Darcie Fontaine. Decolonizing Christianity: Religion and the End of Empire in France and Algeria.

Darcie Fontaine. Decolonizing Christianity: Religion and the End of Empire in France and Algeria. In Decolonizing Christianity, an informative and important study, Darcie Fontaine describes “the central role Christianity played in Algerian decolonization” (6). By Christianity, she means “the totality of Catholic and Protestant institutions and beliefs in both France and Algeria” (7). The author is particularly interested in how Christianity served as an “ideology—rather than as theology” (10). At first, priests and pastors justified colonialism. Nevertheless, well before the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), Christians offered dissenting minority positions calling for dialogue with Muslims. When the war began, the future of Christianity in Algeria became an international issue that concerned the Vatican and World Council of Churches. To Fontaine, Algeria offers a “case study” (10) regarding the history of Christianity and decolonization. Initially, Christians regarded French expansion into North Africa as a crusading enterprise—a restoration of Christendom in the land of Saint Augustine. Thus, Christianity provided a religious rationale for the seizure of Algiers in 1830 and subsequent territorial conquests, as well as for the conversion of mosques to churches, notably the Ketchaoua Mosque at the base of the Casbah (in 1845 renamed the Cathedral of St. Philip). The arrival of an ethnic mélange of European settlers, the vast majority being Catholic, necessitated ecclesiastical organization, which Bishop Antoine-Adolphe Dupuch particularly achieved. The principal prelate during the colonial period was Charles Lavigerie (1825–1892). His pastoral aspirations included the proselytism of Kabyle Berbers (contributing to the “Kabyle Myth” that claimed vestigial Christian values existed within their society despite Muslim conquest) (30). Few Kabyles, however, converted. Lavigerie founded the Missionaries of Africa, popularly referred to as the White Fathers and White Sisters, which complemented, if it did not actively collaborate, with French imperialism and its mission civilisatrice. His activism resulted in his elevation to cardinal. Fontaine details the rise of “Social Christianity” in France as well as in Algeria. She devotes particular attention to the Mission de France (MDF) a Catholic organization formed in the 1941 to attract men to the priesthood and to convince the “dechristianized” working class to return to the church. In turn, a French Protestant organization that emerged in 1939, the Comité inter-mouvements auprès des évacués (“Cimade”), assisted refugees, protected Jews, and supported Algerian workers in France. In 1952, the Association de la jeunesse algérienne pour l’action sociales (AJAAS), which included Christian and Muslim youth, organized in Algeria. These groups, among others, sought intercommunal communication, objectives pursued notably by priests Jean Scotto and Alfred Bérenguer, both pieds-noirs (European settlers) born in Algeria. The key figure during this period was Léon-Étienne Duval, who served as bishop of Constantine and then archbishop of Algiers when the War of Independence commenced. Fontaine characterizes Monseigneur Duval as “an extremely complex figure” (62), but he also confronted complex times. At first, Duval believed that moral positions could be separated from political ones. Nevertheless, his condemnation of torture clearly had political implications. The archbishop sought Catholic unity, but most pieds-noirs rejected his conciliatory message. As the war raged, Duval’s principal objective shifted; he aimed to preserve a Christian presence in Algeria. In France, Christian intellectuals such as François Mauriac, Henri-Irénée Marrou, and Pierre-Henri Simon denounced torture particularly because it dishonored France. The Comité de résistance spirituelle emerged and included Protestants André Philip and Paul Ricœur, Catholics Mauriac, Jean-Marie Domenach, and Louis Massignon, and inspired other Christians’ engagement. Fontaine concludes that “the eventual support of most French Christians for Algerian independence was not because of some epiphany about the legitimacy of Algerian nationalist aspirations, rather, it was the final step in the process of restoring honor and Christian morality to France” (123). Fontaine covers the 1957 “show trial” of “progressivist” (liberal, left-wing) Christians along with Muslims. To prosecutors, the Christians menaced state security by associating with and assisting Algerian revolutionaries. The Christian defendants argued that they had practiced Christian “charity.” The trial occurred during the Battle of Algiers, infamous for the French use of torture. French commander General Jacques Massu “saw himself as a good Catholic” defending French Algeria from revolutionaries and communists (82–83), an attitude reinforced by the military chaplaincy (121) and by ultras (“the most extreme supporters of French Algeria” [95]). One of the virtues of this book is Fontaine’s attention to Protestant engagement. Cimade particularly increased its Algerian activism after the publication of Michel Rocard’s report describing the disturbing conditions of regroupment camps. It also continued its ministries providing for Algerian immigrant workers and prisoners (leading to contacts with leading nationalist militants). When the war began, the Vatican and the World Council of Churches hoped that legislation would be enacted resulting in a reformed French colonialism, thereby perpetuating Christianity. Their position changed: “By the end of the war … these institutions had come to realize that the greatest threat to the presence of Christianity in independent Algeria came from the supporters of French Algeria … The actions of the ultras in particular threatened to further alienate the Christian and Muslim communities” (135). According to Fontaine, “Christians who sought dialogue and cooperation with Algerians during the Algerian War were a model for Christian movements globally” (213). Indeed, concurrent corollary discussions in the Vatican and the World Council of Churches reimagined Christian missionary evangelism as the pursuit of social service and justice. Thus, this book joins recent publications that emphasize the international significance of Algerian decolonization—for example, Jeffrey James Byrne, Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization and Third World Order (2016) and Jennifer Johnson, The Battle for Algeria: Sovereignty, Health Care, and Humanitarianism (2016). The book’s merits are its details and its descriptions of a wide array of Christian organizations. The author’s archival research is especially commendable. The transition and transformation from colonial to postcolonial Christianity especially distinguishes the book. One wonders, however: If “this book examines the central role that Christianity played in Algerian decolonization” (6), how did Christianity influence policymakers? Did Charles de Gaulle’s religiosity affect his decision-making? During the postcolonial period, Algerians esteemed Archbishop Duval (named a cardinal in 1965), who successfully reoriented the church’s mission to dialogue and service while divesting properties and reconverting churches to mosques (including Ketchaoua). Fontaine also includes the tragic targeting of Christians during the civil strife of the 1990s. Fontaine mentions the assassination of Bishop Pierre Claverie (218), a man who embodied the transformed mission of the postcolonial church. The author reproduces martyred Trappist Christian de Chergé’s “Testament,” a statement that articulates Christians’ postcolonial devotion to Algeria. Fontaine effectively demonstrates how “the ‘true face’ of Christianity” appeared as a result of decolonization (211). Algerian independence also liberated Christianity. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The American Historical Review Oxford University Press

Darcie Fontaine. Decolonizing Christianity: Religion and the End of Empire in France and Algeria.

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
ISSN
0002-8762
eISSN
1937-5239
D.O.I.
10.1093/ahr/123.1.193
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Abstract

In Decolonizing Christianity, an informative and important study, Darcie Fontaine describes “the central role Christianity played in Algerian decolonization” (6). By Christianity, she means “the totality of Catholic and Protestant institutions and beliefs in both France and Algeria” (7). The author is particularly interested in how Christianity served as an “ideology—rather than as theology” (10). At first, priests and pastors justified colonialism. Nevertheless, well before the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962), Christians offered dissenting minority positions calling for dialogue with Muslims. When the war began, the future of Christianity in Algeria became an international issue that concerned the Vatican and World Council of Churches. To Fontaine, Algeria offers a “case study” (10) regarding the history of Christianity and decolonization. Initially, Christians regarded French expansion into North Africa as a crusading enterprise—a restoration of Christendom in the land of Saint Augustine. Thus, Christianity provided a religious rationale for the seizure of Algiers in 1830 and subsequent territorial conquests, as well as for the conversion of mosques to churches, notably the Ketchaoua Mosque at the base of the Casbah (in 1845 renamed the Cathedral of St. Philip). The arrival of an ethnic mélange of European settlers, the vast majority being Catholic, necessitated ecclesiastical organization, which Bishop Antoine-Adolphe Dupuch particularly achieved. The principal prelate during the colonial period was Charles Lavigerie (1825–1892). His pastoral aspirations included the proselytism of Kabyle Berbers (contributing to the “Kabyle Myth” that claimed vestigial Christian values existed within their society despite Muslim conquest) (30). Few Kabyles, however, converted. Lavigerie founded the Missionaries of Africa, popularly referred to as the White Fathers and White Sisters, which complemented, if it did not actively collaborate, with French imperialism and its mission civilisatrice. His activism resulted in his elevation to cardinal. Fontaine details the rise of “Social Christianity” in France as well as in Algeria. She devotes particular attention to the Mission de France (MDF) a Catholic organization formed in the 1941 to attract men to the priesthood and to convince the “dechristianized” working class to return to the church. In turn, a French Protestant organization that emerged in 1939, the Comité inter-mouvements auprès des évacués (“Cimade”), assisted refugees, protected Jews, and supported Algerian workers in France. In 1952, the Association de la jeunesse algérienne pour l’action sociales (AJAAS), which included Christian and Muslim youth, organized in Algeria. These groups, among others, sought intercommunal communication, objectives pursued notably by priests Jean Scotto and Alfred Bérenguer, both pieds-noirs (European settlers) born in Algeria. The key figure during this period was Léon-Étienne Duval, who served as bishop of Constantine and then archbishop of Algiers when the War of Independence commenced. Fontaine characterizes Monseigneur Duval as “an extremely complex figure” (62), but he also confronted complex times. At first, Duval believed that moral positions could be separated from political ones. Nevertheless, his condemnation of torture clearly had political implications. The archbishop sought Catholic unity, but most pieds-noirs rejected his conciliatory message. As the war raged, Duval’s principal objective shifted; he aimed to preserve a Christian presence in Algeria. In France, Christian intellectuals such as François Mauriac, Henri-Irénée Marrou, and Pierre-Henri Simon denounced torture particularly because it dishonored France. The Comité de résistance spirituelle emerged and included Protestants André Philip and Paul Ricœur, Catholics Mauriac, Jean-Marie Domenach, and Louis Massignon, and inspired other Christians’ engagement. Fontaine concludes that “the eventual support of most French Christians for Algerian independence was not because of some epiphany about the legitimacy of Algerian nationalist aspirations, rather, it was the final step in the process of restoring honor and Christian morality to France” (123). Fontaine covers the 1957 “show trial” of “progressivist” (liberal, left-wing) Christians along with Muslims. To prosecutors, the Christians menaced state security by associating with and assisting Algerian revolutionaries. The Christian defendants argued that they had practiced Christian “charity.” The trial occurred during the Battle of Algiers, infamous for the French use of torture. French commander General Jacques Massu “saw himself as a good Catholic” defending French Algeria from revolutionaries and communists (82–83), an attitude reinforced by the military chaplaincy (121) and by ultras (“the most extreme supporters of French Algeria” [95]). One of the virtues of this book is Fontaine’s attention to Protestant engagement. Cimade particularly increased its Algerian activism after the publication of Michel Rocard’s report describing the disturbing conditions of regroupment camps. It also continued its ministries providing for Algerian immigrant workers and prisoners (leading to contacts with leading nationalist militants). When the war began, the Vatican and the World Council of Churches hoped that legislation would be enacted resulting in a reformed French colonialism, thereby perpetuating Christianity. Their position changed: “By the end of the war … these institutions had come to realize that the greatest threat to the presence of Christianity in independent Algeria came from the supporters of French Algeria … The actions of the ultras in particular threatened to further alienate the Christian and Muslim communities” (135). According to Fontaine, “Christians who sought dialogue and cooperation with Algerians during the Algerian War were a model for Christian movements globally” (213). Indeed, concurrent corollary discussions in the Vatican and the World Council of Churches reimagined Christian missionary evangelism as the pursuit of social service and justice. Thus, this book joins recent publications that emphasize the international significance of Algerian decolonization—for example, Jeffrey James Byrne, Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization and Third World Order (2016) and Jennifer Johnson, The Battle for Algeria: Sovereignty, Health Care, and Humanitarianism (2016). The book’s merits are its details and its descriptions of a wide array of Christian organizations. The author’s archival research is especially commendable. The transition and transformation from colonial to postcolonial Christianity especially distinguishes the book. One wonders, however: If “this book examines the central role that Christianity played in Algerian decolonization” (6), how did Christianity influence policymakers? Did Charles de Gaulle’s religiosity affect his decision-making? During the postcolonial period, Algerians esteemed Archbishop Duval (named a cardinal in 1965), who successfully reoriented the church’s mission to dialogue and service while divesting properties and reconverting churches to mosques (including Ketchaoua). Fontaine also includes the tragic targeting of Christians during the civil strife of the 1990s. Fontaine mentions the assassination of Bishop Pierre Claverie (218), a man who embodied the transformed mission of the postcolonial church. The author reproduces martyred Trappist Christian de Chergé’s “Testament,” a statement that articulates Christians’ postcolonial devotion to Algeria. Fontaine effectively demonstrates how “the ‘true face’ of Christianity” appeared as a result of decolonization (211). Algerian independence also liberated Christianity. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.

Journal

The American Historical ReviewOxford University Press

Published: Feb 1, 2018

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