English version

            From the 1979 Iranian Revolution to the recent Paris attacks, news coverage of religion has been increasing.  This colloquium will open for discussion the processes and issues at stake related to the mediatization of religion in a French society that largely considers itself to be secular.

            Key terms need to be clarified.  The media sets all the technical procedures and organisations assuring information transmission to a wide audience.  This colloquium will focus on the mainstream news media: newspapers, magazines, radio and TV news programs, both in their conventional and digital forms.  It aims to be an opportunity to analyse pressures that journalists face[1]: increased pace, competition among traditional media on the one side and with social media on the other side. The concept of “religious fact” originated from the study of the religious sciences in the context of Third French Republic’s secularisation of knowledge. The expression “religious fact” entered the scientific field since the nineties, after the publication of an edited volume by that title from Jean Delumeau, and then Debray’s report “Teaching religious facts in secular school system”. It conveys a scientific approach to the study of religions, consisting in a historical and social fact and counters a representation of religions that relates solely to a private belief.  The decision to use the plural in the expression reflects the willingness to avoid any essentialisation of religions and to favour transdisciplinarity[2].

            The expression “religious facts” can also be found in journalism. For instance, it is used by Stéphanie le Bars, a specialist of issues related to religions and secularisation in the French newspaper Le Monde, who managed the blog “Digne de foi. Eclairage sur le fait religieux et la laïcité” (Faithworthy. Shedding light on religious fact and laïcité), from 2007 to 2014; and also by the news website “fait-religieux.com”, founded in 2012 by Sophie Gherardi, Jean-Luc Pouthier and Hanène Sassi, the site’s mottos is “one acts s better when well-informed”.

            In 2000, Pierre Bréchon and Jean-Paul Willaime published Médias et religions en miroir (Media and religions in reflection) to encourage confrontation and comparison between the works of sociologists on religions and on media.  It classifies news on religious facts under two broad headings. The first one is related to highly timely debates; religious facts become media events, because of the conflicts they bring about: violent tensions, wars, terrorism, etc., but also confrontations between social evolutions and religious traditions: euthanasia, medically assisted procreation, etc.  The second heading focuses on attractive and anecdotal news, likely to arouse people’s interest.  They process information about charismatic personalities – Popes John Paul II and Francis perfectly fit this narrative – or are linked to events presented in terms of scandal or exoticism – cults, cases of paedophilia, monastic life, miraculous healings, etc.  Those two particular ways of covering religious information do not preclude both a thorough and relevant analysis of religious facts.

            This colloquium intends to continue the process initiated by these two researchers, adding to a relatively sparse body of scientific literature. It aims to encourage reflection about the mechanisms of information production on religious facts. It also invites participants to consider how this media coverage reflects the representations of religious facts and their evolutions in French society.

[1] “One of our colleagues opportunely reminds us these words of Camus: “they want to inform quickly instead of informing well, and truth does not win out in the process.” (Thomas Ferenczi, ombudsman of Le Monde, “Informer vite ou informer bien”, Le Monde, 22nd of March 1998).

[2] At the end of the 19th century, Émile Durkheim defined religion as a “social fact”. In 1993, Jean Delumeau edited a book, entitled Le Fait Religieux (Fayard, Paris, 1993). The Debray’s report (2002) was in line with a dynamic launched by Philippe Joutard thirteen years before. Since 1989, this historian of Protestantism and schools inspector from 1989 to 1997, has proposed to give a wider interest in religions within history, geography and literature lessons. The European Institute of Religious Sciences, founded in 2005 after the Debray’s report, voluntarily uses the terms « religious facts » in the plural.