“Muscular” versus “Liberal” Secularism and the religious fundamentalist challenge in Singapore
Date of Issue2010
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
This essay examines how the divisive forces of religious fundamentalism have been a recurring feature of Singapore’s history. It shows why events in 2009 and 2010 appear to suggest that the Singapore State may well be justified in continuing to consider religious fundamentalism as a potential threat to the social fabric of the nation. The essay then addresses two contending perspectives in coping with religious fundamentalism in Singapore, the so-called “Muscular Secularist” and “Liberal Secularist” views – the former favoured by the State and the latter reflecting the aspirations of some sections of civil society. The essay discusses the increasing pressure both from inside and outside Singapore on the State to soften its no-nonsense Muscular Secularist stance on coping with religious fundamentalism in Singapore and imbibe elements of the more nuanced Liberal Secularist perspective. Finally, it explains why Muscular Secularism is likely to remain the State’s preferred philosophy for managing religious fundamentalism for the foreseeable future.
RSIS Working Paper ; 202/10