Title: The Civilizing Mission: Missionaries, Colonialists, and French Identity, 1885-1914
Name: James P. Daughton
Department of History
Stanford University
Year: 2001
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

The Civilizing Mission: Missionaries, Colonialists, and French Identity, 1885-1914 examines how controversy over religious missionary work in France's overseas possessions influenced colonial and domestic politics and shaped how French men and women viewed their nation's role in the world. In case studies on Indochina, Madagascar, and French Polynesia, I explore how missionaries, republican officials, and indigenous leaders debated how best to bring French "civilization" to local populations. French historians have long considered this "mission civilisatrice" to be a central tenet of Republicanism and an important ethical justification of French colonialism. However, the civilizing mission was a far more complex project, implemented not only by republican officials, but by Catholic missionaries and local leaders often openly opposed to republican policies. The bitter accusations and counter-charges that often defined these debates were symptomatic of a broader reappraisal of the racial, sexual, and moral boundaries of the French nation.

The story of competing "civilizing missions" in the colonies is placed within the narrative of French metropolitan history. The period from 1885 to 1914 witnessed the polarization of French politics and a growing gulf between conservative Catholics and anticlerical radicals. By considering the intersection of two greatly neglected subjects in French historiography – Catholicism and colonialism – the study provides a new perspective on this important period, offering an alternative to studies centered solely within the boundaries of France. Despite republican attempts to expel missionaries from the colonies, discord between Frenchmen abroad unexpectedly drew missionaries into colonial politics and the colonialist cause. This redefinition of Catholic missionary goals had far-reaching social and political implications and helped close the post-Revolutionary gulf between religion and nation in France.

Recent histories on the formation of French national culture during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been deeply rooted in French soil. "Civilizing Missions" contends that events in France tell only part of the story. Looking at specific "affairs" in France's overseas possessions, this study shows how French men and women defined their moral and political beliefs within a wider, international context. In so doing, I also challenge long-held assumptions about colonialism: rather than seeing colonial rule as monolithic, my study navigates a variety of voices, interests, and influences that supported and critiqued French policies. Through this process of conflict and reconciliation, competing views of French "civilization" – and the French nation – evolved and merged. The result, I argue, was an understanding of France's ethical and political obligations influenced by both republican and religious ideologies.

Bibliography: Daughton, James P. The Civilizing Mission: Missionaries, Colonialists, and French Identity, 1885-1914. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Daughton, James P. "Recasting Pigneau de Béhaine: French Missionaries and the Politics of Colonial History." in eds. Nhung Tuyet Tran and Anthony Reid, Vietnam: Borderless Histories Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming.
"Kings of the Mountains: Mayréna, Missionaries, and French Colonial Divisions in 1880s Indochina." Itinerario: European Journal of Overseas History 25, 3/4 (2001): 185-217.