouring recognition meant turning secular humanism into a religion. Their opinion is that accommodationism has taken away unbelievers’ ability to advocate a complete church-state separation. Such a separation would put an end to the financing of worldviews and would create unemployment for many.
In this presentation I will show how organised secular humanism came to be recognised as a worldview, why secular humanist organisations advocated recognition and what the consequences of that choice are for the Belgian Nones (38%, of which 19% are atheist, the highest percentage in Western Europe).
22 Nov 2019

Event (Conference)

TitleLaïcité(s): Religion et espace public - Religion and state in the public sphere
Web address (URL)
LocationMaison des sciences de l'homme
Degree of recognitionInternational event

ID: 47088865