Accounting for Change in Diverse Societies

French Republicanism and Pluralism:
Can they co-exist?

Publication Date: March 2018

John R. Bowen

John R. Bowen is the Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St.
Louis. His current research focuses on comparative social studies of Islam across the world, and how
Muslims work across plural sources of norms and values, including diverse interpretations of the Islamic
tradition, law, codes and decisions, and local social norms.

As in other parts of Europe, in France, growing ethnocultural diversity has triggered intense debates over national identity. Focused mainly on the integration of Muslim populations, these debates have hinged on the centrality of secularism and undifferentiated citizenship to historic conceptions of the French state. Some critics argue that rigid interpretations of republican ideology create artificial barriers to Muslim integration and foreclose many policy tools that might otherwise promote a more inclusive citizenship. But others contend that the republican tradition itself offers resources for respecting pluralism. In relation to the goals of pluralism, just how flexible is the French republican tradition? Is “pluralist republicanism” possible?

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