chapter  5
12 Pages

Constructing religion: serendipity and skepticism

ByJames A. Beckford

The history of ideas has fascinated me since my days as an undergraduate student of French literature, philosophy, and politics. My undergraduate dissertation, prepared during a year at the University of Lyon in 1963-1964, was about the intersection between the biography, the aesthetics, and the politics of Léon Blum. He was not only the first socialist and Jew to become Prime Minister1 of France – in the Front Populaire government of 1936-1937 – but also a distinguished literary critic and theorist, among other things. At the same time, Léon Blum was the target of vicious campaigns of ultra-right-wing anti-Semitic abuse and even physical violence. It was his combination of erudition and socialist resistance to bigoted nationalism which proved irresistible to me.