Courses available in French


La poétique de la durée s'efforce d'apaiser l'hier fiévreux, de tramer ce lointain devenir.


French 171A: A Concept in French Cultural History — Religious Fanaticism, Toleration, and “Laicity” in France from Wars of Religion to Terrorist Attacks.


Agrippa d’Aubigné, Les Tragiques (book 1: “Les Misères”), Patrice Chéreau, La Reine Margot (1994) ; Voltaire, Traité sur la Tolérance ; Denis Crouzet and Jean Marie Le Gall, Au péril des guerres de religion (Paris, PUF, 2015) ; Jean Baubérot, Les sept laïcités françaises: le modèle français de laïcité n’existe pas (Paris, éd. de la MSF, 2015) ; Raphaël Liogier, Le Mythe de l’islamisation: essai sur une obsession collective (Paris, Le Seuil, 2012 and 2016) ;  as well as excerpts from Gilles Kepel, Terreur dans l’Hexagone: génèse du djihad français (Paris, Gallimard, 2015) and La Laïcité contre la fracture (Paris, Privat, 2017).

Course Description:

When, in the course of 2015, Islamist terrorist attacks hit Paris twice, the French immediately contextualized what was happening to them within a centuries-long history. Historians, soon echoed by the media, started asking whether the country was experiencing a return to the wars of religion that had plagued France in the second half of the 16th century. Voltaire’s Traité sur la Tolérance  (1763), which critiques religious fanaticism and advocates for the tolerance of Protestantism, was suddenly propelled to the top of the nation’s best-seller lists.

This course investigates the cultural lens through which the French tried to make sense of the terrorist attacks of 2015-2016 by engaging in the historical exploration of three tightly intertwined concepts in French history: religious fanaticism, toleration, and laicity. To do so, the class focuses on five formative historical moments in French culture: 1) the wars of religion (and in particular the massacre of the Saint-Barthélemy, in 1572), 2) the Edict of Nantes (1598) and its Revocation (1685), 3) the Enlightenment’s embracing of religious toleration (centered on a study of Voltaire’s position), 4) the French Revolution (which gave birth both to Terror and to laicity) and 5) the separation of Church and State (1905).

We will read literary works, see films and study current essays. We will read also journalistic articles, view public television shows (one on l’affaire Calas and the other on the separation of Church and State) and listen to radio programs. The two main goals of the course are 1) to investigate France’s complex historical relationship to religion over four centuries, and 2) to examine whether this relationship can in any way explain why the country recently became a central ideological target for Islamic terrorism.


French 102 or consent of instructor.

Additional information:

This course satisfies one “Culture” or one “Elective” requirement in the French major. Course also satisfies one Historical Period Requirement in French Major. Satisfies one course requirement in French minor.

Satisfies College of Letters and Science breadth in Social and Behavioral Sciences or Historical Studies or International Studies.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes