Claire Adida on Discrimination Towards Muslims in France
Date: January 3rd, 2016

France has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe and issues of how this population has integrated into French national life has been a major topic in political debate.  Prof. Claire Adida, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California – San Diego, discusses a large research project she conducted with David Laitin (Stanford) and Marie-Anne Valfort (Paris School of Economics).  This project, published recently in the book Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies (see below), examines the extent of labor force discrimination towards Muslims on religious (as opposed to racial or ethnic) grounds, and why such discrimination tends to be self-reinforcing.

Claire first talks about her general research agenda that looks at conflict and cooperation among different ethnic groups in Africa and how she came to be included in a research team examining Muslims in France.  Prof. Adida provides us with a general overview of her study noting how the research team sought to sort out religious discrimination from other potential points of conflict, such as race or ethnicity.  The presence of a Senegalese population that had both Muslim and Christian members, and which entered the country in roughly the same era, provided a unique opportunity to undertake a series of comparative experiments to gain explanatory leverage on this topic.  Claire further lays out the religious demography of France noting how immigration from North Africa in the post-WWII era started to reshape the religious and ethnic landscape.

We spend significant portions of our conversation detailing the research methodology.  While this may appear to be a mundane detail, how social scientists explore their topics can have an  impact on what they find, thus the conversation is both worthwhile and enlightening.  To determine whether labor force discrimination existed in France on a religious dimension, Prof. Adida and her collaborators sent vitas (résumés) to employers that were identical in all respects except for “religious markers,” which included Muslim or Christian sounding names and notations about volunteering for specific religious (or secular) organizations.  Later, we also talk about a series of behavioral economics games (e.g., trust game, dictator game) that the team played with test subjects to discern different types of discrimination.  All of this made use of the Senegalese population as a “natural” means of introducing controls into study (and we cover various limitations and methodological solutions in the research design).

Prof. Adida points out several important findings from this study at various points in our discussion.  First, the research team was able to determine that labor-force (hiring) discrimination did exist in France and that it was significant on the dimension of religion.  Muslim Senegalese women were much less likely to get interview calls than either a Christian Senegalese woman or one with a secular portfolio.  Second, they explore the presence of two types of discrimination — “rational” and “non-rational” Islamophobia.  Contrary to what the name may sound like, “rational Islamophobia” does not seek to morally validate discrimination, but rather is defined as discrimination based upon some collected information on the part of an individual.  For instance, learning that Muslims may need to pray several times a day, an employer may not want to hire such an individual because they believe it would interrupt the work environment.  It may also be that more conservative attitudes towards women that are held by Muslim may interfere with the goals of greater gender equity in the workplace.   “Non-rational” Islamophobia, on the other hand, refers to emotional preferences (or “tastes”) that do not necessarily have a basis in information gathering.  The research team discovers both types of discrimination are at play in France.  We further explore the reasons for such discrimination and Prof. Adida introduces the concept of a “discriminatory equilibrium.”  Given France’s history of secularism (laicite), native French will find it difficult to relate to immigrants who are more religious, have more socially conservative views, and who engage in religious practices that are publicly visible (e.g., wearing the hijab).  Moreover, innate “non-rational Islamophobia” also pushes non-Muslim French citizens from wanting to interact with immigrants.  This, in turn, provides little incentive for Muslims to seek ways to assimilate (or integrate) into secular French society, which results in this “equilibrium.”  Claire discusses a few policy proposals that she and her co-authors have devised, along with what she learned throughout the process of the study.  Recorded: December 21, 2015.



Claire Adida’s bio at UCSD and Adida website.

Why Muslim Integration Fails in Christian-Heritage Societies, by Claire Adida, David Laitin, and Marie-Anne Valfort.

Immigrant Exclusion and Insecurity in Africa, by Claire Adida.

Nations, States, and Violence, by David Laitin (co-author and research with Claire Adida).

Identity in Formation, by David Laitin.

Hegemony and Culture, by David Laitin.


Ahmet Kuru on Islam in Europe.

One Response to “Claire Adida on Discrimination Towards Muslims in France”

  1. Ak Mike says:

    I was enormously impressed by the thoroughness and intelligence with which Prof. Adida and her colleagues investigated the French attitude toward Muslims – however, I was also quite surprised at her counter-intuitive conclusion that the only reaction possible for the Muslims was to withdraw from society and become more insular.

    The American immigrant experience is the reverse of this – widespread and deep discrimination against immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century led those immigrants to work hard to assimilate and become part of the wider society, which they achieved within a few decades.

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