The Algerian War of Independence and the Decolonization of Christianity

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:40 AM
Room 208 (Hynes Convention Center)
Darcie S. Fontaine , Rutgers University-New Brunswick
This paper examines the role that Christianity played in supporting the moral foundations for French colonialism in Algeria, and the ways in which Social Christianity, which emerged in France in the 1930s and 40s, undermined these same moral arguments, including the belief that French colonialism was both benevolent and the only means through which Christian interests could be protected in Algeria. Many of these ideas originated with Cardinal Lavigerie, archbishop of Algiers from 1867 to 1892, whose negative depiction of Islam had a lasting influence on colonial theorists and on European settlers in Algeria, many of whom viewed themselves as Lavigerie's children and the defenders of Christian civilization in Algeria. When Social Christians explored the effects of colonization in Algeria after World War II, they came to realize that in the eyes of the Algerian Muslims, Christianity and French colonialism were inextricably connected as the sources of their oppression. The principles of Social Christianity, which included an emphasis on social justice and social action, led a group of liberal Christians in France and Algeria to the conclusion that unless Christians separated themselves from their connections to the colonial state, the future of Christianity in decolonizing areas was in grave danger. They attempted to change this situation through social projects aimed at improving the material conditions of impoverished Algerians, and eventually through support of Algerian independence. This support, which scandalized the French government, military, and settlers, and led to the arrest and torture of several of these Christians, provided the basis for the renegotiation of the place of Christianity in Algeria at the moment of independence. On a larger scale, my paper demonstrates that the ideas and actions of these Christians, many of whom stayed in Algeria after independence, were also influential in global religious movements like Vatican II.
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