An anthropology of religious polemics: The case of blasphemy affairs (The 2015 Eugène Fleischmann Lecture, Société d'Ethnologie)

Jeanne Favret-Saada


In this lecture, I offer historical and ethnographic perspectives on affairs of blasphemy. My work, which is grounded in a detailed study of polemics sparked in Europe by accusations of blasphemy since the 1960s, suggests that this era witnessed contrasted attitudes regarding the cohabitation of the political and the religious aspects of public life. While Christians invested in accusations of blasphemy resolutely eat away the wall of separation between the political and the religious, even resorting to political tools to voice their religious indignation, Muslims involved in the development of public controversies associated to blasphemy have, since the Salman Rushdie affair, tended to globalize affairs of blasphemy towards audiences that do not defend the separation between politics and religion as a principle. Such polemics have mobilized actors invested in the defense of Islam from Islamic states that condemn blasphemous cultural productions with a previously unseen violence. I study this violence instilled in religious polemics in detail by retracing, in this article, the origins of a controversy sparked by the caricatures of Mahomet published in the Jyllands-Posten in 2005.


blasphemy, freedom of expression, public polemics, Christianity, Islam, press cartoons, performativity of images

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.1.003