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Can Islam Be French?
Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State
John R. Bowen

Paperback | 2011 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691152493
248 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 7 halftones.
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Can Islam Be French? is an anthropological examination of how Muslims are responding to the conditions of life in France. Following up on his book Why the French Don't Like Headscarves, John Bowen turns his attention away from the perspectives of French non-Muslims to focus on those of the country's Muslims themselves. Bowen asks not the usual question--how well are Muslims integrating in France?--but, rather, how do French Muslims think about Islam? In particular, Bowen examines how French Muslims are fashioning new Islamic institutions and developing new ways of reasoning and teaching. He looks at some of the quite distinct ways in which mosques have connected with broader social and political forces, how Islamic educational entrepreneurs have fashioned niches for new forms of schooling, and how major Islamic public actors have set out a specifically French approach to religious norms. All of these efforts have provoked sharp responses in France and from overseas centers of Islamic scholarship, so Bowen also looks closely at debates over how--and how far--Muslims should adapt their religious traditions to these new social conditions. He argues that the particular ways in which Muslims have settled in France, and in which France governs religions, have created incentives for Muslims to develop new, pragmatic ways of thinking about religious issues in French society.


"Mr. Bowen's latest book has a broader and more ambitious canvas. As a good anthropologist, he wants to know not just what the politicians and the media are saying about Islam in France, but what is actually happening on the ground. . . . Mr. Bowen thinks that Muslim values and French secularism could be compatible. But accommodation requires give-and-take on both sides. . . . Can Islam be French? After reading this book, one is inclined to say, 'Yes, but not yet.'"--Economist

"[A] major contribution to understanding the real world of Islam in France. . . . An insightful and informative study."--Choice

"The book is richly documented, explicitly supportive of the Muslim point of view and deeply sympathetic to them."--Vaidehi Nathan, Organiser

"Bowen's study of Islam [in] a lesser-known social context is very welcome."--Jack David Eller, American Anthropology Review

"The great merit of this book is not only that it empirically answers the question it asks, but in doing so, it opens up a series of questions pertaining to the place of Islam in France and the complex and different relations between citizenship and French religions in a postcolonial society."--Abdelmajid Hannoum, Contemporary Sociology

"[Bowen] makes an important contribution to both the anthropology of France and the anthropology of Islam in the West through his detailed discussion of different Islamic schools of religious interpretation and traditions of jurisprudence. By examining the myriad debates that define a global Islamic space, Bowen challenges stereotypes about the monolithic religion that prevail in the media and across the political spectrum. . . . Bowen does a remarkable job of sifting through and making sense of a vast array of approaches to Islamic norms and of differentiating meaningfully among different Islamic schools."--Susan Terrio, Anthropological Quarterly

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This book has been translated into:

  • French

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