Pious citizens of the republic: Muslim and Catholic negotiations of national identity and ethical plurality in contemporary France
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France is often described as a strongly secular or culturally Catholic country despite the internal plurality that always belied a presumed national uniformity. In recent decades, the increasingly public presence of Islam has raised concerns over the stability of French national identity and a putative common French culture. The added threat of terrorism and the rise of the far right have aggravated the challenges of plurality and the mieux vivre ensemble (living better together). Amidst these tense national debates, this dissertation provides an ethnographic comparison of pious Catholic and Muslim citizens’ experiences with plurality, public ethics, citizenship, and Frenchness. Employing ethnographic methods and a small-scale survey, I carried out research in sites of religious education, including churches, mosques, private Muslim schools, and interfaith initiatives in Paris, Lyon, and Lille, France from 2013-2014. My research showed similarly broad spectrums of piety and ethical commitments among Catholics and Muslims as well as many shared public ethical concerns. However, there was much less convergence in the framing of ethical concerns, agency in civic engagement, and experiences of French citizenship and belonging among Catholics and Muslims respectively. Moreover, in contrast to prominent social science scholarship on Islam in France, I found that Muslim exclusion from French belonging was not attributable to a single cause, such as secular Republicanism, strong religious commitments, class, race or ethnicity. Instead, this research suggests that many of these factors worked together to produce the normative aesthetic, ethical, and performative boundaries of francité. While francité literally denotes Frenchness, it indexes a complex history of national identity and belonging from late French colonialism to today. Catholics and Muslims described francité in similar terms. However, Catholics claimed to confidently embody francité, while Muslims often excluded themselves from its experience and meaning. Contributing to the scholarship on Islam in France and Europe, my research indicates that it is circumscribed notions of francité that work to exclude “Others” from French belonging, and which impinge upon otherwise inclusive possibilities of belonging under secular Republicanism. Contributing to the literature on citizenship, ethics, and the challenge of plurality, I suggest that scholars need to disentangle juridico-legal citizenship, secular Republicanism, and francité in order to better analyze the challenges of French citizenship and the effort to mieux vivre ensemble.