Toleration and laïcité
in The culture of toleration in diverse societies

This chapter suggests that laïcité is a confusing concept because it is internally complex, and appeals to values and concerns that tend to be kept separate in Anglo-American liberal political theory. It identifies three main strands of laïcité: neutrality (laïcité A), autonomy (laïcité B), and community (laïcité C). The chapter attempts to situate each of them in the historical context of its emergence, and to offer an analytical elucidation of its relevance to the issues raised by the headscarves affair and to wider debates about toleration. It suggests that the wearing of headscarves in schools was problematic in France because it questioned the normative relevance of all three interpretations of laïcité at the same time. The chapter also focuses on questions about the coherence of the concept, and points towards an alternative conceptualisation of laïcité that would do justice to the republican language in which it is embedded.

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