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The Secular State's Islamic Empire: Muslim Spaces and Subjects of Jurisdiction in Paris and Algiers, 1905–1957

  • James McDougall (a1)

In an article published posthumously, in the Revue de la Méditerranée in 1951, Augustin Berque, the intellectually accomplished but professionally somewhat unrecognized former Director of Native Affairs at the Government-General of Algeria, examined difficulties in the public management of religious affairs, and the failures of policy toward successive, competing spokesmen for Islam in France's colonial possessions. In concluding his assessment of this thorny question, Berque addressed his reader as in an imaginary dialogue: “And so? Oh, I quite agree with you! The one great remedy is our laïcité, which would leave to the Faith its secret oratory, intimate and inviolable. But [what are we to do] in the meantime?” There remained at the time a tenacious assumption that the empire, at least in Africa, might still endure into the unforeseeable future and that institution of a rational, public secularism as a lasting benefit of France's rayonnement civilisationnel could still be anticipated as an ultimate goal. But, of course, “the meantime” was in fact all the time that Berque and his colleagues had, and it was running out much faster than they imagined. That as late as 1951 the well-informed, scholarly, and policymaking readers of the Revue could still be expected to imagine the relationship between imperial and Islamic authority in these terms suggests an extraordinary capacity for self-delusion, or a remarkable intractability in the terms of a debate that had been near the top of the colonial policy agenda for almost half a century.

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John Bowen , Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State and Public Space (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007)

Allan Christelow , “Ritual, Culture and Politics of Islamic Reformism in Algeria,” Middle East Studies 23, 3 (July 1987): 255–73

Lauren Benton , “Colonial Law and Cultural Difference: Jurisdictional Politics and the Formation of the Colonial State,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, 3 (July 1999): 564

Mary Dewhurst Lewis , “Geographies of Power: The Tunisian Civic Order, Jurisdictional Politics, and Imperial Rivalry in the Mediterranean, 1881–1935,” Journal of Modern History 80 (Dec. 2008): 791830

Raberh Achi , “La séparation des Églises et de l'État à l'épreuve de la situation coloniale: Les usages de la dérogation dans l'administration du culte musulman en Algérie, 1905–1959,” Politix 17, 66 (2004): 81106

Mustafa Bayoumi , “Shadows and Light: Colonial Modernity and the Grande Mosquée of Paris,” Yale Journal of Criticism 13, 2 (2000): 267–92

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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