The Sacred Politics of Decolonization: Algerian Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Responses to the End of Empire

AHA Session 114
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Room 208 (Hynes Convention Center)
Todd Shepard, Johns Hopkins University
Sponsored by the AHA Working Group on Religion, Peace, and Violence
The Audience

Session Abstract

This panel examines the role that religion played in the Algerian War of Independence, and in particular how three different religious groups – Muslims, Jews, and Christians – experienced the decolonization of Algeria. Under French rule (1830-1962), a complex hierarchy that was defined largely in religious terms gave Christians and Jews political and social rights that the indigenous Muslims, who formed the vast majority of the population, did not have. For all three religious communities the decolonization of Algeria led to massive social and political destabilization, as each group was forced to renegotiate their relationship to shifting political forces, and to each other, particularly after Algerian independence. In addition, as a conflict that had global implications, the religious questions that emerged during the Algerian War provide an interesting case study for some of these global problems, including issues of citizenship and rights, the future of Christian missions in the era of decolonization, Christian/Muslim and Muslim/Jewish relations, and the relationship between religion and nationalism. Each of the three papers examines how the process of decolonization in Algeria led to a major shift in the social and political relationships between these three communities in Algeria. Patrick Collins' paper explores the Islamicization of the Revolution, and whereby religious principles and traditions were used as a means to organize popular support. Through the use of a specific form of Islam, the Front de Libération National both ascribed a religious veneer to the Revolution, and laid the groundwork for an independent state that drew its legitimacy in important ways from a projected commitment to religious ideals. A perceived failure to live up to those commitments produced social tensions that would lead to a rise in Islamist thought and mobilization, and, as opposed to the inter-religious cooperation of the revolutionary period, the inter-communal religious tensions that exist in Algeria to the present. Joshua Schreier's paper examines a 1961 riot in Oran in which Jews pillaged Muslim-owned stores, and how this event was interpreted within competing discourses that highlighted the divisions between the Muslim and Jewish communities. He explores how the religious pluralism that existed in colonial Algeria was disintegrating by the early 1960s largely because of the fear that these narratives provoked. Darcie Fontaine's paper explores Christian responses to the decolonization of Algeria at both local and global levels. On a local level, she examines how Christian principles were used to both justify the French colonial project in Algeria and to argue for Algerian independence, as well as the consequences each of these narratives had on the future of Christian/Muslim relations in Algeria and France. In addition she explores how the Algerian War of Independence served as a testing ground for Christians around the world who were concerned about the future of Christian missions in decolonizing lands.

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