Department or Program


Title of Approved Individual Major


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Venita Datta


This thesis uses the secular school of nineteenth-century France to understand one of the “pillars” of French identity—la laïcité, or the separation of Church and state. Solidifying itself through anticlerical policy, the French state reified the notion of a Republic-Church opposition. The secularized school and its morale républicaine became instrumental in this process. An analysis of the textbooks which preached this morale républicaine, however, reveals the continuities between the latter and Christian principles. At the same time, an examination of the political debates surrounding school secularization suggests a reason for the obfuscation of such continuities. By unmasking these, I will introduce a more nuanced appreciation of la laïcité and the role of French anticlericalism in shaping conceptions of the Republic.