最早源自於英國作家George Jacob Holyoake提出來的哲學思想，認為人們的活動和作出的決定，尤其是在政治方面，應根據證據和事實進行，科學發展也必須建立在客觀實踐之上，而不應受宗教信仰偏見的影響，或是依賴天啟。最一開始是要打破過去教會過度干預和壓迫政權的保守狀態，尤其是馬克思思想興起後，宗教更被視為「人民的鴉片」。但是到後來，世俗主義被廣泛用在不同信仰的國家，並被解釋為「讓不同信仰的人都能享有平等的法律或稅制等權利義務」較偏重平等的說法。
A concept first expressed by British writer George Jacob Holyoake, secularism is the philosophy of basing human conduct and decision-making, especially related to politics, on evidence and facts. It adheres to the idea that the advancement of science should be guided by impartial practice free of bias brought by faith and devoid of dependence on divine revelation or religion. The concept was first brought forth to disrupt the Church’s deep involvement in political affairs or to challengeconservatism imposed by an oppressive regime. In the wake of Marxism especially, religion was even perceived as “the opium of the people.” Later on, secularism was adopted widely by countries of different faiths and has taken on a more equality-oriented interpretation–people of different faiths can enjoy equal rights and obligations as related to law or taxation.
Most of the countries in the world are already secular and have even incorporated secularism into their laws, while preserving religious freedom, in essence creating a separation of religion and the state. However, despite claiming to be a secular state, discrimination and inequality still exist in some countries as those in power prefer certain faith or religious groups which still have a say in local affairs. Take India for example, the citizenship amendment bill was passed in 2019 to grant citizenship to refugees of various faiths, but Muslims were excluded. It was reported that Islamic universities were suppressed by police amidst protests. The U.S. is another example. Church groups supported anti-abortion legislation in respective states, which is a reflection of how religion can shape a society. Also, most people’s understanding of secularism is akin to anti-religion and atheism, already a far cry from its original philosophical proposition.