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Accepted paper:

Secularism, Catholicism and the 'universal' white subject in France

Author:

Carrie Benjamin (University of Warwick)

Paper short abstract:

I demonstrate how, in the laïc French socio-political landscape, Catholic religious observance positions racialised subjects in closer proximity to whiteness—at least from the perspective of the white subject—a proximity that is contextual, uncertain, and unsettled.

Paper long abstract:

Recent research has shown how the French state has adopted a form of 'republican nationalism' (Dikeç 2007) that regards 'communitarianism' as a threat to universal 'republican values'. As a core republican value, laïcité (secularism) has been open to interpretation since its foundation in law in 1905. Whereas its origins were rooted in a will to lessen or abolish the influence of the Catholic Church in France, today it is often deployed in an attempt to regulate and control Muslim religious practices, which are viewed as a 'threat' to the laïc republic and its 'Christian traditions'. In this context, where formerly-adverse far-right populist parties have embraced and shaped the discourse on laïcité as a way to 'defend' the republic, people that are perceived to have multiple loyalties, whether to another nation state or religion, are viewed in opposition to the 'universal' (white) French subject and therefore as less 'French'. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews conducted in Paris in 2013-2014 and 2019, I explore the construction of the 'universal' French subject and how Catholicism renders certain migrants less 'Other' and hence more acceptable and approachable in secular France. I demonstrate how, in the laïc French socio-political landscape, Catholic religious observance positions racialised subjects in closer proximity to whiteness—at least from the perspective of the white subject—a proximity that is contextual, uncertain, and unsettled.

panel P181
Religion, (im)mobilities and citizenship in the face of populism