Cover of Faith in Empire by Elizabeth A. Foster
Faith in Empire
Religion, Politics, and Colonial Rule in French Senegal, 1880–1940
Elizabeth A. Foster


288 pp.

Cloth ISBN: 9780804783804
Digital ISBN: 9780804786225
(20% off e-book after you add to Shopping Cart.
Rental options also available.)

Request Review/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

Winner of the 2014 Alf Andrew Heggoy Prize, sponsored by the French Colonial Historical Society.

Faith in Empire is an innovative exploration of French colonial rule in West Africa, conducted through the prism of religion and religious policy. Elizabeth Foster examines the relationships among French Catholic missionaries, colonial administrators, and Muslim, animist, and Christian Africans in colonial Senegal between 1880 and 1940. In doing so she illuminates the nature of the relationship between the French Third Republic and its colonies, reveals competing French visions of how to approach Africans, and demonstrates how disparate groups of French and African actors, many of whom were unconnected with the colonial state, shaped French colonial rule. Among other topics, the book provides historical perspective on current French controversies over the place of Islam in the Fifth Republic by exploring how Third Republic officials wrestled with whether to apply the legal separation of church and state to West African Muslims.

About the author

Elizabeth A. Foster is Assistant Professor of History at Tufts University.

"Elizabeth A. Foster has provided a pioneering work on the Catholic priests, nuns, brothers, and missionaries of Senegal . . . [Foster] makes an excellent case for the limits of knowledge and power in the administration and the ability of interest groups, particularly African chiefs and communities, to affect outcomes."

—David Robinson, American Historical Review

"Overall, Foster's study is an important and welcome addition to the scholarship of French colonialism and Senegalese history. It offers a new analytical framework as well as a unique window into the colonial experience."

—James E. Genova, Catholic Historical Review

"Foster explores the intricate web of relationship that defined colonial Senegal between 1880 and 1940 and shaped interactions among administrators, Catholic missionaries, and Africans, including Muslims, animists, and the minority of Christian converts. This complex, engaging story is deeply rooted in research in colonial and religious archives . . . Recommended."

—C. Higgs, Choice

"The book's chapters explore a variety of fascinating themes and events . . . Faith in Empire has much to offer readers interested in debates about the imperial past and its legacies; historical and contemporary struggles over secularism; and the complicated relationship between religion and politics in France."

—Roxanne Panchasi, New Books in French Studies

"This richly researched and highly original case study deepens our understanding of how colonial politics worked on the ground in Senegal, and offers a fresh interpretation of the relationship between metropole and colony, between missionaries and colonial administrators, and between ideology and practice."

—Alice L. Conklin, Ohio State University

"Foster's excellent archival research allows her to present a nuanced picture of how imperial and missionary goals interacted and conflicted with one another in Senegal. This book is an extremely valuable addition to the historical literature on empire and missionaries."

—Owen White, University of Delaware