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PA - C8 - HFC652 : Building the French Nation under Conflicting Identities

Domaine > Humanités et sciences sociales.


Building the French Nation under conflicting identities. Religion, Politics and Culture from the Old Regime to Our Time

HFC C652


The course is designed to study the national building of France in the Modern Times. An emphasis will be put on the conflicting identities between the old definition of a monarchical and catholic Nation and the new civil identity based on a secular state (the “republican model”). The course will specifically study the changing character of the French “laïcité” (secularism). The program also includes various examples taken from the history of the French colonial empire (especially the case of Algeria and of the French Antilles).

Tuesday, 10:30-12:30


Assessment: each student make one Oral Presentation (alone or by duo) + Final Written Exam. Components of the Final Grade: Presentation (40%), Exam (40%), Participation (20%)


Reader: texts will be distributed in advance for each session (except session # 1)


Session # 1 (09/26)

Lecture (by professor)

“Religion and Politics under the Old Regime”

Church and State relationship in Christian World. Was free thinking “thinkable” in Medieval Times? Importance of the Reformation in France. The building of the Modern state. The notion of “raison d’Etat”.

Workshop (by students + professor)

Discussion on use and meaning of terms and concepts: Secularization, Dechristianization, Laïcité

Discussion on the “Quinet’s thesis”


Session # 2 (10/03)


“Conflicting Identities under the French Revolution”

The French Revolution and the question of religious opinions. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy. The revolutionary cults. Civil war: religious war?


Presentation: “How one could explain the failure of the revolutionary cults?”

Discussion of the “Ozouf’s thesis”


Session # 3 (10/17, no session on 10/10: X-Forum)


“Building a Republican Model”

Concordat or Separation: the ambivalence of the republicans. The strife over the control of the school system. Building a republican patriotism on a secular cult of the state. The question of a civil religion.


Presentation: “The French republican free-masonry: its strength and development”

Discussion of the “Nicolet’s model”


Session # 4 (10/24)


“Building the Nation in the Empire”

In the Antilles: slavery, abolition, racial inequalities, republican “emancipation”. In the French Algeria: a Republic based on segregation


Presentation: “The case of the Algerian Jews”

Discussion of the “Tocqueville’s thesis”


Session # 5 (11/07, holyday break on 10/31)


“From Dreyfus to Vichy: building a place for the French Jewish community”

The historical place of the Jews in France. Emancipation and assimilation since the Revolution. Republican identities of the French Jews (failure of Zionism). The case of the French Antisemitism. Policies of the Vichy Regime.


Presentation: “The Dreyfus Affair: origins and impact”

Discussion of the “Birnbaum’s model”


Session # 6 (11/14)


“Towards a Secularized Nation? The Historical decline and the crisis of the Church”

France after 1945: the decline of the political and social role of Catholicism. The most secularized Western Nation?


Presentation: “The Story of l’Abbé Pierre between Religion and media stardom”

Discussion of the “Hervieu-Léger’s thesis”


Session # 7 (11/21)


“Gaullism: a New Civil Religion, 1940 to our day”

The case of De Gaulle between religious belief and secular state. National Funerals at Notre-Dame of Paris. Political fervor and enthusiasm


Presentation: “What is a political charisma: the case of De Gaulle?”


Session # 8 (11/28)


“The Origins of the new “question laïque” (Islam in France I)”

History of immigration in France. Crisis in Algeria: divisions, conflicts, war for Independence and forms of civil wars. The impact of the Algerian War in France.


Presentation: “The law banishing the Islamic veil, 2004: arguments and counter-arguments”


Session # 9 (12/05)


“Reshaping the National Identity (Islam in France II)”

The history of immigration in France. Policies of integration and its failures. The development of Islam. The new “question laïque” (reshaping of secularism). Attacks of 2015 and 2016.


Presentation: “How to define and explain the rise of the “French jihadists”?”

Discussion of the duel between Olivier Roy’s thesis and Gilles Kepel’s thesis


Session # 10 (12/12)

Final Written Exam


Recommended Readings



Jeremy D. Popkin, A history of Modern France, NJ, Pearson Prentice Hall, Edition: 4th: ISBN-13: 978-0205846825

Alice Conklin, Sarah Fishman, Robert Zaretsky, France and Its Empire Since 1870, Oxford University Press, 2014, 2nd edition: ISBN-13: 978-0199384440

Pierre Nora (ed.), Realms of memory: rethinking the French past, Columbia university Press

Edward Berenson, Vincent Duclert, Christophe Prochasson, The French Republic: history, values, debates, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2011: ISBN-13: 978-0801477843

François Furet, Mona Ozouf (ed.), A political dictionary of the French Revolution, Belknap Press.

Robert Gildea, Children of the Revolution. The French, 1799-1914, Harvard University Press

Danièle Hervieu-Léger, Religion as a chain of Memory, New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 2000: ISBN-13: 978-0813528281

Olivier Roy, Secularism confronts Islam, NY, Columbia University Press, 2007: ISBN-13: 978-0231141031

Joan Scott, The politics of the veil, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2010 (paperback): ISBN-13: 978-0691147987



Jean Baubérot (Histoire de la laïcité en France), Philippe Portier (L’Etat et les religions en France), Pierre Manent (Situation de la France), Gilles Kepel (Les banlieues de l’islam), Olivier Roy (Le djihad et la mort).



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