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Paola Mattei

Date and Time: 
Thursday, October 3, 2013. 12:00 PM - 01:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Room 216, Pigott Hall (Building 260)
Meeting Description: 

“The Crisis of the Secular State in France: Religion and Diversity in French Schools”

Abstract: From 1989 to 2004, the French government launched an intense wave of governmental activities and reform initiatives in order to respond to the new challenge against French republican unity, namely increasing religious diversity and renewed religious sentiments in public schools. Much has been written about the ideological and theoretical premises of secularism and the role of religion in the French educational system. However, we know very little about what happens on the ground and what are the substantive policy changes introduced in recent years. On 15 March 2004 the French Assemblée Nationale passed a law banning the wearing of all signs of religious affiliation in primary and secondary schools. It was the culmination of a highly contested and intense public debate about managing religious diversity in schools, mainly in response to the 1989 affaires des foulards. This paper is an empirical investigation of the making of the 2004 Law and the political arguments employed by the key actors, through a thorough legislative analysis of governmental reports and primary sources. The purpose is to illuminate some of the most divisive cleavages associated with the French newly assertive secularism entrusted in the 2004 Law. This paper argues that it was neither a parenthesis, nor a temporary outburst of fear, but a deliberate and long lasting policy reform to shape the years to come in French policies of religion and integration in schools.

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