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At a lecture in Morrill hall Thursday, Prof. Ian Coller explains how French religious minority groups struggled to gain rights in the 18th century.

October 1, 2016

Prof Examines Rights of Religious Minority Groups in French Revolution

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Radical liberalism, the execution of King Louis XVI and the Reign of Terror were not the only factors shaping the French Revolution of 1789, according to Prof. Ian Coller, history, University of California, Irvine.

In a lecture in Morrill Hall on Thursday, Coller shared his research on the role that Islam played in the history of the infamous revolution.

He explained that, in the centuries preceding the revolution of 1789, France was immersed in a political conflict between its two predominant religious groups — the Catholics, who comprised the majority of the country, and the Protestant Huguenots, a minority group.

“The great issue here clearly was the … history of the great religious wars between Catholics and Protestants,” he said.

By 1787, tensions between the two groups had grown less hostile than they had been in previous centuries, but the Huguenots still believed their rights were undermined by France’s existing laws, according to Coller.

“[Protestant] marriages are not recognized, and neither are inheritance rights, which creates a madness when wealthy Protestants die,” he said. “In 1787, there’s a significant movement to regularize this right across France.”

This movement resulted in the Edict of Tolerance — a law Coller said was named “very inaccurately” — which aimed to equalize marriage rights for Catholics and France’s minority religious populations, Muslims included.

“It was very explicitly aimed at all of those who do not profess the Catholic faith … including Muslims, in order to try to universalize [the idea that] everyone can practice their religion,” Coller said.

However, the edict was “just an administrative technique to integrate [these groups] into the nation” — while Muslims were protected under the new law, Jews were not, according to Coller.

“There’s this whole process of politicization going on around Jews at this time,” he said. “Jews, although they’re mentioned, are not the minority that is going to be ‘used’ to try to universalize this question.”

He added that non-Catholics — still with the exception of Jews — were not actually allowed the same rights as other French citizens until another law passed two years later.

Concluding his lecture, Coller stressed his belief that Islam can be used as a lens through which to study France’s treatment of minorities in recent history.

“Islam is one of these lines [of history] that deserves to be traced, and does reveal other kinds of questions that have largely been neglected in the study of the French Revolution up to this time,” he said.