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May 6


2:00 PM–3:15 PM


French Culture Wars? The Political and Intellectual Stakes of the Polemic on “Islamo-leftism”

2:00 PM–3:15 PM    A live virtual transatlantic event

Panel Discussion:

French Culture Wars? The Political and Intellectual Stakes of the Polemic on “Islamo-leftism”

Eric Fassin and Maboula Soumahoro in a conversation moderated by Emmanuelle Saada

To watch (again), please click here.

In recent months, French President Macron and members of his government as well as several groups of intellectuals and academics have sounded an alarm about the influence of supposed “Islamo-gauchisme” within French universities — a highly controversial term used to accuse left-leaning intellectuals of justifying Islamism and even terrorism. Most recently, the French Minister of Higher Education Frédérique Vidal said that “islamo-leftism” is a “gangrene” on French academia, and announced that she would task the National Center for Scientific Research with an investigation into “the totality of research underway in our country” to identify academic research that feeds “Islamo-leftist” ideas. The majority of French scholars and university presidents and research institutions denounced Vidal’s announced investigation and called for her resignation.

In a turn surprising to an American audience, these attacks on an imagined “islamo-leftism” are often paired with a denunciation of post-colonial and decolonial studies, gender and sexuality studies, intersectionality, and studies of race and racism, deemed by critics to be political or ideological rather than scientific, and often maligned as an American import. The amalgam made of these various fields of study and “islamo-leftism” is highly politicized: taken together, they are portrayed as a threat to the quality of intellectual debate in France and to French republican values.

Invited panelists in this conversation will provide some political and academic context and offer definitions of the terms and arguments deployed in these attacks.  What is really at stake here?  How can these arguments be understood in today’s French political landscape?  What do they reveal about the deeper transformations underway in the social sciences in France?  How are they related to the fast-paced transformation of the role and organization of the University in French society? Why are post-colonial studies, race and gender studies, and “intersectionality” seen as “American imports” threatening the French “republican” model?  

In addition to providing context, the panelists will discuss how the current polemic might be pointing to larger debates about what constitutes proper objects of intellectual inquiry, the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity, and the articulation between “science” and “politics.” 

Eric Fassin is Professor of Sociology at the University of Paris 8 St-Denis. Fassin's research focuses on contemporary sexual and racial politics in France and the U.S. and their intersections in a comparative perspective.  His books include L'inversion de la question homosexuelle (2005), Le sexe politique: Genre et sexualité au miroir transatlantique (2009), and De la question sociale à la question raciale ? (From the Social Question to the Racial Question?). 

Maboula Soumahoro is an Associate Professor in the English Department of the University of Tours, France. Her research interests include U.S. Studies, African American Studies, Africana Studies (Atlantic), Black European Studies, and Black Nationalism and Religion. Dr. Soumahoro has also served as a member of the National Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery. She is the author of Le Triangle et l’Hexagone, réflexions sur une identité noire (Black is the Journey, Africana the Name, La Découverte, forthcoming 2020).

Emmanuelle Saada is Professor of French and History at Columbia.

This event is co-sponsored by the Maison Française, the Alliance Program, the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, and the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center of the Humanities.

French Culture Wars? The Political and Intellectual Stakes of the Polemic on “Islamo-leftism”