The Republic Unsettled
Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism
Duke University Press 2014
New Books Network January 5, 2016 Roxanne Panchasi
Mayanthi Fernando‘s The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (Duke University Press, 2014) is an important and provocative book. Drawing on years of field work, the book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex interactions between religion and politics in contemporary France. Considering the Islamic revival and public debates provoked initially by the “headscarf crisis” of the late 1980s, the book examines the ethical, social, and political lives of the Muslim French men and women whose religiosity is so often regarded as “incommensurable” with the democratic culture and politics of the nation.
Rather than churning existing conversations about Islam in France that tend to fixate on immigration and integration, The Republic Unsettled thinks through citizenship, exploring the ways Muslim French bring together Islam and the values of the secular-republican nation, articulating new ways of believing and living on both fronts. The book also examines attempts by the French state to regulate Islam in France, attempts that highlight the fractures and contradictions at the very heart of secularism and republican universalism. The Republic Unsettled moves between the experiences of Fernando’s interlocutors, the examination of key debates, institutions, and laws concerning laicite in France, and the analysis of a range of public discourses on religion, gender, and sexuality in which Islam has figured centrally. An ethnographic study that is profoundly attentive to France’s colonial past, the book is a model of a scholarship that is at once theoretical and politically engaged.