this essay, I will explore the definition of a secular society and why we might
think we have overcome the need for faith or belief, then lead on to talk about
Jacques Derrida and Luce Irigaray, firstly about their backgrounds, and then
about how they challenge the above statement.

secular society is one in which Religion is divorced from state. This means to
say that the powers controlling the actions of religious bodies and that of
governing bodies are separate and do not interfere with one another’s
activities. The phrase was coined by George Holyoake editor of ‘the
secularist’, in 1851. The UK operates as a secular society, as there is no particular
link, between the affairs of any of the core religions in British society, to
that of the government. The USA might also be considered to be a secular
society due to the fact that there is no one religion that takes great
influence of the country and, however it could be seen that in recent light,
the republican party have been attempting to make policies that greatly correspond
with their religious ideals. Other
examples of secular societies would include China, which has the highest
proportion of atheists in its society, and Japan along with many of the so
called Western societies.

by contrast, operates as a religious society, as demonstrated by the fact that
their faith of Islam has a central influence over their government.

a secular society, one might think that faith and belief is no longer
necessitated and that this has come about due to greater knowledge and
understanding, mainly due to advances in the field of science. In an age where
science has progressed expansively and at such an alarming rate, one could say
that there is a greater amount of evidence to suggest that there is no higher
power or creator of this world.

the view that we have overcome the need for faith or belief is challenged by
both Jacques Derrida and Luce Irigaray.

Jacques Derrida
was an Algerian born French philosopher who struggled in his early years as a
practicing Jew due to the fact that he grew up in a time of great oppression
for those of Jewish faith. Derrida’s principal
recognition is for his founding of the concept of “deconstruction”.  A means of criticising, not only both
literary and philosophical works, but also political institutions.
Deconstruction is a
form of literary criticism that
challenges traditional assumptions
about certainty, identity, and truth (Lawlor, Leonard,
“Jacques Derrida”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of

One of his more
recognised works, among many is ‘Faith and Knowledge’, a book in which he
studies the idea that faith and knowledge are the two central foundations of
religion and the limits of reason alone. In this work, Derrida describes, along
with globalization, and the post-cold war era, a “return of the religious”.

Derrida argues
that faith and knowledge begin as promises of God and truth respectively. He
describes two religious constructs, ‘moral’ religions and ‘cult’ religions.
These both provide explanations as to the reason why we need faith or belief,
in a so-called secular society. Moral religions are a more reflective and
rational faith, one which provides guidance for someone who wishes to lead a
moral life, and through this a moral structure to society founded around this
religion. Moral religions, he argues, will be more evident in a secular society
as the so-named ‘cult’ religion, is one which will be found more in societies
in which religion and government share the same voice.

Derrida also considers atheism to be a belief in itself. This is because the
idea of atheism is implicit of God and religion, as though one is accepting the
idea of God, but choosing not to follow the religion of God directly. This
could be considered to be contradictory to the earlier statement, where Atheism
has perhaps grown in popularity, due to advances in sciences, and the growing
belief that a higher being does not exist, rather than choosing not to follow a
God. Either way, whether the belief is that there is no God, or the belief is
not to follow a God, this would contradict the statement that there is a lack
of belief in a secular society. This is why Derrida favors the term
‘agnosticism’ over ‘atheism’, agnosticism leaning more towards the idea that
nothing is known or can be known about the existence of God, which in Derrida’s
view is more in keeping with the idea that God as an idea is something that
does not conform to normal ideas of existence but as a concept is something
that lives outside of that realm.

Irigaray also challenges the view that the need for faith and belief has been
overcome. Irigaray is a Belgium born French feminist and philosopher who was
born in 1930 and has PHDs in both linguistics and philosophy. Irigaray is a prominent author in contemporary French feminism and
Continental philosophy. Irigarary’s text Speculum of the Other Woman,
where she critiques the exclusion of women from both philosophy and
psychoanalytic theory, brought her to recognition as a leading feminist
theorist and continental philosopher. In the wake of a worldwide waive of
religious resurgence at the beginning of the twenty-first century, many
feminists find Irigaray and other feminist philosophers reasoning still

It is perhaps harder to establish Irigaray’s
position on faith and belief, as her work is very much oriented towards the
feminist debate.

However, within her writings, Irigaray’s
views on the patriarchal model of religion are evident, where she shares the
popular feminist assertion of a traditional “phallocentric” religious base.

Irigaray subscribes to the view that the
Word of God is the word of man, used to keep women in subjection and to hinder
their emancipation. Irigaray would argue that secular society remains
structured on traditional paradigms of patriarchal rule which is founded on the
historical religions and the concept of a male God, which serves to perpetuate
the dominance of the male in the structure, culture and language of society.

Irigaray in her essay, “Belief Itself”
published in 1993, applies Derridean deconstruction to re-assess the subject of
belief, in the context of the modern philosophy of religion. She argues that
belief, and its formation, is involved in the foundations of the subject and
sexual difference. The argument that the object of belief is male-defined, is a
familiar feminist one but perhaps a more radical claim is that the structure
and discourse of belief itself is masculinist and in need of deconstruction.
Irigaray would therefore argue that the traditional masculine construct of
belief and faith, remain at the centre of a modern secular society and that we
have by no means “overcome” this need (Frankenberry, Nancy, “Feminist
Philosophy of Religion”).  

Identity and that the process of women’s
becoming divine is imperative. For Irigaray, the creation of a “female divine”
is a condition of female subjectivity (Frankenberry, Nancy, “Feminist
Philosophy of Religion”).

As such, Irigaray’s views on faith and
belief are expressed in context of the feminist debate. Irigaray believes that,
although the new “faith and belief”, is expressed in a more modern
theo-political language, it remains founded in the same old phallocentric
belief and faith models which have always suppressed Irigaray’s  concept of the “different” position, women
should hold in society, as opposed to an equal position. The descriptors of
faith and belief may have changed but the underlying construct remains


In exploring the argument that Derrida and
Irigaray challenge the redundancy of faith and belief, within a secular society,
very quickly, Derrida’s extensive views on the subject surface. However,
extracting Irigaray’s views and contribution to this area of philosophy is
something which I found harder. Her works appear very much oriented to the
feminist discussion, with her direct views on theological-political debate
being obscured within her “feminist” arguments, rather than a focus of her
thinking. Her views on traditional religious beliefs being founded on the
masculine subject are a clear theme in her opinions. She also argues that the
modern, secular model of society remains founded on traditional phallocentric
belief models, which are at the core of traditional religion and the so-called
modern secular model. Derrida’s deconstruction of the modern secular society
argues that faith and belief remain important facets but that the object of
faith and belief may have changed. Irigaray would argue that although the
object may have changed, the construct remains grounded on the traditional
phallocentric paradigm, which remains at the centre of western secular
societies and as such we have by no means overcome the need for belief and