and Secular Attitudes in France
he American notion o “being secular” has no easy translation in the Frenchlanguage and context. Part o the diculty stems rom the ambivalence o theuse o the term secular in the United States.
Under the infuence o politics andculture wars, the words “secular,” “secularist,” and “secularism” are undergoing asemantic shit that tends to narrow and polemicize their meanings. The situationhas lately been exacerbated, possibly by the tragedy o 9/11, undoubtedly by theso-called “religion gap” that determined voting patterns in the 2004 elections, as well as by recent controversies over the nature o American identity in a changingsocial and political environment.
While retaining their original sense connecting them to the broad conceptiono an autonomous society independent o religion, the words secular, secularist, andsecularism have taken up new meanings. As an increasing number o Americansare “[working] themselves out o a religious rame o mind,” sociologists haveused the terms to reer to individual postures on matters o religious choice, whileamong religious conservatives they have become synonymous with irreligiousand irreligion, godless and godlessness, Atheist and atheism.
A second diculty in dening who is secular in France is that althoughthe adjective secular can easily be translated into French by
i.e. “century,” and then “world,” as in English) the translationthat spontaneously, although somewhat grudgingly, comes to a French mindis
, which associates the initial question “who’s secular?” with issues o
. Institutionalized and immortalized in 1905 by the law on the separationo church and state,
is an essential component o French identity andexceptionalism, to which there is no satisactory linguistic equivalent inthe American English language, and which is also complex and polysemic.
, however, is unavoidable when discussing who is secular inFrance since, whether as a cause or a consequence,
creates the conditions