ACCEPT Pluralism Workshop in Paris, France

'Redéfinir la laïcité' (Redefining Secularism) 

National Event of ACCEPT Pluralism in France


November 14, 2012

CERI- Science Po


The national event of the Accept Pluralism project in France took place on November 14, 2012 in the CERI - Sciences Po (conference room).

Before the conference, an editorial written by Angeline Escafré-Dublet was published in the Huffington Post

38 people attended the event (17 academic; 3 administrative officials; 2 journalists; 7 members of NGO and 1 member of a think tank).


Riva Kastoryano presented the context of the research and the question of laïcité in France. She pointed to the complex relationship between State and Church in the French context and argued for considering laïcité a kind of French religion. She explained that the concept has been constantly discussed since the first headscarf affair of 1989 and that Islam comes as a challenge. She then introduced the research conducted in France on Muslim mobilizations around laïcité, recalling the absence of such mobilization at the time of the first headscarf affair in 1989. As a matter of fact immigrant associations were numerous at the time but little mobilized on the issue of religious diversity in France. The recent mobilization of immigrant associations - and Muslim associations in particular - is therefore new and needs to be further analyzed.








Angéline Escafré-Dublet presented the Accept Project: the consortium, the conceptual framework of the project and the empirical research. She presented the outcome of the empirical research on tolerance in French political life. She explained that, although French politics are relatively immune to ethnic demands from immigrant minorities because of a Republican philosophy that invalidates any mobilisation on the basis of race, origin or religion, empirical research demonstrates that minorities find ways to voice their specific interests. In particular, the notion of laïcité can be a resource for mobilisation within the French political opportunity structure. She pointed to “a language of laïcité” in the French context, when laïcité is used alternatively as principle to organise religious cults in France, a code word to discuss to discuss religious diversity, or more precisely the place of Islam in France and a tool to fight the discrimination of Muslim people in France. She demonstrated, furthermore, that laïcité provides a useful tool to negotiate a French Muslim identity. She then compared this result with the case study done in the UK and concluded on the various results of the project (available on line).










This presentations where followed by the response of Vincent Tiberj and Jean Baubérot.

Vincent Tiberj (Researcher, Sciences Po) discussed religious identities in French political behavior (voting patterns in particular) and the general framing of diversity in France according to the Islam frame. He contended that religion is not that separated from political life in France, that there has been a long standing practice of Catholics to vote on the right and that Muslims are identified as voting on the left. He then went on to point to the fact that the framing of diversity in terms of Islam in France is linked to a classic understanding of difference in France (cf. the framing of the French riots of 2005 in terms of Islam even though only a limited number of people who could be identified as Muslims participated in it) and an increasing perception that Muslim immigrants are foreign to modern values (cf. the wording of the French integration contract that all residents have to sign). Finally he pointed to the French tradition to be far from accommodating religious diversity but always referring to “principles” that was clearly outlined in the Accept French Report.


Jean Bauberot (Professor, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes) discussed the relation between Islam and laïcité in historical perspective. He pointed to the historic construction of laïcité and how values are constantly redefined. He showed how equality between men and women is now presented as a Republcian value, when the Third Republic (1870-1940) was opposed to this idea (no voting rights for women, for instance). More than laïcité becoming the French religion, the Republic as an idea is increasingly considered as a religion. Moreover, laïcité is used as a cover up for the articulation of restrictive political discourses (cf. the definition of former economic minister François Baroin of laïcité) although it can be used as an instrument to fight discriminations. His recommendation to policy makers is to re-establish the French Authority to Combat Discrimination (the Halde) and have it monitor the passing of laws that are restrictive of individual liberties and/or discriminatory.









Questions arose from the audience about the project: the choice of the concepts of tolerance and acceptance, the selection of associations to be interviewed in the case studies and the indicators of tolerance that the project aims at elaborating (on-going). The discussion also developed on issues pertaining to the definition of citizenship in France around laïcité or not, and the question of Muslim identity in France.

For the program of the event click here.


For the editorial concerning this event, see post written by Angeline Escafré-Dublet published in the Huffington Post