A common definition of separatism is that it is the advocacy of a state of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental or gender separation from the larger group. While it often refers to full political secession, separatist groups may seek nothing more than greater autonomy. While some critics may equate separatism with religious segregation, racist segregation, or sexist segregation, most separatists argue that separation by choice is not the same as government-enforced segregation and may serve useful purposes. There is some academic debate about this definition, and in particular how it relates to secessionism, as has been discussed online.
Separatist groups practice a form of identity politics, “political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups.” Such groups believe attempts at integration with dominant groups compromise their identity and ability to pursue greater self-determination. However, economic and political factors usually are critical in creating strong separatist movements as opposed to less ambitious identity movements.
SEPARATISTS, PURITAN. The Separatists, or Independents, were radical Puritans who, in the late sixteenth century, advocated a thorough reform within the Church of England. Dissatisfied with the slow pace of official reform, they set up churches outside the established order. Robert Browne gathered the first Separatist church at Norfolk, England, in 1581; later Separatists were dubbed “Brownists,” but the groups did not constitute an organized movement. In the main Separatists proposed a congregational or independent form of church polity, wherein each church was to be autonomous, founded upon a formal covenant, electing its own officers, and restricting the membership to “visible saints.” In England during the 1640s, the minority wing of the Puritan party maintained congregationalism against the majority in the Westminster Assembly and the Parliament, and were known as Independents, but the multitude of sects that arose out of the disorders of the time also took unto themselves the title of Independents, so that the term came to be a vague designation for opponents of Presbyterianism. Orthodox New England Puritans, although practicing a congregational discipline, always denied that they were either Separatists or Independents.