Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Troyansky

Subject Categories



Algeria, Catholicism, France, Settler Colonialism


This dissertation argues that between 1830 and 1914, with increasing intensity over time, French Catholic missionaries sowed divisions among the European population of French Algeria. The French government initially welcomed missionaries to cater to religiously devout Spanish, Italian, and Maltese settlers in Algeria and to foster their loyalty to the colonial state. Missionaries, however, incited the professional jealousy and personal animosity of the territory's generally less devout French population, who saw Catholicism and missionaries as little different from Islam and the "fanatical" Muslim population. Throughout this period, missionaries thus occupied a liminal space in the racialized hierarchy of colonial rule. As such, their presence disrupted colonial taxonomies that positioned a "civilized" European population as superior to an "uncivilized" indigenous one.

For their part, missionaries saw Algeria as a blank slate in which to create a Catholic society they perceived as increasingly foreclosed in a secularizing Europe. At the same time, in the extralegal space of Algeria, missionaries relied on seemingly "pre-modern" networks of privilege and patronage to win support. The stress caused by navigating these dense patronage networks in an increasingly hostile environment created discord among missionaries. On the most localized level of power, missionaries competed with each other to carve out their own niches of authority. Male missionaries competed to administer sacraments to female missionaries, while the latter sought to assert their own autonomy by procuring friendly spiritual advisors or secular authorities who would allow them the most individual latitude. In the end, these political ploys only undermined their efforts to spread the Catholic faith and to portray themselves as useful to government officials.

Ultimately, this dissertation reveals that colonial officials of all types framed the need to govern the settler population as a crucial component of the larger goal of ruling over the conquered indigenous population. As such, it re-conceptualizes France's well-known civilizing mission as directed as much towards this settler population as towards the indigenous one. At the same time, in showing that colonial officials utterly failed in their attempt to mold a unified settler community, this dissertation further reveals the fragility of the bonds that supposedly held the colonial settlers together and the tenuous foundations of imperial rule in nineteenth-century French Algeria.

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