Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religious Studies

Second Department

French Studies

Reader 1

Annelle Curulla

Reader 2

Zayn Kassam

Reader 3

Phil Zuckerman

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© 2020 Jennifer C Grady


Often interpreted as the separation of Church and State that guarantees the freedom of public space from religion, laïcité is a foundational principle of French Republican ideology and is regarded as a central component of French national identity. This thesis focuses on the issue of laïcité that developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period that witnessed a resurgence of debates on the purpose and function of laïcité after several decades of immigration from former colonies rendered Islam the second largest religion in France. Centering on the era of Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, I examine the approaches taken by each administration towards laïcité in the context of a now undeniably multicultural and multireligious France. I retrace the historical conceptualization and institutionalization of laïcité in France by beginning with a chapter-length overview, followed by two chapters that investigate the modern conception and uses of laïcité from approximately 1989 to 2007, specifically as it pertains to Islam in France. During this period, one can observe Republican figures invoking laïcité as a combative principle and citing it as a reason that Muslims and Arabs cannot be integrated into French society. As I demonstrate, these two administrations contributed to the shaping of a new, more extreme version of laïcité that worked to exclude Muslims from the public sphere under the guise of promoting neutrality, national unity, and heralding laïcité as a French exception.