From Democratization to Ethnic Revolution: Catholic Politics in Rwanda, 1950-1962
In the shadow of a 1994 genocide which cost nearly 800,000 lives, 20th-century Rwandan history has become a highly polemical and contested field. This is especially true for the history of the Catholic Church, one of the dominant social, political and religious institutions in Rwanda from the 1920s to the 1990s. This dissertation explores Catholic politics in Rwanda between colonial Belgium's introduction of political reforms in 1950 and Rwandan independence in 1962. The primary subjects of the thesis are Rwanda's two preeminent church leaders of the period, the Swiss White Father Mgr. André Perraudin and the Rwandan prelate Mgr. Aloys Bigirumwami. In engaging the pastoral writings and personal correspondence of Perraudin and Bigirumwami, this study analyzes the two bishops' reactions to the rapid political developments of the 1950s, their divergent analyses of the contested Hutu-Tutsi question, and their grappling with ethnic violence during the revolutionary changes of 1959 to 1962. This study also evaluates how Catholic bishops responded to Rwanda's first major ethnic massacres in 1963-64 and 1973. Drawing on newly released archival material from the period, this dissertation highlights the extent to which the Catholic major seminary and other church institutions served as sites of contestation in Rwanda's growing inter-racial and intra-ethnic disputes. Post-genocide scholars have critiqued the close association of church and state during Rwanda's colonial period and highlighted missionary contributions to the hardening of Hutu-Tutsi identities. Overlooked in this standard narrative, however, is the complexity of Catholic political discourse in the early 1950s, a discourse in which the Hutu-Tutsi question was oddly muted. In turn, the emergence of the Hutu-Tutsi question in elite Catholic circles in the later 1950s reflected a broader array of ideological contexts than ethnicism, including decolonization, democratization, anti-communism, Catholic social teaching, and rising intra-clerical tensions. By returning to the 1950s genesis of Hutu and Tutsi as political identities, this dissertation sheds light on how and why this cleavage became the fulcrum of post-colonial Rwandan politics in church and state alike, offering constructive lessons for Christian ecclesiology and social ethics.
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