Minorities by vocation? Catholic presence in the post-colonial Maghrib

The Alfred Landecker Programme Seminars
Online event
Invited audience only
This event is free
November 2021

Please note: This seminar is held as a meeting via Zoom. For more information and to make a request to participate, please email marietta.vandertol@bsg.ox.ac.uk.

The Alfred Landecker Programme's seminar series on religion, politics & belonging is pleased to welcome Dr Alexis Artaud de la Ferrière (Royal Holloway College, University of London) to present his research on sociology and the contemporary history of religion. Alexis is also an Associate Researcher at the Groupe Sociétés Religions Laïcités (EPHE/CNRS) in Paris.

National independence in the Tunisia (1956) and Algeria (1962) transformed the sociology of Roman Catholicism in these countries of the Maghrib. With the end of French colonial rule, the majority of lay Catholics and diocesan (or secular) clergy emigrated from the region, usually settling in metropolitan France. Following their departure, most Catholic churches, seminaries, and schools were repurposed as mosques, meeting halls, or cultural centres – mirroring the conversion of the Ketchawa mosque in Algiers into the Cathédrale Saint Philippe in 1832, and erasing this and subsequent traces which Catholicism had gradually etched into the region’s built environment the over a period of a hundred and thirty years.

However, the post-colonial period did not spell the end of Catholic presence in the Maghrib. As many of their co-religionists elected to leave, a small number of Catholics (mainly, but not exclusively, congregational clergy and women religious) interpreted this political transition as an opportunity to severe the Church’s historical ties with the French colonial project, to participate in the development of the newly-independent nations, and to act as witnesses to the spirit of “universal fraternity” which would come to inform the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Ætate Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (1965). Gradually, those who elected to stay out of religious conviction were also joined by others who deliberately sought to live as Christians within “the Algerian [or Tunisian] house of Islam” (Henri Sanson, 1984).

The aim of this presentation will be to examine the activities through which the Catholic Church maintains its presence in Tunisia and Algeria and to analyse how Catholics themselves interrogate and debate the spiritual and social meaning of their presence in the region. Drawing on interviews, archival data, and written memoirs, the discussion will examine the lived experiences of men and women who have chosen to live their religious vocation at the threshold of the Catholic and the Muslim worlds: fully Catholic, but radically outside of the Catholic mainstream world; fully within the Muslim world, but radically outside of the Islamic faith.