The history of the place
The Royaumont Dialogues, intimately linked to the Royaumont Abbey where they take place every year on the first weekend of December, are an extension of an eight-century-old history, imbued with the spirit instilled by Saint Louis at its creation in the 13th century.
The history and spirit of the Royaumont Dialogues trace back to the origins of the abbey’s foundation, decided by young Louis IX when he was barely fourteen years old, in 1228. Legend has it that the choice of the location was reinforced by the presence of a spring in that place, a place of contemplation for Louis IX, where he would meditate and draw inspiration for his decisions. The construction of the abbey had a deeply personal significance for the young and devout king, who was eager to lend a hand in its construction by “carrying stones and mortar.”
Once the abbey was completed, Saint Louis made numerous visits to Royaumont, sharing the monks’ daily life. With great humility, he personally served the monks at the table and cared for the sick monks. The abbey also became a place of welcome and refuge, housing a hospital that cared for the sick and infirm from the surrounding areas.
Subsequently, the abbey went through periods of decline and renewal. After reaching its peak in the mid-14th century, it suffered during the Hundred Years’ War. It regained vitality until the Revolution, when it was sold as national property and transformed into a cotton mill.
A century later, in 1864, it regained its religious vocation and was purchased by the industrialist and philanthropist Jules Goüin. During World War I, Jules’ son made the abbey buildings available to the French Red Cross to open a hospital for wounded soldiers. The all-female medical staff cared for over ten thousand wounded until the end of the war.
In 1923, Henry Goüin, Jules’ grandson, took over the management of the abbey and initiated restoration works. In the 1930s, he decided to open the abbey to artists and intellectuals, providing them with a place conducive to artistic creation and rest. The institution, known as the Foyer, had to close during World War II but reopened soon after the liberation to welcome artists and intellectuals returning from detention or deportation. It became the “International Cultural Center of Royaumont.” Conceived as an alternative to traditional French academic institutions, the Center focused on music, voice, and expression in all its forms, including the expression of ideas.
Henry Goüin later transferred ownership of the abbey to the “Royaumont Foundation for the Progress of Human Sciences” that he created in 1964, which has since been responsible for managing the site.
Royaumont Abbey has thus experienced several lifetimes: a place of prayer and contemplation, a site of production, a place of welcome and refuge, and a hub of artistic and intellectual expression. A true symbol of eclecticism, serene and free expression, the Royaumont Dialogues continue in this tradition.
THE BIRTH OF THE ROYAUMONT DIALOGUES
Following the death of Henry Goüin in 1977, the activities of the abbey experienced a period of hiatus for several years.
It was in 2003 that Jérôme Chartier, then member of parliament and mayor of Domont (Val-d’Oise), created the Royaumont Dialogues, resulting from the convergence of his personal reflections and several decisive encounters. These debates, free, enlightened, and serene, are held in this place imbued with the vision instilled by Saint Louis.
From their inception, the Dialogues were supported by Jérôme Monod, special advisor to President Jacques Chirac, and Emmanuel d’André, president of 3 Suisses and the Royaumont Foundation.
From the very first year, thanks to Jérôme Monod’s personal commitment, the program of high quality contributed to establishing the Royaumont Dialogues as a demanding event in terms of expression, featuring distinguished speakers. The theme chosen for the inaugural edition, “Is France Regressing?”, was already avant-garde, and the bitter observation twenty years later does not lack significance.
SEVERAL KEY DATES HAVE SINCE MARKED THE HISTORY OF THE ROYAUMONT DIALOGUES
In 2007, the suspension of the Dialogues made a lasting impression. However, supporters and participants insisted with the organizers not to abandon this major event for the expression of ideas.
In 2008, the Dialogues were reborn with a new outlook, a more eclectic and open approach to all forms of thought.
In 2013, the first event supported by the Royaumont Dialogues took place abroad: the Warsaw Dialogues, organized by the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Poland.
In 2014, the first year of an editorial presidency for the Royaumont Dialogues ensured the quality of the debate’s content. In 2023, the Editorial Committee is chaired by Monique Canto-Sperber, philosopher and former Director of the École Normale Supérieure.
In 2020, the year of the pandemic and choices, the Royaumont Dialogues decided not to pursue a digital option and instead chose not to hold the event. It was a difficult choice, a clear decision, a new mystique.
2020 also saw the creation of the “Cahier des Entretiens,” which included the preparation for the 17th edition of the Royaumont Dialogues that could not take place, along with several contributions from speakers, including an exceptional contribution from Pope Francis. The free download exceeded 40,000 copies.
In 2021, two philanthropic causes were initiated, to which the Royaumont Dialogues decided to provide support each year. One is national and supports young artists from meritocratic backgrounds. The program is conducted by the Royaumont Foundation. The second cause is global and supports the village of Akamasoa, founded by the humanitarian association of Father Pedro Opeka, which assists children and the poorest individuals in Antananarivo, Madagascar, to combat extreme poverty and destitution.
In 2022, the Royaumont Dialogues ventured into the realm of philosophy while maintaining a focus on contemporary issues. The theme, “The Third Way,” provided a platform for eminent voices in French philosophy to explore alternative paths, the famous “other possibilities.”
In 2023, as the Royaumont Dialogues celebrate their twentieth anniversary and twentieth edition, they will more than ever be a place for ideas, open debates, and constructive spirit for humanity, while maintaining the utmost conviviality and simplicity. An even more engaged audience. Always free admission. Inspiring speakers. Committed participants. In short, “The Spirit of Enlightenment” to aid, through serene controversy, in the emergence of new ideas capable of serving France and humanity.
RECONNECTING WITH THE SPIRIT OF ENLIGHTENMENT
The purpose of the Dialogues is fourfold:
– To enrich debates with prepared, well-constructed, and compelling interventions,
– To prioritize encouragement for originality and the diversity of perspectives to challenge the comfort of uniformity,
– To foster serene controversy that does not fear contradiction and fights against superficial agreement that hinders progress,
– To promote the French spirit, that of the Enlightenment, throughout the world by supporting initiatives that embrace the spirit of the Royaumont Dialogues.
The vision of the Dialogues has always been to engage in a free, open, enlightened, and serene dialogue that aims to broaden the spectrum of discussions, avoiding being trapped in a sterile mindset.
The Royaumont Dialogues have now become a prominent hub of contemporary thought, working to showcase France as a powerhouse of ideas.
Every year, during the first weekend of December, the unforgettable setting of the Royaumont Abbey becomes a happy gathering place for dialogues on major human and societal challenges that will shape France and the world of tomorrow. Prominent decision-makers, leaders, entrepreneurs, and recognized experts from around the world come together to share their vision, challenge preconceived notions, raise awareness, and rejuvenate old debates by combining excellence with simplicity, and intelligence with conviviality.
Built on three principles – “freedom of thought and speech,” “pursuit of substance, complexity, and depth in analyses,” and “respect for diversity of viewpoints and a commitment to serene contradiction” – the Dialogues have created a unique format of expression within a historically infused framework that encourages nuanced thinking and humility.
The Dialogues are dedicated to providing women and men from diverse backgrounds with the opportunity to exchange ideas freely, regardless of their opinions. It is through this environment that new ideas can emerge, and reciprocal inspirations can give birth, thus infusing the public discourse with renewed vigor.