“Everybody Welcome to France” : Secularism, Governmentality & Fantasy in the French Republic 2003-2011

Abstract: What does it mean to be “secular”? How are “secular” identities constructed and negotiated? How can one understand that “secularism” has become an important marker of identity for nationalistic forces in Europe?In the dissertation “Everybody, Welcome to France” the author sets out to inquire into the topic of secularism and national identity in contemporary France. The specific research question is how France has been articulated as a “secular” republic in political speech and legislative text in 2003-2011 and how this articulation relates to conceptions of “nation”, “integration”, and “citizenship”. The author analyzes the articulation of France as a secular republic in two case studies. The first one is the Islamic Veil Affair in 2003-4 when the French Republic legislated against the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, and the second is when the wearing of burkas and niqabs were prohibited in public space in 2010 (law implemented in 2011). The author argues that these affairs became sceneries for a nationalistic reification by the political elite through the construction of an imagined intrusive other whose presence was thought to be in need of neutralization or deportation. The author subsequently suggests that the political elite’s conceptions of secularism during the analyzed period can be understood in light of an illiberal turn in European politics where categories like “secularism”, “tolerance”, and “freedom” have become emblems in a self-righteous construction of a unified and enlightened national “we” as opposed to an uncivilized and unworthy “them”.The analysis is carried out with discourse analytical methodology and rests on critical religion/secularism theory.

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