Is a definition of “secular religion” possible?

As almost everyone almost immediately recognizes, the term “secular religion” is an oxymoron. No matter how we define religion, “secular” can hardly mean anything else than “non-religious”, so secular religions are supposed to be “non-religious religions”, which is a contradiction in terms. You don’t have to be a Hans Kelsen to understand just that much. (See his Secular Religion: A Polemic against the Misinterpretation of Modern Social Philosophy, Science and Politics as “New Religions.” Wien‐New York: Springer, 2012.)

Since defining an oxymoronic term is by definition impossible, all that remains for us is to analyze its rhetorical use, and that’s what the present project aims to do in the first place. So before anyone becomes suspicious of the whole enterprise, let us make it very clear that our own starting point is also one of suspicion. None of us wants to say that everything (from social philosophy to science and politics, to quote Kelsen) is a “religion.” But don’t rejoice too soon, for our thesis is no less radical: it states that in fact nothing is.

It is the very distinction between the religious and the secular that becomes enormously problematic when you take a fresh look at it from the angle of “secular religions” rhetoric.