Secularism.  Marine Quenin: “Let’s dare to talk about religious facts to children”

Secularism. Marine Quenin: “Let’s dare to talk about religious facts to children”

Were your daughter’s remarks the trigger?

Yes, based on the observation of this lack of knowledge, I went to look in the school programs: the teaching of religious facts does indeed appear there. In theory. Because in practice, teachers do not always provide it, far from it. Either out of opposition of principle, or out of concern about venturing into these subjects with which they do not feel sufficiently equipped. Or, finally, because they don’t know how to go about it while respecting secularism.

What activities are offered to children?

Everything involves fun activities. We draw inspiration from already existing games to apply them to religious themes. It can be a Taboo, a true-false questionnaire… The fundamental principle is to teach children to distinguish what is knowledge from what is belief. Without trying to prioritize them. “Believing” can have a lot of value in the eyes of a person, but it is neither demonstrable nor shareable by everyone. We also teach them to establish a form of distance from their own convictions. We insist on the pluralism of beliefs, on the internal diversity of each faith – often the most difficult to explain -, but also on the fact that religions are not fixed in time. Some of them evolve, subdivide, die. And children can understand all this through play.

For your training and educational tools, you primarily address school teachers. Why ?

Indeed, we are redoubling our efforts with regard to CM1 and CM2 teachers, levels that are particularly neglected on this subject. From the age of 9, children have the ability to conceptualize. We rely on that. This allows us to go very far in reflection. From these foundations, it is possible to build very beautiful things at college. Our main gateway is moral and civic education (EMC), provided from primary school to high school since 2013. We include our fun learning in the twelve hours reserved for it over a term. The teacher does not put himself in the position of the knower who transmits his knowledge in a downward manner. Rather, he helps his students to ask questions and express their opinions. Outside the framework of the EMC, religious facts are studied in different disciplines: history, French, sciences, etc. There is no dedicated subject.

But you don’t just train teachers…

No, actually. After having led workshops ourselves with children, each year we also train facilitators, sports educators, teacher trainers, etc. We speak to Bafa* trainers and educational referents in football. In all, 1,500 to 2,000 people benefit from our action.

* Certificate of aptitude for facilitator functions.

Has the wave of attacks in 2015-2016 changed your practice?

Above all, the way institutions view us has evolved. Before 2015, we struggled a lot to find places that accepted us as an association whose members are neither teachers nor religious specialists, but who lead workshops on this theme, with children. After the attacks of January 2015, public authorities sought, beyond the security response, how to work on prevention, teaching about secularism and religious facts in particular. And we were the only ones, at least in this age group. Shortly after, we received approval from the Ministry of National Education, which allowed us to facilitate contacts with schools.

Until then, was your association viewed with suspicion?

Yes, you are always accused of bias when you are interested in religion, of having a hidden agenda. You are suspected of being either an Islamo-leftist, a crypto-Catholic, or a convinced atheist who wants to harm religions… The whole challenge is to reassure teachers, politicians, public organizations. And for that, you have to explain, again and again.

Does ignorance of religious facts contribute in part to social tensions in our country?

Yes, and this lack of culture has the effect of making the world around us incomprehensible. This applies first and foremost to children. Why are we on vacation at Christmas or Easter? Why doesn’t my classmate eat pork in the canteen? Our association is a school of tolerance towards those who do not have the same beliefs as us. This requires an effort, given the anxiety-provoking climate that politicians and the media often maintain on these subjects.

Wearing religious symbols, freedom of expression… These themes are eruptive. You’re dancing on a volcano, right?

I would rather say that we are advancing on a mountain ridge, pulled by opposing forces. Sometimes it turns out to be quite acrobatic. We say it and repeat: the wearing of the veil, the place of Catholicism are not our issues. Our effort focuses on the best way to support children so that they can think for themselves, in a peaceful way. The relationship to religions in France is particularly epidermal. This is linked to our long history since at least the Wars of Religion in the 16th century. Furthermore, secularism as defined by the law of 1905 is unique. The word itself is untranslatable. We are one of the countries with the highest number of non-believers in the world.

Has this commitment changed your relationship with religions?

Before launching Enquête, I was quite anti-clerical, anti-religious even. I’m not anymore. I became aware of the internal diversity within each faith. I consider myself an agnostic: I am incapable of commenting on the existence of God. In any case, those who, heirs of a certain positivism, thought that the natural slope of History was the extinction of religions are at their expense. They are not about to disappear!

His bio

1974: Born in Saint-Denis de la Réunion.

1996: Graduated from Sciences Po Paris.

1999-2000: Travel around the world, notably to the Philippines where she works in a children’s dispensary run by the Missionaries of Charity (congregation of Mother Teresa).

2000: Joined Samu social international, as mission manager, then director.

2008: Joined the Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Chair at Essec to become responsible for Antropia, its social incubator.

2010: Creates the Enquête association.

2017: Becomes a member of Ashoka, a network of social entrepreneurs.

His news

This fall, Enquête is releasing a new educational tool for middle school teachers on freedom of expression and religion, in cooperation with Entre les Lignes, a media education association.

Free access on

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