“The Orthodox Church in France facing French secularism (‘laïcité’)” in Religion, State & Society

Abstract

Over the past decade, religious issues in France have come to the fore in the public debate. The 1905 law on the separation of church and state structures the concept of ‘laïcité’ as a configuration for the treatment of religions in France. This political and media debate has highlighted the representative institutions of mainstream religions in France, including the Orthodox Church. Obliged to take a position, both collectively with other religious actors and individually, Orthodoxy in France seems to be only marginally affected by this controversy. However, through press releases, memos, articles in the national press and online resources, the Orthodox Church has appropriated the issue of ‘laïcité à la française’. Behind these different messages lie the issues of the place of Orthodoxy in the French religious landscape and the (suspected) resistance of Orthodoxy against secularising forces in the minority context of the diaspora in Western Europe. Orthodoxy in France constitutes a key element of identity for the national Orthodox communities of the diaspora. Laïcité shapes and to a large extent justifies the anticanonical compromise of the ecclesiological treatment of the Orthodox communities in the diaspora, which are grouped by ethnicity. In this context, I assess how the legal and societal contexts of laïcité influence the main configurations of Orthodoxy in France, in terms of relations with the public authorities, relations with other religions and confessions, and the inter-Orthodox situation.

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