John Porter Award Lecture: Dr. Emily Laxer

Conference Highlights, Keynote Speakers

Secularism and the Religious Signs Debate in France and Québec: A Politics-Centered Approach

Dr. Laxer received the 2020 John Porter Tradition of Excellence Book Award for her book, Unveiling the Nation: The Politics of Secularism in France and Quebec (McGill-Queens University Press, 2019)

The  book uses a comparative lens to examine how party-political conflict shapes state responses to religious diversity in France and Québec. Both societies have seen the proliferation of highly-mediatized campaigns to restrict the wearing of (mainly Islamic) religious signs in public spaces and institutions. Yet, as Laxer shows, the resulting debates have unfolded differently, with politicians in France proclaiming a “consensus” over restrictive legislation, while secular laws remain subject to deep partisan divides in Québec. Using historical evidence and interviews with key political actors, the book traces the impact of national political contexts and processes in producing these disparate outcomes. Laxer concludes by urging future scholars to consider how the mechanics of partisan conflict inform political actors’ constructions of the secular state.

How do states decide whether and how to restrict minority religious signs within their territories?  For many, the answer lies in countries’ differing discourses of nationhood and secularism.  This lecture proposes an alternative account, underscoring how populism, and party competition more broadly, influence the terms of belonging in immigration societies.

Tags: Migration and Immigration, Politics and Social Movements, Religion