by Nathalie Caron, Maître de conférence(associate professor) in American Civilization in the Department of English and American Studies at the Université de Paris 10-Nanterre
The American notion of “being secular” has no easy translation in the French language and context. Part of the difficulty stems from the ambivalence of the use of the term secular in the United States. Under the influence of politics and culture wars, the words “secular,” “secularist,” and “secularism” are undergoing a semantic shift that tends to narrow and polemicize their meanings. The situation has lately been exacerbated, possibly by the tragedy of 9/11, undoubtedly by the so-called “religion gap” that determined voting patterns in the 2004 elections, as well as by recent controversies over the nature of American identity in a changing social and political environment.