The question of ‘secularity’ (laïcité) has risen sharply up the French political agenda over the last twenty-five years. Ways in which it is defined and applied are hotly contested and lie at the nerve centre of wide debates about the nature of the Republic, French national identity and indeed of France's colonial past. According to an IFOP opinion poll in November 2015, 87 per cent of French people agreed that was important to respect laïcité at school, 84 per cent of respondents said that it was part of France's identity while 81 per cent thought that it was under threat in France. That said, they did not agree on what laïcité meant. For 32 per cent it meant separating religion from politics, for 27 per cent it meant ensuring liberty of conscience, while 17 per cent said it meant reducing the influence of religion in society. Historians, sociologists and political scientists as well as journalists and activists join battle on the question, and a selection of their recent contributions, from different angles and with different methodologies, are reviewed here.
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