Hard-Line Secularism Is a Bad Idea

Question: What lessons does France’s headscarf controversy hold \r\nfor the U.S.?
\r\n
\r\nJoan Wallach Scott:  Well I mean I guess that hard-line \r\nsecularism is not a good idea, which is not to say that secularism is \r\nnot a good idea.  I mean I certainly think that the attempt in the \r\nUnited States to by groups here to rewrite American history as a sort of\r\n Christian story and to portray the founding fathers as Christian \r\nfathers is something that really needs to be challenged and in the name \r\nof secular… in the name of history, of accurate history as well as \r\neverything else, but I think the kind of hard-nose secularism of France,\r\n that kind of unbending insistence on that secular means one thing and \r\nthat violations of it will not be tolerated in any way is a bad idea and\r\n that if you’re accommodating different groups, different populations \r\nwhat you need to do is figure out ways of accommodating them.  The way \r\nthe French did when the passed the 1905 law separating church and state,\r\n the way they did with the Catholic Church.  There was a day off for \r\nreligious instruction for kids.  All the holidays in France still, some \r\nare state holidays, but most of them are Catholic, not even just \r\nChristian, Catholic holidays.  Parts of France are… Alsace and Lorraine,\r\n Alsace-Moselle, those departments which were under German control when \r\nthe 1905 law was passed and then came back to France after the war those\r\n areas were never forced to adopt the secular practices that the rest of\r\n the country adopted, so still in those areas you can have religious \r\nteaching in the schools.  Children have to take a course in religious \r\ninstruction and so on and so forth, so they’re not even consistent…  \r\nIt’s not even a nationally consistent policy in relation to Catholicism,\r\n which was the dominate religion at the time the law was passed, so to \r\nact as if it is either secularism or nothing or that the secular and the\r\n religious are in eternal opposition to each other is to misrepresent \r\nFrench history and to create a situation in which there will only be a \r\ngreater sense of felt discrimination and anger on the part of the \r\npopulations whom these laws affect.  So it seems to me that that kind of\r\n hard line secularism, which is as fundamentalist in its way as the most\r\n extreme Islamist fundamentalism defeats its own purpose and really \r\ndoesn’t end up producing a situation in which there can be a certain \r\nkind of pluralism, cultural pluralism and political assimilation and \r\npolitical citizenship.

Recorded April 26th, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by Austin Allen

What the U.S. can learn from French battles over mosque and state.

Related Articles

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less

Giving octopuses ecstasy reveals surprising link to humans

A groundbreaking new study shows that octopuses seemed to exhibit uncharacteristically social behavior when given MDMA, the psychedelic drug commonly known as ecstasy.

Image: damn_unique via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Octopuses, like humans, have genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.
  • Scientists gave MDMA to octopuses to see whether those genes translated into a binding site for serotonin, which regulates emotions and behavior in humans
  • Octopuses, which are typically asocial creatures, seem to get friendlier while on MDMA, suggesting humans have more in common with the strange invertebrates than previously thought
Keep reading Show less