The Headscarf

The French State as Mediator Between Civil Society and Individuals

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author:
Elisa Wiygul

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This article examines the meaning of the French headscarf ban in the light of France's state-sponsored religious councils. These councils belie the view that France simply has a stricter separation of Church and State than the United States. Rather, France reconfigures the traditional conception of civil society as mediating between the individual and the state. The French state conceives of itself as the representative of the people and, as such, inter-mediates between religious institutions and individuals. This intervention achieves two distinct but complementary goals. First, the state endeavors to save individuals from private religious forces in order to promote individual autonomy. Second, the state's intervention into institutional religious matters bureaucratizes, centralizes, and domesticates religious institutions, making them more comprehensible and less threatening. Both the headscarf ban and the religious councils stem from the state's goal of serving as a buffer between its individual citizens and religious institutions.

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