ã Anne-Laure Zwilling, The Fleeting Emotional Unity of French Protestantism in Ephemeral Spaces , Bulletin for the Study of Religion 47, 1, 2018, p. 7-12.

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  National gatherings are regularly held in French Protestantism. Particularly, the recent years have witnessed the establishment of large national festive gatherings. These meetings aim at bringing people together. For the sake of togetheness as well
  6BULLETIN FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION VOLUME 47, NUMBER 1 / MARCH 2018 The Fleeting Emotional Unity of French Protestantism in Ephemeral Spaces Anne-Laure Zwilling, research fellowCNRS / University of Strasbourganne-laure.zwilling@misha.cnrs.frdoi: 10.1558/bsor.2988 French Protestantism is a small minority group. 1 Ithas long had the reputation of being discreet, andof practicing, according to Jean-Paul Willaime, “unestratégie de l’enfouissement peu visible” (a strategyof low visibility) (Willaime 2005). However, for sev-eral years, one part of this group, the evangelicalmovements, has been attracting public attention. Onecan find, in newspapers as well as in scholarly pub-lications, papers bearing titles with different shadesof militant expressions: “Evangelicals Attack theWorld” (2005), “How the Evangelical Church Is Con-quering France” (Genoux 2012), or “Soldiers of Jesus”(Caille 2013). Evangelicals’ religious practice is oftenspectacular, and the rapid growth in numbers of theEvangelical groups in France (Fath and Willaime2011) does indeed draw interest from the public andthe media. This could lead one to understand FrenchProtestantism as a group divided between an extro-vert, mediatic, dynamic, and growing part, and adiscreet, quiet, restrained, and diminishing part (Bas-tian 2004). In reality, the internal divide is not thatobvious, because the recent evolution of the evan-gelical trend within Protestantism influences themodes of organization and structuring of the differentgroups inside Protestantism (Willaime 2001; forSwitzerland see Campiche 2010). The communicationstrategies of the various sub-groups composingProtestantism take part in this dynamic. These strate-gies involve the organization of important gatherings,“Protestant festivals” of a sort, which strengthen thesense of belonging. The emotional dimension of thesemeetings is strong: people are happy to meet, proudto be many, full of joy because of the festive dimen-sion. Thus the emotional dimension of religion is in-creased, making these events facilitators of religiousemotion. How can the two currents of Protestantism,one far more prone to emotion than the other, unitein the ephemeral spaces created by these meetings? French Protestantism: A Diverse Group The main characteristic feature of Protestantism isits diversity, and France is no exception here. Sincelaws forbid including information concerning reli-gious affiliation in the census, the number of Protes-tants in France is not certain. An Institut Françaisd’Opinion Publique (IFOP) survey of 2009 claims thatpeople declaring themselves Protestant represent to-day 2.2percent of the French population aged 18 ormore. 2 The composition of French Protestantism canonly be given in its broad lines. Like most religiousgroups, Protestants can also be organized according andtheSpatialTurn:FromtheImpactofAreaStudiestotheStudyofCriticalJuncturesofGlobalization.”  JournalofGlobalHistory 5:149–70.https://doi.org/10.1017/S1740022809990362.Obadia, Lionel. 2011. “Globalization and the Sociology of Reli-gion.” In The New Blackwell Companion for the Sociology of Religion  ,edited by Bryan Turner, 477–97. Oxford: Blackwell.https://doig.org/10.1002/9781444320787.ch21.———. 2015. “Floating Territories of Religion(s): Shifting Para-digms, Erratic Theories, Volatile Realities?” Studia Prawa Wyz-naniowego/Studies in Law and Religion 18: 43–64.Riis, Ole, and Linda Woodhead. 2010. A Sociology of ReligiousEmotion. Oxford, Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199567607.001.0001.Ritzer, George. 2003. “Rethinking Globalization:Glocalization/Grobalization and Something/Nothing.” So-ciological Theory 21 (3): 193–209. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9558.00185.Rothstein, Mikael. 1996. “Patterns of Diffusion and ReligiousGlobalization. An Empirical Survey of New Religious Move-ments.” Temenos: Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion 32: 195–220.Thagard, Paul. 2005. “The Emotional Coherence of Re-ligion.”  Journal of Cognition and Culture 5 (1): 58–74.https://doi.org/10.1163/1568537054068642.Thoist, Peggy A. 1989. “The Sociology of Emotions.” AnnualReview of Sociology 15: 317–42. https://doi.org/10.1146/an-nurev.so.15.080189.001533.Tomlinson, John. 1999. Globalization and Culture . Chicago: Uni-versity of Chicago Press / Polity Press.aVan der Veer, Peter. 2009. “Spirituality in Modern Society.” Social Research 76 (4): 1097–1120.Waters, Malcolm, 2001. Globalization  , 2nd ed. London: Rout-ledge. 4  to the importance given to collective worship: veryregular practitioners, regular or occasional practi-tioners, people of Protestant conviction (very occa-sional practitioners), people of Protestant culture,people declaring to be close to Protestantism (Fath2011). One can also view French Protestantism ascomposed of two main trends: on the one side the“historical” Protestants (Lutherans and Reformed orCalvinist Protestants), and on the other EvangelicalProtestants (Fath 2004). The survey realized by IFOPin 2010 gives a total of 2.6 million Protestants, with750,000 evangelicals, and 1.85 million Lutherans andReformed. 3 This survey also confirms the rapidgrowth of the evangelical current. Scholars usually distinguish these trends, becausethey differ in several aspects, especially on their under-standing of the importance of public presence and col-lective practice. Evangelical Protestantism has an im-portant tradition of gatherings and mass encounters.The importance given to emotions (Willaime 1999), topersonal change and its manifestations, especially uponentering the religious group, and the stress on the ne-cessity of transmission of the faith and proselytism— bringing others to conversion (Sinclair 2002)—has al-ways led Evangelicals to favor mass meetings. Anillustration of this is the evangelization campaign led inBritanny in the nineteenth century by Alexander Som-merville, founder of the Free Churches of Scotland. Inthe summer of 1879 this campaign gathered more than1,800 people in Rennes. 4 More recently, the rise of Pen-tecostal groups in France since the 1970s has triggeredthe organization of several important gatherings. Thefirst ones were on the occasion of the visits of CharlesColson in 1980, followed by a tour of the astronaut JamesIrwin in 1984. Meetings also occurred when the famousevangelist Billy Graham (Fath 2002) organized severalevangelization campaigns in France. He first came toParis in the Palais omnisport of Bercy in 1986, an eventwhich raised important media coverage. Two of hisother campaigns were delivered in France by satellite:the World Europe Mission in 1993 and World Missionin 1995 (Fath 2002; Alexander, Baubérot, and Champion1987).These meetings have gradually been given a morefestive turn. The first encounter of the type was calledthe  fête de l’Évangile (feast of the Gospel), and wasorganized in the arena of Nîmes, 7–8 June 1980. PierreCourthial, a pastor of the Eglise réformée de France (French reformed church), came up with the idea.With Henri Blocher, Calvinist Baptist, and Marie deVédrines from the Eglises réformées évangéliques in-dépendantes ( Reformedevangelical independentchurches), they created the journal Ichthus  , publishedon a near-monthly basis from 1970 to the end of 1986.Through determination and enthusiasm, PierreCourthial succeded in convincing first his relatives,then other evangelical groups, 5 to organize such ameeting of French-speaking Protestantism. Whentrying to find a place to set up the meeting, PierreCourthial finally chose the arenas of Nîmes. The or-ganizing team accepted the principle of the meetingon the condition that the arenas would be availablefree of charge. Many thought that such a requirementwould settle the matter, but free use of the arenaswas granted. Since the use of the arena had always been accompanied by a heavy charge, this exceptioncame as a surprise. 6 Several members understoodthis as the sign of the divine acceptance of the project.I am stating this, not in order to discuss the religioussignificance of this unexpected financial support, butto illustrate the initial reluctance of the Evangelicalmilieu to organize a gathering which would not onlyaim at evangelization, but would also be festive andaim at bringing together members of the Evangelicalchurches to build the group’s religious identity. Atthe time, festivity was not perceived as an essentialpart of the meeting, even for evangelical Protestants. This memorable Fête de l’Évangile attracted nearly17,000 people. 7 In the aftermath of this event, severalother festive meetings were organized: the festivegathering of youth in 1985, at the Parc Floral of Vin-cennes and a second gathering at the arenas of Nîmes, Fêtons l’Evangile (Let’s celebrate the Gospel)in 1996. Finally, Pentecôte 2000 gathered 4,500 youthin Valence for Pentecost, to cite only the main events(Fath 2013). To complete the landscape, one must also mentionthe Romany conventions. Since 1988, evangelicalProtestant Romany have organized in France an im-portant annual meeting. The  Mission évangélique tsi- gane (METS, Romani evangelical mission), whichcounts some 10, 000 members, organizes the conven-tion Vie et lumière (Life and light), 8 which gathersfour to five thousand caravans and around thirtythousand people. The latest encounter took place ona former military camp in Grostenquin (Moselle) inAugust 2015. 9 It is clear, thus, that evangelical Protestantism hasa long tradition of organizing moments of gatheringand public visibility. These meetings answer both theneed to testify to their faith in front of the world, andthe insistence on collective emotion (Willaime 1999). Recent Trends: Everybody Wants a Feast As concerns Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism, VOLUME 47, NUMBER 1 / MARCH 2018 BULLETIN FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION 7  this mode of gathering is not that significant. Tradi-tional French Protestantism, nevertheless, has a tra-dition of holding an important annual gathering,called le rassemblement du désert (Desert assembly)since 1928. It is held on the premises of the Muséedu désert, which is located near Nîmes, in the southof France. This museum commemorates the historyof the French wars of religion, and more specificallythe importance that they held in this part of France,at the time when Protestantism was forbidden, whichled to the organization of outside secret religious as-semblies called assemblées du désert . In 1928, it wasdecided to commemorate the resistance of FrenchProtestantism by organizing an outdoor religiousservice on the first Sunday of September. The tradi-tion started then, but for many years the religiousceremony, in which a number of pastors wearingtheir clerical attire take part, was the essential com-ponent of the meeting. Usually, a conference alsotook place in the afternoon. Since the year 2000—ormaybe a bit earlier—the setting up of many stalls of religious journals, libraries, trends, and institutionsof all strands of French Protestantism are adding amore commercial and colorful dimension to the day.Although these stands tend to grow more important,and more diverse, as the years go by, the Lutheranand Reformed currents remain the dominant trendsof the day. The symbol of this is the croix huguenote .This is probably because this cross  pattée is said tohave srcinated in the region. In France, this cross istraditionally the symbol of Reformed Protestants,which demonstrates the link between the more tra-ditional part of French Protestantism and the Desertassembly. The assembly is sometimes humorously called “theservice of the camping chair.” Since the ceremonytakes place outdoors, the younger sit on the floor, on blankets or rugs, on the rocks or natural seats created by the hummocky terrain. Elder people, who com-pose the main part of the public, usually prefer to beseated more comfortably, and thus bring along theirfolding chairs, creating an ephemeral out-of-doorsreligious space which will last the duration of theceremony. 10 This open-air religious service has longrepresented in France the only important gatheringof the Reformed and Lutheran Protestant (Cabanel2011). More recently, though, the Lutheran and Reformedtrends of Protestantism also started to organize con-ventions. In 2009 Claude Baty, the president of the Fédération protestante de France (French Protestant fed-eration), was the one to impel the organization of animportant meeting. Called Protestants en fête (FestiveProtestants), this meeting took place in Strasbourgfrom October 30–November 1, 2009. The name de-scribes the project: gather the Protestants for a festivecelebration. The aim was to bring together all Protes-tants, since the participation of Lutherans and Re-formed Protestants was not to be taken for granted,Claude Baty admittedly took a risk there. His Baptistupbringing may have played a part in the decisionto organize such an event, along with the desire torender Protestantism more visible and better knownin the French society.The response of French Protestantism, all trendsincluded, was unexpected: it was massive enthusi-asm. More than fifteen thousand people registeredfor the event, which gathered visitors from all partsof France. Many activities were organized, more than130 altogether, including conferences, films, concerts,live art, paintings, biblical crosswords, and so on. A“village of the Protestants” was erected on the city’smain square, the Place Kleber. It hosted many tents,each presenting either an activity or an association,a journal, a seminary, a charitable institution, or an-other one of the many activities linked to Protes-tantism in France. For three days, the Place Kleberwas the ephemeral heart of Protestantism, gatheringtogether in time and space an otherwise diverseProtestantism. However, although the occasion cre-ated a gathering, it did not create unity. The differentactivities were all side by side, and passers-by couldgo from one to another. This village was not the oc-casion of much sharing, nevertheless. It was, rather,the concrete display of the heterogeneity of Protes-tantism. The religious ceremony was more of a sharedevent. A religious service was due to take place onthe Sunday morning. In anticipation, the organizershad rented the biggest festival hall available in thecity. It was, however, too small to accommodate themore than ten thousand who wanted to take part inthe Sunday service. The VIP section, which had beensaved to accommodate officials, was opened to num- ber of people who could not take place in the hall, but even this was not enough: the organizers wereforced to rent a second hall, and organize the livetransmission of the service on a giant screen. Sébastien Fath described the risks run with this 2009meeting: an insufficient mobilization, a foreseeable show,and a useless gathering with no future (Fath 2013). Inthe end, the meeting turned out to be a success on severallevels: the number of participants was important, thesatisfaction was general, and the impact on the society,in terms of the image of Protestantism, was positive.Much media coverage was given to the event. 8BULLETIN FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION VOLUME 47, NUMBER 1 / MARCH 2018  Fleeting Emotion, Ephemeral Unity Four years later, the French Protestants decided torepeat this operation. From September 27–29, 2013,a similar festive gathering was organized, this timein Paris. It attracted even more people, because Parisand its region hold a large number of French Protes-tants. More than thirty thousand people attendedthis gathering. The religious service was organizedin the huge hall of Paris Bercy. Once more, the servicegathered a very high number of people, an importantnumber also following the live retransmission of iton television. After this second event, the differentstrands of French Protestantism started discussingthe feasibility of a third meeting, which would takeplace in Lyon in 2017—and finally was held in Stras- bourg 11 . Such meetings are very expensive, but whathad initially been set up as a one-time event is onthe way of becoming, by repetition, a lasting occa-sion.In the aftermath of the first national gathering, anumber of local events were organized in Alsace-Moselle, all held under the title Protes’temps forts (Protestants’ highlights) and shared nationwide, eachyear under a different motto. 12 Here also, by repeatingthe occurrence, every year in this case, isolated events become persistent. In the same dynamics of visibilityand gathering (Grellier 2011, 131), smaller scale gath-erings are organized: on a regional level such as inNorthern Alsace in 2012 ( La parole est dans le pré  ), orspecifically addressing youth. In 2009, the Eglise ré-formée de France 13 organized in Lyon a nationalevent which gathered a thousand young people.Named le grand kiff, 14 it was also intended as a one-off but was repeated, given its success, in 2013 inGrenoble and again in 2016 in Saint-Malo. Reformed and Lutheran Protestants, albeit a latetrend, seem now fully committed to organizing thesame type of festive important public gatherings asthe more Evangelical trends of French Protestantism.The reasons for this change are various. Of course itis largely due to a recent strategy of visibility (Zwill-ing 2014), probably triggered by religious competi-tion. In all these events, nevertheless, the stress is onunity, both on the institutional, and on the emotionallevel.The organizing religious institution has exploitedthe topic of unity, which obviously is positively wel-comed by the faithful. The visual dimension of unityhas been developed for instance during the Protes-tants en fête gathering of 2014, where green scarveshave been distributed to all participants. Thesescarves have been used during the religious service, but have also been spontaneously used during theentire meeting, and not only in the spaces dedicatedto the gathering. Participants have thus been wearingand using these scarves in many different ways,transforming them into ”conspicuous religious sym- bols” that media were keen to exploit: photos of in-dividuals wearing these scarves are illustratingnearly all the articles concerning this event. 15 The stress on unity was also strongly expressed, both by those who attended this gathering and bythose who organized it. There are countless testi-monies or interviews of participants explaining thatpart of their contentment lies in “realising that weare so many” or expressing their pleasure at “beingtogether with all the other Protestants.” One exampleis the blog of the Pastor Gill Daudé: “It is seldomthat French Protestants can be so many gathered to-gether . . . their unity, present but underlying . . .Pentecostals, Adventists, Evangelical, Lutheran, Men-nonites, Reformed, Protestants of all srcins haveshared.” 16 There were also numerous decorations andillustrations expressing unity, such as a group of chil-dren each holding a different letter of the word“Unity.” Attendants appreciate unity, and the positiveemotion that derives from it.There is also, within each branch of French Protes-tantism, an institutional search for unity, grounded both on the reality of union, and on the necessity of demonstrating it, for internal political reasons. FrenchProtestantism is currently experiencing institutionalconsolidation (Zwilling 2014). In 2006, the AlsacianProtestant churches established a union ( Union desEglises protestantes d’Alsace et de Lorraine ), and 2010has seen the establishment of a new structure bring-ing together several Evangelical networks, the Conseilnational des évangéliques de France. 17 In 2012, theLutheran and Reformed churches of France finalizedthe Eglise protestante unie de France . This correspondsto changes in the numbers of members, in the rela-tionship to public authorities, and to theological evo-lutions, all tending to the polarization of the FrenchProtestantism. The two poles are the “established”Protestant churches (Lutheran-Reformed), and theevangelicals, with a spirit of competition which can be very explicit. 18 This internal rivalry is increased by the growingmoral split of Protestantism on the issue of same-sexmarriage.The rivalry, however, is counterbalanced by the need of a common front, facing the doublethreat of a secular society, and of other religiousgroups who can sometimes be a strong challenge.Doctrinal reasons and market logic dictate the em-phasis on the unity of French Protestantism. The so- VOLUME 47, NUMBER 1 / MARCH 2018 BULLETIN FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION 9  cial context also stresses the necessity of a Protestantunity: the question of religious minorities is increas-ingly a subject of public debate in France. It becomes,therefore, important vis-à-vis the public authoritiesto be a credible voice in a country where the imageof the Catholic church (with one leader and one doc-trine) dominates the understanding of religion. 19 Be-sides, because the social stands—chiefly concerninghomosexuality—differ greatly in French Protes-tantism, this also renders important a public displayof unity. The majority of the collective gatherings or-ganized during the last ten years express the idea of unity, either by their logo or by their motto (“to-gether,” “united,” “union,” etc.). This image of goodagreement and of harmony has been elaborated,sought, negotiated, and has finally become dominant.The president of the Evangelical Churches of Stras- bourg expressed, for instance, his satisfaction at hav-ing been associated in the organization of the Sep-tember 2013 event. Laurent Schlumberger, presidentof the French Reformed Church, explains that therepresentation of all the different trends of Protes-tantism, for all the different moments and especiallyfor the final religious service, has been a constantpriority of the organizing team. 20 The words “unite,”“together” or “common belonging to Protes-tantism” 21 have been used during the official addressof many of the meetings. The accent has also beenput on the belonging, not to a specific church, but toProtestantism. 22 On several occasions, the link be-tween these occasional gatherings and the traditionof the “Desert assemblies” is expressed; for instance,in 2013, the “Desert assembly” was called  protestantsen fête au Désert  , recalling the motto of the nationalassembly in Paris. Paradoxical Fleeting Emotional Spaces andUnity of French Protestantism All this displays the paradoxical nature of the unityof French Protestantism, for which two dynamics areworking at the same time, both of them adversarial.The first antagonist dynamic is connected to space.The concept of unity in diversity has been expressedmany times as concerns contemporary French Protes-tantism. This is, though, an institutional fact ratherthan an individual one: most Protestants only knowof Protestantism via the church to which they belong.If they are aware of the existence of other Protestanttrends or churches, they hardly know them. The spo-radic important meetings recently organized inFrance are the only space where different trends of Protestantism can meet; this seldom happens other-wise. Therefore, by both bringing together the dif-ferent trends of Protestantism and revealing that theycoexist rather than merge, these meetings demon-strate at the same time both the unity of FrenchProtestantism and its diversity. Sébastien Fath high-lights the part these Protestant assemblies play in re-ligious identity (Fath 2013). They do create a Protes-tant space, in the sense that they produce unity byallowing diversity to coexist. None of them took place, though, in a religious building: they used fes-tival halls or performance halls. The space of Protes-tant unity is religiously inscribed only during themotion of an occasional event—it is an ephemeralspace. Nevertheless, it contributes to establishing thesustainable possibility of Protestant unity. The second paradox emanates from this occasionalcharacteristic, and is linked to time. As we have seen,all these events connect a one-time episode to dura-tion. Firstly because, on a basic level, all theseephemeral meetings are acquiring, through their rep-etition, a lasting dimension. One-time events are be-coming sustainable. Therefore, on a more theoreticallevel, one must notice that these ”high points” bringtogether people with no religious practice, and reg-ular practitioners. They create, thus, the convergenceof regular practice and of the practice of ”high points”that Danièle Hervieu-Léger evokes for Catholicism(Hervieu-Léger 2003). They are, in this sense, totallymodern: the subjectivity of the moment will becomethe bearer of institutional religion. All these contemporary manifestations of FrenchProtestantism are displaying the establishment of anephemeral space of unity. Supported by emotion,this unity has a double paradoxical dimension: it is becoming sustainable because it is transient, and itis also rendered possible because it has no specificspace. Notes 1 There are between 1 and 3 percent of Protestants inFrance according to the different surveys available (1.3percent according to the ISSP survey of 2008). The numberof people claiming to be close to Protestantism is higher:over 3 percent according to an IFOP survey in 2009, Lecatholicisme en France http://www.ifop.fr/media/press-document/43-1-document_file.pdf. 2 http://www.ifop.com/media/pressdocument/83-1-document_file.pdf. 3 IFOP 2010, http://www.ifop.fr/?option=com_publica-tion&type=poll&id=1320; see also http://protestantisme-congres2010.protestants.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Protestantisme_et_Societe/documentation/sondage-ifop.pdf. 4 See Jean-Yves Carluer, Protestants bretons  , http://protes-tantsbretons.fr/docs-cont/ete-1879-un-evangeliste-inter-national-rassemble-1800-personnes-a-rennes/. 5 The Communauté Ichthus of Calvisson, near Nîmes, has 10BULLETIN FOR THE STUDY OF RELIGION VOLUME 47, NUMBER 1 / MARCH 2018
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