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Why the French Don't Like Headscarves:
Islam, the State, and Public Space
John R. Bowen

Book Description | Table of Contents
Chapter 1 [HTML] or [PDF format]

ADDITIONAL REVIEWS:

"Bowen gives a very good account of the national controversy. Bowen interviewed a number of the actors, on both sides, from the top levels of government down to some expelled girls, and produces a well-balanced account.... Well worth reading."--Jean-Paul Poirier, European Review

"Thoughtful and refreshing. . . . Even though the book focuses on France, issues about identity, religion in schools and the best way of achieving integration are highly relevant to many Western societies. Why the French Don't Like Headscarves is a timely publication that should increase understanding of such controversial subjects."--Clarissa Woodberry, Culture Wars

"Bowen . . . provides a good discussion of France's historical traditions."--Philip H. Gordon, Foreign Affairs

"American anthropologist John Bowen . . . explains why headscarves on young French girls sparked an international debate on the nature of secular society and the role of religious observance in contemporary European society."--Kathy English, Globe and Mail

"Bowen's sharp analysis flicks between the debate's twin poles: are girls wearing scarves to be treated as individuals or as 'future citizens of France'?"--Tony Maniaty, Australian

"Bowen has written an excellent study on French political culture. He should now add a similar study on the political culture of Muslims in Europe in general."--Hendrik Hansen, International Review of Modern Sociology

"Bowen's study is restricted to an account of a debate in France but it has the potential to inform similar questions around other issues of dealing with cultural differences. The research employs a creative methodology to deal with an informed and self-conscious public sphere. The book should become mandatory reading for students of social sciences as well as policy makers."--Mohammad Talib, Journal of Islamic Studies

"This book is a sensitive narrative analysis of events leading up to the banning of headscarves in public schools. Bowen never judges, he only narrates. He does not come to any conclusions about the outcome of the law, but aims at an increased understanding of the problems of diversity, integration and fragmentation facing the French. This work is important for the understanding of France today, but it is also relevant to all Western societies."--Wilhelm Pretorius, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

"Bowen lets his discerning narrative voice take readers on a journey through contemporary France, shaking the very foundation of this society. This is important. The idea of the enlightened and secular European, needed to discipline the religious despot from the south, is far from limited to France."--Per-Erik Nilsson, Temenos

"One of the fascinating aspects of Bowen's book is the way in which he assembled his information and documentation about the 2004 law. . . . The vast number of cases which he culled in researching his book is both admirable for its depth and for the way in which intra-Muslim passions were ignited in the debate over headscarves."--Arnold Ages, Chicago Jewish Star

"Bowen wrote a marvellous book which illustrates that 'affairs' concerning Muslims and non-Muslims cannot be explained in terms of a general incompatibility of Islam and the West, but call for detailed analysis of local civic cultures, as well as a contextualized understanding of specific domestic and foreign factors contributing to societal tensions."--Marjo Buitelaar, Social Athropology

"Why the French Don't Like Headscarves is a fascinating synthesis of the elements that make up modern France, and as Bowen demonstrates, the debate is much more than a discussion or apprehensions about the rise of (radical) Islam in the postcolonial era; rather, the debate over les voilées is representative of the increasing fragmentation of French society, highlighting issues that are much more grave than a simple scarf."--Alexandra Jerome, Journal of Middle East Women's Studies

"[T]his book presents an accessible analysis of public discourse in France. For geographers, the book provides an excellent example of the ways that different social actors idealize and actively construct public space, and that certain bodies and bodily practices--in this case, Muslim schoolgirls and their headscarves--become the focal point of struggles to define the nature of public space. . . . [H]is analysis clearly contributes to a conceptualization of public space as ambiguous and contested, and it invites us to view conflicts over belonging and social membership through a spatial lens."--Caroline R. Nagel, Cultural Geographies

"John R. Bowen's work as presented here poses many significant questions and gives valuable suggestions for further research projects in this area."--Safiye Yildiz, H-Net Reviews

"I would like to strongly recommend Bowen's book because through the lenses of one specific issue, readers can learn a lot about the history of laïcité, the colonial legacy of France in countries such as Morocco and Algeria, the constitution of the French Muslim community, the interplay between French institutions, and that between different interest groups within and outside France."--Elena Vesselinov, Women's Studies Quarterly

"[T]he longer-duree history of France's ambiguous relationship with Islam (and headscarves) merits fuller integration into this debate. Bowen's book points usefully in this direction. While remaining grounded in the more recent history of the republic, to which he brings fresh perspective and illuminating analysis."--Mary Dewhurst Lewis, French Politics, Culture & Society

ADDITIONAL ENDORSEMENTS:

"This book casts a great deal of light on the events leading up to the French law banning Muslim headscarves in schools. Bowen takes us through the strange and often distorted debate that culminated in the decision to pass a new law. He shows the roots of this decision in French history and politics, with a marvelous eye for nuance and a sensitivity to the many positions which clashed in the debate. The result is a work that not only is tremendously important for an understanding of France today, but that also has relevance for similar debates that are now in train in many other Western societies."--Charles Taylor, Northwestern University

"This book, ostensibly an account of the French debates on Muslim headscarves in public schools, is a thoughtful and deep probe into French political culture, the legacy of colonialism, and the difficulty for a state that refuses to recognize communal differences in the public sphere to accommodate millions of Muslim immigrants. It is a timely, learned, and provocative work."--Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard University

"France's decision to ban religious signs in public schools was quite puzzling, if not downright crazy, to many outsiders. In Why the French Don't Like Headscarves, John Bowen manages to make sense of the apparent madness by carefully tracing the disparate threads of the issue, in particular by replacing the debate within the specific French context of the long, complicated relationship between Church and State. This book should be read by all those who seek a fair and comprehensive analysis of the headscarves decision and of the broader question of the place of Muslims in contemporary French society."--Sophie Meunier, Princeton University, author of The French Challenge: Adapting to Globalization

"This extremely important book brings us a fresh and innovative analysis of its subject. What is new is that it is not by a French scholar--who would be immersed in the heated passions of the issue--but by an American anthropologist who decodes for us the chronology and the political and philosophical foundations of this particular debate."--Malika Zeghal, University of Chicago Divinity School, author of Les islamistes marocains

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File created: 7/29/2014

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