The lecture looks at the French policy in colonial Algeria of forcibly converting Muslim religious buildings in light of the recent debates around the building of mosques in Europe. It is focused on the case of the Ketchaoua Mosque in Algiers, seized by French officials in 1832 and rebuilt into a cathedral over the next decades. The resulting Arabizing forms of the cathedral are related to the assimilationist ideals of the Catholic Church and their effort to employ the outward expressions of Algerian culture as a clandestine measure to destroy Algerian religious identity.
Ralph Ghoche’s larger project examines the territorial interventions of the Catholic Church in Algiers in the nineteenth-century. It considers how the church reshaped urban space in Algiers through the construction and conversion of buildings in order to advance its aim of resurrecting Augustinian Christendom in North Africa. The project seeks to uncover the complex relationship between the church and the multiple actors who helped reconfigure Algiers into a French and largely Christian city. It is structured around three urban practices: the conversion of Muslim institutions, the consolidation of urban focal points as symbolic cynosures of Christian power, and the aesthetic expression of the buildings themselves and the hidden forms of violence perpetuated by these material forms of representation.