State and religions in the light of history

The Eternal challenge. The State and religions in France from its origins to the present day

by Lucien Jaume

Tallandier, 446 pages, €23.50

So what is secularism? A morality, a policy, an anticlerical combat weapon, a legal system of skills…? No need to lengthen the list to perceive that the notion of secularism is far from clear, observes Lucien Jaume from the outset. “Different layers of meaning have sedimented”, and many factors that weighed yesterday still weigh today, believes the philosopher. Hence the importance of a detour through history to see more clearly. And, as Aristide Briand had already done in the 100 pages of presentation of the law of 1905, the author goes back to Pépin le Bref.

The VIIIand century indeed sees the emergence “the relation of exchange (and often of rivalry) sealed by a pact of alliance. The king depends directly of God, and therefore has its own legitimacy, but the Church, recognizing it as such, also enjoys this legitimacy. Inevitably, relations of competition, of overlapping of domains, of dispute over the benefits derived from ecclesiastical structures and domains will appear. It is also important for the State that the Church ensure its control over believers,” explains the author, a specialist in the modern articulation between politics and religion.

This “crossover” between the temporal and the spiritual evolves over time. Lucien Jaume illustrates this by examining “four conjunctures where the facets and issues of the link between state authority and religious freedom emerge” : the Gallican moment of the XVIIIand century with its “specific pact between Church and State for the unity of the nation”, the French Revolution and the Concordat which marked the continuation of Gallicanism and saw the birth of new tensions; the IIIand Republic of Jules Ferry until the law of 1905, where the State seeks to reconquer its supremacy; the XXIand century with the question of the place of Islam in France with a State which seeks to better submit the Muslim religion and its ministers to secularism in order to move towards a “French Islam”.

This dive into the history of France in contact with texts and contexts is fascinating. The rediscovery of our past can only make us more attentive to recent developments in the way the state approaches religious questions. “From a space of freedom, secularism can turn into a court of exclusion, as confirmed by ancient or recent history”, warns the author. Lucien Jaume ends his reflection with stimulating pages on the spiritual in the Republic. By way of example, he gives the defense of human dignity, an idea certainly born from religious sources, but which goes beyond them. “There is no acceptable neutrality on this point. As liberty, equality, fraternity – let us add secularism – the Republic is indeed this ethico-political project of human dignity. »

As a result of what, “because it carries this historical capital (reason, science freedom, wisdom), republican thought must not call itself neutral, and even less by designating the institution it supports, the republican state in France” , he writes. And if the Republic does not recognize any religion, this does not mean that the State does not have to maintain relations with the various religions and that these do not have the legitimacy to access public speech. “This is a moral and social recognition, not a legal and political one, although, of course, such statements can have political implications”, he emphasizes again.


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