Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies; Anthropology, New York University (NYU)

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2008
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of Chicago
Signs of an Unmarked Faith: Cultural Practices of Discreet Catholicism in Paris

Processes of "de-Christianisation" have, for some time, been a taken-for-granted fact of modern French social life. In the context of this "disappearance," however, Catholic symbols remain an undeniable characteristic of Paris' cultural resources, including museums, monuments, markets, homes, streets, and skylines. This paradoxical image of a Catholicism that cannot be found but is everywhere felt forces the question: if the disappearance of Catholic practice in France is a foregone conclusion, how is it that Catholicism remains a significant dimension of social life? I believe Catholicism persists and is reinvented as a category of identification whose religiousness may be deemphasized within the social fabric of the Fifth Republic. I will rely on the native category of "discretion" as a frame through which to explore contemporary practices and experiences of Catholicism in Paris-the historical and contemporary site of production of France's Republican ideal. Against those who declare the success of de-Christianization, I argue that current trends may be more usefully understood as reflecting a reformulation of the Roman Catholic faith through practices that make this category into an unmarked component of a "Republican" or "French" identity. I will show how this reformulation and unmarking occur by identifying the spaces and times in which Parisians conjure Catholicism or make it disappear in two fields of practice. First, I will chart the marking of Catholic symbols in Paris' churches, museums, and homes as "cultural" as opposed to "religious," and explore how these processes produce "cultivated" forms or tastes. Second, I will attempt to clarify what a "discreet" religiosity looks like by observing how Catholicism is expressed within and outside of Paris' strictly Catholic spaces. Finally, I will show how the "unmarked" may be revealed by investigating what Catholicism means to those who are explicitly situated outside of its identity.