Trying to Understand French Secularism

Talal Asad

in Political Theologies

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780823226443
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823237043 | DOI:
Trying to Understand French Secularism

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This chapter reflects on the recent restatement of laïcité, France's version of secularism, from an anthropological perspective, by which it means simply trying to see a particular public event—or series of interlinked events—as the articulation of a number of organizing categories typical of a particular (in this case, political) culture. It focuses on the so-called Islamic veil affair and articulates the Stasi commission report. The “anthropology of the secular”—also known as the “political theology of laïcisme”—is informed by a host of historical, philosophical, empirical, and political analyses. The chapter asserts that a separation between religion and politics was recognized in medieval Christendom, and its complementary organizing principles were those of temporal power versus spiritual power, the body natural and the body politic, which together covered—and personalized—the whole spectrum of social and juridical relations in partly physical, partly metaphysical terms. The headscarf worn by Muslim women was held to be a religious sign conflicting with the secular personality of the French Republic.

Keywords: France; laïcité; secularism; politics; religion; veil; anthropology; political theology; body politic; Muslim women

Chapter.  17250 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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