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Post-foundational Islam

This chapter examines the published works of Abdelwahab Meddeb. Of specific significance is Meddeb’s foregrounding of a language of Islamic secularism, which can be interpreted as an attempt to transform perceptions of Islam and thus to intervene in the symbolic power relations between the Republican state and France’s Muslim citizens. This chapter also poses questions about the consequences of deploying certain forms of discursive agency for secular Muslim intellectuals. What are the outcomes of their interventions in the public arena? What are the possible effets pervers (unintended consequences) of their interventions, if any? It is arguable that the work of Meddeb embodies most explicitly some of the tensions and paradoxes that can emerge when intellectuals speak for and on behalf of a ‘minority community’, or if we want to avoid that problematic term due to its suggestion of a hermetic and homogenous group, on behalf of a religious/cultural minority population.

in Secularism, Islam and public intellectuals in contemporary France
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Existentialist Islam as intercultural translation

This chapter explores the work of French philosopher Abdennour Bidar. Via his publications, scholarly articles and media interventions, Bidar attempts to sketch out the contours of what he calls a twenty-first century Muslim existentialism. Muslim existentialism emerges from what Bidar calls un islam sans soumission. Islam or Islamic belief without submission is premised on a profound desire for freedom of conscience, expression and dissent. Prior to his work on the notion of Islam without submission, Bidar also developed the term self Islam with reference to European citizens of Muslim heritage, the majority of whom choose to define their own diverse relationships to Islam on their own terms. Bidar’s approach can be described as a project of cultural translation, whereby he can be regarded as a cultural mediator who seeks to productively confront non-Western and Western concepts of religion, spirituality, modernity and humanism. His work, which places him at the intersections of the academic world, the media and the political arena, makes him a particularly interesting figure through which to investigate the circulation of narratives concerning French Muslims and their diverse relationships to secularism.

in Secularism, Islam and public intellectuals in contemporary France
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This chapter brings together all five thinkers discussed in this book and critically evaluates the public reception of their work. It asks to what extent the five intellectuals are able to articulate a fully counter-hegemonic approach in relation to the ambient discourses about Muslims and Islam in contemporary France. It also briefly discusses their work in relation to the next generation of emergent Muslim voices in France’s public sphere.

in Secularism, Islam and public intellectuals in contemporary France
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Public intellectuals as policy experts in times of crisis

The work of Dounia Bouzar and her engagement in the political debates about Muslims in France raises significant questions about the relationship between Islam, secularism and feminism. Bouzar could be described as a Muslim feminist, in that her work has consistently been concerned with what she calls ‘la condition féminine’, including questions such as the headscarf, women’s equality in the private and public spheres and, more recently, the indoctrination of young Muslim women by Islamist groups. This chapter will focus on Bouzar’s recent writings from a feminist perspective, taking into account the following themes in particular: disruptive discourses in the public arena, the notion of la femme-alibi (token woman), the experiences of women who intervene in the public arena and, finally, the relationship between feminism and anti-racism.

in Secularism, Islam and public intellectuals in contemporary France
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The Introduction discusses the rationale for a book about secular Muslim intellectuals in contemporary France. In particular, the Introduction will demonstrate that most scholarship on Islam in contemporary France has focused on debates around the Islamic headscarf or questions relating to Islamic fundamentalism, with little attention paid to those French Muslims working within the paradigms of islamité and laïcité. The Introduction also presents the interdisciplinary framing of the book, which will draw on current theoretical debates in Francophone postcolonial studies, the sociology and anthropology of Islam and secularisation, and philosophical, critical religious studies and critical theoretical approaches to themes such as alterity, belief, cultural pluralism, recognition and subjectivity. Furthermore, this chapter will discuss the methodology employed in this study, namely close textual and contextual analysis of the intellectuals’ published works and public interventions.

in Secularism, Islam and public intellectuals in contemporary France
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Spirituality, affect and women

This chapter will demonstrate why Babès’ contributions are significant, in that they go well beyond the almost obsessive nature of French public debates regarding so-called ‘Islamic dress’ – the ‘external’ face of Islam, with the associated anxieties about women’s bodies and their outward appearances – to contemplate the ‘interiority’ and lived experience of Islam, a narrative which runs counter to political constructions or dominant discursive frameworks of Islam as a monolithic entity in contemporary France. Her work seeks to articulate a nuanced knowledge of Islam with an approach that examines the spiritual lives of Muslims, particularly in contemporary France. One finds throughout her work (in the form of monographs, essays, media interviews and blogs) a consistent interest in three aspects of Islam: what Babès refers to as la foi, le rite and la loi, that is, faith, rituals (practices) and religious law.

in Secularism, Islam and public intellectuals in contemporary France
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Enlightenment Islam

The chapter will critically assess Chebel’s thought via an engagement with a variety of his monographs, essays and articles published in France between 2002 and 2016. Despite the wide range of topics under discussion in Chebel’s work, it is possible to nevertheless identify a number of recurring themes such as reason, subjectivity, secularism, the body, love and sexuality in Islam. His approach could be described as a project of cultural translation, in which Chebel can be regarded as a cultural mediator who seeks to productively confront non-Western and Western concepts of religion, spirituality, modernity and humanism. Of specific significance is Chebel’s foregrounding of a language of Islamic secularism, which can be interpreted as an attempt to transform perceptions of Islam and thus to intervene in the symbolic relationship between the Republican ideology of laïcité and France’s Muslim citizens.

in Secularism, Islam and public intellectuals in contemporary France

Through its focus on secular Muslim public intellectuals in contemporary France, this book challenges polarizing accounts of Islam and Muslims, which have been ubiquitous in political and media debates for the last thirty years. The work of these intellectuals is significant because it expresses, in diverse ways, an ‘internal’ vision of Islam that demonstrates how Muslim identification and practices successfully engage with and are part of a culture of secularism (laïcité). The study of individual secular Muslim intellectuals in contemporary France thus gives credence to the claim that the categories of religion and the secular are more closely intertwined than we might assume. This monograph is a timely publication that makes a crucial contribution to academic and political debates about the place of Islam and Muslims in contemporary France. The book will focus on a discursive and contextualised analysis of the published works and public interventions of Abdelwahab Meddeb, Malek Chebel, Leïla Babès, Dounia Bouzar and Abdennour Bidar – intellectuals who have received little scholarly attention despite being well-known figures in France.

Playing black in late seventeenth-century France and Spain

This chapter examines the emergence and significance of the theatregram of the African ambassador in 1660s French theatre, in plays like Le Mort Vivant, by Edmé Boursault (1662), L’Ambassadeur d’Affrique, by Du Perche (1666), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière (1670), and Le Mariage de la reine de Monomotapa by Bel-Isle (1682). Reading this theatregram in conversation with contemporary policies in the French Caribbean colonies, I argue that African ambassadors on stage contributed to the development and dissemination of a solidifying racial discourse in late seventeenth-century France. A thorough examination of the transnational component in Boursault’s play, more specifically, of the play’s all-out and multilayered Spanishness, brings to light the play’s ambivalence towards the notion of hybridity. The internal evolution of the theatregram between 1662 and 1682, however, marks a departure from Boursault’s take: the later plays of the African ambassador corpus are devoid of such ideological ambivalence. This denotes a hardening of racial thinking over the course of those twenty years. Ultimately, that approach promotes the integration of transnational foci and comparative methods into early modern race studies.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre
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This afterword places the volume and the research presented in it into the context of the Theater Without Borders research collective and reflects on recent developments of research in early modern theatre exchanges and connections. Written by the co-editor of two previous volumes that came out of the Theater Without Borders initiative (Transnational Exchange in Early Modern Theater (2008) and Transnational Mobilities in Early Modern Theater (2014), both edited by Robert Henke and Eric Nicholson), the afterword highlights the continuities and developments in the methodologies of early modern theatre and performance as a rich transnational phenomenon.

in Transnational connections in early modern theatre