27th March – Prof Michael Kelly – Are French and English secularist traditions so far apart?

Those who watched the coronation of King Charles III in May 2023 would be forgiven for thinking that England is the very opposite of a secular country. But appearances can be deceptive. This talk will compare the British and French traditions of secularism and suggest that, like France, England is on its way to becoming a secular society, but without having adopted the French lay principle (laïcité).

The talk follows the American philosopher Charles Taylor in distinguishing three major elements in the secularisation of Western societies: the decline of religious belief, the concept of religion as a personal choice of the believer, and the separation of church and state.

With regard to the first two elements, France and England are quite similar.

But in the separation of church and state, there are different historical contexts, which Michael will explain, and very different constitutional arrangements. He will argue, however, that the differences are less stark in practice than in theory.

Brief Bio

Michael Kelly is Emeritus Professor of French at the University of Southampton. Born and raised in Hull, Yorkshire, he studied at the University of Warwick and taught briefly in Caen and Coventry. He lectured at University College Dublin before taking the Chair of French at Southampton, where he worked for 30 years. He is a specialist in French cultural history, particularly focusing on ideas and cultural practices. He has also worked widely on language policy, especially on language education and on the relationship between languages and conflict. He has been a strong advocate for the study of other languages and cultures in the UK and in Europe. He was awarded an OBE in 2014 for services to higher education and European cooperation.

Standard Stuff

Talks are usually on the 4th Wednesday of every month,  at 7:00 for 7:30, at The Winchester Club in Winchester.  Please take a look at the FAQs for more info.

Admission is £5 which also gives you an entry in the book raffle. We take cash and major cards (cards preferred).

The event is in two parts – the talk and then a Q&A after the interval. We encourage you to support the venue by indulging in the available drinks before and during the event.

You are also welcome to join us for a drink in the bar after the event.