Joshua Schreier: “Arabs of the Jewish Faith: The Civilizing Mission in Colonial Algeria”

January 13, 2011
Humanities 1, 210
12:00-1:00 PM

Joshua SchreierHow did Algerian Jews respond to and appropriate France’s newly conceived “civilizing mission” in the mid-nineteenth century? The mission to civilize may have been rooted in French Revolutionary ideals of regeneration, enlightenment, and emancipation, but it developed “on the ground” as a strategic response to the challenges of controlling the diverse and unruly populations of Algeria’s cities. This meant weakening the influence of local networks and institutions in Algeria by “uplifting” the supposedly oppressed and corrupt Jews of Algeria and attaching them to the French administration. Central to this gendered, moralizing campaign was an effort to submit Algerian Jews to French marriage and family law. Taken together, civilizing’s various policies were intended to help establish a colonial hierarchy by dividing Jews from their Muslim neighbors. Local Algerian Jews, however, were not passive recipients of this campaign. While energetically adopting the language of civilization, they used it to maintain their own rabbis, synagogues, and schools, and to resist policies intended to reshape their marriage customs, institutional life, and religious faith.

Joshua Schreier is an Associate Professor of History at Vassar College. He received is BA from the University of Chicago and his MA and Ph.D. from New York University. He has also studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Middlebury College.

Schreier works at the intersection of Middle Eastern, Algerian, Jewish, and French histories. His research focuses on French colonialism in Algeria, and notably how several deeply-rooted North African Jewish communities responded to French imperial policy in the years before the rise of the “Imperial” (Third) Republic in 1870. He is interested in how French officials deployed the ideology of “civilization” to consolidate colonial rule, but also how local actors co-opted, reformulated, or deflected it. He has also written about how French lawmakers and legal thinkers used Jewish and Muslim religious law, and specifically those concerning the family, to deny or confer citizenship to Algerian Muslims and Jews. His forthcoming book is entitled “‘Arabs of the Jewish Faith:’ The Civilizing Mission in Colonial Algeria.”

Professor Schreier teaches an introductory course on the modern Middle East, as well as intermediate courses on the Israel-Palestine conflict and French colonial cultures.

This event is cosponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies and the UC Mediterranean Studies MRP.