Cogut Institute for the Humanities

2017. Islam and the French

The conference, which took place on February 24, 2017, examined the debates surrounding the place of Islam in French society. Focusing on the current surrounding Laïcité—a uniquely French phenomenon that differs fundamentally from other forms of secularization in that the State guarantees the private practice of religion while insisting on a strict separation of Church and State—participants investigated the emergence of a new public visibility of Islam in the West and the anxieties it is generating. On the one hand, Islam is seen by some as a fundamentally different religion posing a new, specific threat that makes it incompatible with French identity and modernity. On the other, because it is the religion of immigrants from Muslim countries, its practice is seen as posing particular challenges to French society, as the controversies over the headscarf and halal meat testify. In the context of European integration, globalization, and migrations, recent debates over French identity have focused on Islam and are reshaping the intellectual and political landscape. The goal of this conference was to achieve a better understanding of the contemporary place of religion and religiosity in public life.

Co-sponsored by the French Embassy in the United States, Pierre and Mary Ann Sorel ’92, Dean of the College, Department of French Studies, the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, and the Humanities Initiative.

Photo above: Speakers Mayanthi Fernand and Naomi Davidson in conversation at the event.

Panel 1

Moderator: Maud Mandel, Brown University
Ian Coller, University of California, Irvine • Islam before Laïcité: The French Revolution and the Muslim Citizen
Ethan Katz, University of Cincinnati • Under Every Hijab Can be a Kippah: The Uncertain Place of Jews in Contemporary Debates about Islam in France


Panel 2

Moderator: Gretchen Schultz, Brown University
Naomi Davidson, University of Ottawa • “Je veux que l’islam brille au coeur de la République”: Making Islam Public in 20th-Century France
Mayanthi L. Fernando, University of California, Santa Cruz • Sex and Secularism: The Embodied Politics of Public/Private

Panel 3 and Roundtable Discussion

Panel 3 | Moderator: Kelly Colvin and Ourida Mostefai, Brown University
John Bowen, Washington University • The Specificity of Scandal: Halal, Handshakes and Sociability in France and the Netherlands
Nadia Marzouki, École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) • Academic Freedom in the Context of the French “War on Terror”