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La Catho-laïcité dans la religion française : intégration par appropriation

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posted on 2022-12-07, 21:48 authored by Nicholas Paschall Wells
The principal objective of this thesis is to explore the roles of laïcité (the French system of secularism: the separation of church and state) and Catholicism in France since the French Revolution. Indeed, there has long been a tension between the French conceptualization and implementation of laïcité, and the Catholic heritage of France. While Catholicism was part of the collective French identity for over one thousand years, laïcité erupted into the French consciousness during the Revolution, and to this day forms one of the central concepts of French Republican thought. The practice of Catholicism has declined steadily in recent decades, which has led some to wonder why, in a laïque country, certain Catholic traditions, holidays, and symbols are preserved in public life. This thesis argues that the roles of laïcité, and these Catholic elements, can both be explained within the context of a French “civil religion”. In this thesis, historical documents, intellectual works, and press articles are first examined to analyze both the historic and contemporary relationships between Catholicism and laïcité. Secondly, standing on the shoulders of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as well as sociologists Émile Durkheim and Robert Bellah, and other intellectuals, the concept of civil religion is discussed. This discussion is then used to construct a description of France’s national civil religion. The third chapter presents poll data, as well as law texts and other governmental documents, to investigate the role of the aforementioned Catholic elements within the French civil religion. The integration of Catholicism into the French civil religion is shown to be an appropriation of Catholic elements. These Catholic elements have gradually become elements of the French civil religion, thus retaining a role in laïque French public life. The final chapter provides a reflection on the role of laïcité within this process of integration by appropriation.



Middlebury Language Schools

Department or Program

School of French


Master of Arts

Academic Advisor

Nicolas Roussellier, Pascal Perrineau


Open Access

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