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Moral Discourses and Concepts of Personal Agency in Coping with Suffering among Kabyle Immigrant Converts in France
What are some connections between personhood, agency, causation, and destiny in complex predicaments of religious conversion and immigration? How do recent converts in a diasporic community in France from North Africa cope with suffering by drawing on cultural and religious resources from past memories and present predicaments? The focus here is on a group of Kabyles, an Amazigh (Berber) group, formerly Muslims, who converted to Christianity and immigrated to France from Algeria to escape political, religious, and regional/cultural violence during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Data are primarily based on this social/cultural anthropologist’s field research in a suburb of Paris among diasporic Kabyles, with some added insights where relevant from this anthropologist’s additional field research among Saharan Tuareg, another Amazigh group culturally and linguistically similar to the Kabyles. The paper builds on anthropological studies of personhood, agency, and causality/causation in contexts of intersectional religious, cultural, and political identities (Keane 2007; Mahmood 2003; McIntosh 2009; Robbins 2007). There is analysis of Kabyle converts’ reflections, discussions, and debates at church meetings, sermons, interviews, and informal conversations over how to cope with challenges such as racism, Islamophobia, marginal employment, and loneliness in France and remembered political, cultural, and religious traumas back in Algeria’s Kabylie region (Goodman 2005; Lorcin 1995; P. Silverstein 2004). The analysis shows multi-layered religious concepts and imagery emerging in moral discourses surrounding incidents of conflict, causal explanations of events, and advice for coping with suffering. Converts’ interactions in France reveal both continuities and transformations of orthodox and popular cultural Islamic and Evangelical Protestant Christian concepts of personal agency, theories of cause/effect and destiny, and structural constraints. More broadly, there is not merely the “sum total” of hybridized beliefs, but more nuanced contextual dynamics. The paper argues that there are overlapping rather than discrete or ruptured moral landscapes in continuing reverberations of pre-conversion and pre-diaspora memories, but also emergent moral landscapes informing current predicaments.
Religious Studies/Theology
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