Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, University of California / Los Angeles

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of California / Los Angeles
Domesticating the Médersa: Muslim Mediators, Education, and Law in French Colonial Northwest Africa, 1850-1960

I examine the French colonial médersa as a "domesticated" institution. French colonizers in Algeria and, later, in French West Africa adapted the older Islamic educational institution of the madrasa as a way to train Muslim intermediaries. These mediators were employed in many ways upon graduating from the French médersas, but their training was particularly focused on the pluralist colonial legal system. By centering on the process of "domestication," my dissertation seeks to illuminate the processes behind the development of colonial theory and practice by examining the relationships between colonized Muslims and colonizing Europeans in northwest Africa. I situate the médersas at the center of three interrelated themes. First, I examine the "juridico-religious" curriculum of the médersas in relation to France's "civilizing mission" that emphasized education to mold republican subjects. Second, I examine the médersas' students as colonial intermediaries whose privileged educations empowered them to act in ways other colonized people could not. This question relates to the large literature on legal pluralism, revealing ways in which colonized people used legal institutions to their advantage. Third, I examine the inter-colonial circulation of the médersa as an institution and of its students. A "Saharan divide" characterizes current understandings of northwest Africa, despite evidence of longstanding cultural, religious, and economic connections among peoples of this region. What impact did the trans-Saharan institution of the French médersa, which fostered multidirectional movements across the desert, have on northwest African connections during the colonial period? Using oral and archival sources in northwest Africa and Europe, I examine the extent to which the French médersa was "domesticated." In so doing, I highlight the impact of Islamic education and law in colonial northwest Africa, and the roles of Muslim intermediaries in shaping the colonial system.