Pluralism of gate identities or pluralism of competing identities?

A contemporary French debate examined through the example of Protestantism

Linked with Sebastien Fath – France.

Published on Art & Sciences, Washington Univ. in St. Louis, by Sebastien Fath, GSRL (EPHE/CNRS), a 9 pages workshop paper, not dated – in Doc, or in pdf.

It is no secret that contemporary France has a hard time adaptating to change. The recent uproar around the CPE (Contrat Première Embauche, First Job Contract) in March and April 2006 is neither the first, nor the last sign of this conservative attitude. The activism by young people to the proposed legislation suggests a high level of anxiety among the younger generation regarding the impact of globalization on their lives. This anxiety is widely shared by the older generation, which fights with determination for the « social gains » (acquis sociaux). What is true at the Economic level is also true in cultural terms. Today’s French culture emphasizes its heritage as strongly as ever. We could even say that heritage has never been as popular as today. Change, conversion, are more ambivalent, even though chosen identities are more and more common and even sometimes promoted. This has a direct impact on the definition of pluralism. Does it seem that pluralism of ‘gate identities’ tends to be more positive than pluralism of competing identities ? The French religious scene is a good example of this contrast between identities by heritage and identities by conversion. The protestant case is particularly interesting, as it suggests a harsh contrast between a very rooted tradition, the Hugenot identity and a new evangelical wave …

… Conclusion: The way France perceives today the Evangelical phenomenon reveals a broader issue: a French difficulty to open up to a globalized pluralism of competing identities. Contrarily to the perceived stability of ‘traditional’ Huguenots, Evangelicals indeed cultivate a very competitive tradition, striving to gain new converts. Through their networks, involvement in social questions and militant religious products, French Evangelicals shed light on the important recomposition dynamics of pluralism in a “transition society” (Cook and Davie 1999). This restructuring takes place on a voluntary mode, based on association with a degree of competitive spirit in which militant networks win out over institutions. This restructuring is not only something internal to Protestantism (Willaime 2001). It happens elsewhere, revealing that if the French are so fond of a stable pluralism of rooted identities, it is NOT because this model is still prevailing. On the contrary, it might be a sign of nostalgia towards a vanishing model, slowly surpassed by a new competitive type of pluralism. (full text … in doc, or in pdf).

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