Books pictureThe Institute of Religious Pluralism and Atheism (IPRA, Universities of Nantes and Le Mans) brings together over fifty French and international scholars, covering diverse fields of humanities and social sciences as well as information technologies. Its members and directors, Profs. Céline Borello and John Tolan, are renowned specialists in their disciplines on the topic of inter-religious relations. Many grants and awards reflect this scientific recognition: from the ANR (the French National Research Agency), local and regional grants, ERC Advanced Grant, Académie Française, Academia Europaea and other organizations; the expertise of its associate members—in France and internationally—its scientific excellence and its interdisciplinary positioning have guaranteed the IPRA a national and international notoriety.

Context and stakes of the project

Across Europe and beyond, the place of religion in society is a frequent subject of debate and polemics. In France, the political and legal model of secularization—"laïcité"— provokes polemics (always lively, often dogmatic and sometimes out of touch with the historical and legal truths). In France, the conceptions of laïcité (secularism) vary according to political orientation and confessional identity. When we look at the European and the global scenes, we can see that laïcité is only one model among many others. Other countries have forged different means of coping with religious diversity, in accordance with their distinct histories.
Although no model proves to be perfect, some are more prone than others to restrict freedom. Since the 1970s and 1980s, the question of the relation between religion and politics has become increasingly urgent because of the reaffirmation of religion in the public space and in particular on the political scene.
Globalization, in its various modes of circulation (people, material and immaterial goods) exacerbates this phenomenon. Some researchers have chosen to ignore religion, by reducing it to the expression of an identity and/or a social game of power doomed to disappear. Others, on the contrary, use it with a confessional agenda. Our working hypothesis is that religious arguments need to be taken seriously on their own right, and need to be socially and politically contextualized. Religion is not merely a cipher for other (economic or psychological) factors.  Nor is religion what many of its proponents claim it to be: an unchanging Truth floating free of historical and social context. We observe and study these phenomena with the tools of our disciplines and in a diachronic manner, from antiquity to the present, and with an international and comparative angle, seeking to understand religions as important expressions of specific cultural circumstances.

Goals and objectives

IPRA's ambition is to put our experience in the service of society and the policy makers. Our Think-Tank aims at conceiving practical tools for analyzing situations, for tackling problems arising within the four thematic strands: public space, work places, schools, and cyberspace. This Think-Tank on religions and atheism will be a place for high level research, training and civic dialog.

Thinking religious and convictionnal diversity in France and Europe
Understanding and managing the new spaces of secularism
  • the public space, the working space

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" (art. 9), the European Convention on Human Rights. The means to guarantee this freedom and to constraint the expression of religion in the public space differ from one State within the Union to another.

What is "religion" made of? Who represents authority? Prerogatives and specific regimes for their worshipers?  What are they? How are the relations between the worshipers of different religions and with other "citizens" articulated? Do they profit from public recognition?

State-Religon(s) relations: laïcité, secularism and other forms
  •  the school environment
The French école laïque is faced with new challenges: to teach laïcité as a "value of the Republic", to develop the teaching of religions, to find compromises between several conceptions of the common good and to encourage the understanding of otherness. Our works will fuel the reflections on the difficulties and solutions posed by these challenges.  Building on our international network of scholars on education, we will provide a forum for international cross-disciplinary and comparative study of the teaching about religion in schools.  We will look for creative ways to implicate teachers and students as actors of our collective brainstorm.
Secularism is a complex and multifaceted concept: an object of research, a topic that is often publicly debated, an essential element of what politically defines the idea of coexistence. How can we teach it and how can we put it into action in schools while taking all these dimensions into account?  We will collaborate with the UNESCO chair in technologies for the training of teachers by open educational resources at University of Nantes to conduct research in the creation of digital resources for teaching.
  •  the digital space
How is it possible to understand the role modern technologies play in the religious life of European citizens and their neighbors in the 21st century? To what extent should governments watch and control social networks in order to safeguard freedom of expression while at the same time preventing the dangers of radicalization? We will conduct and promote research on the place of religion on the internet and on how the internet becomes a vector for religious communication.  Have new communication tools permitted the emergence of new forms of religiosity?  Have they fostered the creation of new religious communities ?  How have these developments changed the game for educators and policy makers?

Expected results
  • A research center hosting scholars from across the world
  • A space for civic dialog, promoting peaceful and informed debate
  • A place where researchers and decision-makers from various countries, professional or religious backgrounds can meet
  • A centre producing and disseminating policy briefs and pedagogical resources
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