Unveiling the French Republic: National Identity, Secularism, and Islam in Contemporary France


The Islamic Veil Affairs (2003-4 and 2009-2011), which led to the banning of Muslim girls wearing Islamic headscarves in French public schools and women wearing full-face veils in public, have raised serious concerns about the relationship between secularism and the freedom of religious expression.

In Unveiling the French Republic: National Identity, Secularism, and Islam in Contemporary France, Per-Erik Nilsson engages in a careful critical analysis of the Veil Affairs. His critique, for the most part, is not on the decision of Muslim women to wear the veil but rather on the misuse of secular ideology to justify religious intolerance and mask ethnic prejudice.

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Per-Erik Nilsson, Ph.D (2012) is director and researcher at the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism, Uppsala University. He has written and published extensively on the intersections of secularism, religion, and violence, including “Where’s Charlie?”, in the Cambridge Companion to Religion and Terrorism (ed. James Lewis, Cambridge University Press, 2017).
Series Editor’s Preface



Introduction: Everybody Welcome to France

Part I. Approaching French Secularism

1 (French) Secularism

Secularization, the Secular, and Secularism





A Western Gaze?

Previous Research on the Islamic Veil Affairs and Secularism

Analyzing Secularism

A Critical Approach to Secularism

Secularism as Governmentality

Secularism as Discourse

2 A Shield Against Alterity

The Islamic Veil Affairs




State Feminism and the Other-Woman

Alterity and Communitarianism

Nation, Assimilation

Part II. The First Islamic Veil Affair

3 Ideological Battle Flags

A New and Unwanted Situation

Post-Christian Islamic Challenges

A Question of Integration?


Islamic Communitarianism

A Glocalized World

Particular Versus National Law

Discrimination and Violence

Over T/here

Attacking Secularism

Behind the Veil

What Does It Represent?

Why Do They Wear It?


4 Inventing Secularism

An Unruly March Towards Unity

From Clash to Atonement


The Cornerstone of the Republic

(Forced) Liberty

Equality and Neutrality

Brotherhood, Integration and French Communitarianism

Legislation, Education



Legislative Pedagogy

An Anti-Islamic Law?


Part III. The Second Islamic Veil Affair

5 The Tip of the Iceberg

New Times, Old Threats

The Return of Religion

Over T/here


Walking Coffins

A Religious and/or Political Symbol

An Attack on the Republic’s Principles and the Dignity of Women

Voluntary Submission


6 (Re)Inventing Secularism

The History of a Christian Civilization

A Christian Nation

Historical Emancipation

The Motor of Limited Tolerance

Respecting a Value, Respecting a Principle

Diversity, Positive Secularism and Tolerance

Faith, Hope, and Unity

Legislate, Educate!



Securing Public Order


Part IV. Consequences

7 Social Contracts, National Borders and Illiberal Governmentality

National Frontiers and Social Contracts

Discursive Displacement and Liberal Faith

Post-Political Expansion

Romantic Ideals and Secularist Retaliation


All interested in French contemporary politics, especially scholars, students, journalists, and policy makers.