Prix Pierre-Antoine Berheim, a very special emotion

Michel Zink presiding the ceremony in the superb Grande Salle des Séances de l’Institut de France

Every year for the past six Prize givings, the emotion is intense in memory of Pierre Antoine Bernheim, a brilliant mind who had decided to leave the financial world where his father Antoine excelled, and join the small circle of intellectuals thinking about the weight of religion in our lives. He published seven books including a History of Paradises, in 2011.  The laureate this year was Guillaume Cuchet for “Comment notre monde a cessé d’être chrétien” published by Le Seuil with Hélène Carrère d’Encausse and Jacques Toubon actively involved.

Hervé Aaron, Martine Orsini and Francine Bernheim

The Prize he had conceived but had no time to create before he prematurely died at 59, is now awarded at the Institut de France by his mother Francine, his sister Martine Orsini and daughter Cynthia Bernheim. The first edition was awarded in 2013 to the book “Deux peuples en ton sein, Juifs et Chrétiens au Moyen Age”, a topic that Pierre Antoine Bernheim had himself studied in his “Paradis, Paradis”, an analysis of Christian and Jewish conceptions of paradise.

Guillaume Cuchet is professor of contemporary history at University of Paris-Créteil and teaches a seminar at EHESS

Other awards went to an art book published by Alma Editeur “Le voleur de Paradis, le bon larron dans l’art de la société, XVI -XVII” and to “L’invention de Dieu” by Thomas Römer. Guillaume Cuchet’s book is a very detailed study of how French christians have evaporated in the last fifty years largely because of the Vatican 2 council. The figures speak for themselves. During the 1960’s there was a huge crisis of confession and the 15-24 old stopped going to mass on Sunday. Based on the teachings of Chanoine Boulard who established maps of the Christian community in France in the 60’s, Cuchet analyses all the reasons for the new figures: only 2% of Catholics in France today go to mass every Sunday. A number that Père Bruno Horaist, curé of the Madeleine has publicly regretted when he celebrated Johny Halliday’s birthday recently in a full church. “I wish the same crowds would visit the church on Sundays as today”.

Cynthia Bernheim and Agnès Cuchet, the laureate’s wife

Cynthia Bernheim, Pierre Antoine’s daughter is an artist in London. She is also a great thinker and talked very candidly about the loss of a father who vanished from her life in three months seven years ago.” The prize awarded by a jury of members of Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres is a very serious accolade to any historian of the religion. It is also a generous prize of 10 000€.

Comment notre monde a cessé d’être chrétien“, Editions Seuil

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