The Call of Conscience: French Protestant Responses to the Algerian War, 1954-1962


270 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88920-299-0
DDC 965'.046'0882044




Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. He
is the author of Competition in Religious Life, Religion vs. Television:
Competitors in Cultural Context, and Inauthentic Culture and Its
Philosophical Critics.


The tortuous efforts of the French to respond intelligently to Algerian
aspirations for independence constitute a critical phase of postwar
decolonization. Geoffrey Adams focuses here on individual and communal
responses to the crisis by members of France’s small but influential
Protestant minority. Having extensively surveyed primary and secondary
sources and interviewed and corresponded with reliable witnesses, Adams
is able to provide a richly detailed chronicle, and he records
significant events of each year in a separate chapter. The book includes
introductory material, a brief conclusion and epilogue, and a
bibliography and index. We are given both insight into the circumstances
of the Algerian War and an overview of French Protestant culture and
society in the period. Readers encounter such key figures as Algeria’s
troubled Governor-General Jacques Soustelle, earnest community leader
Jacques Beaumont, the intellectuals Ricoeur and Ellul, and the cool
foreign minister Couve de Murville; and there are interesting glimpses
into the motives, accomplishments, and personal crises of many less
prominent individuals.

Adams works hard to avoid simplistic generalization. He is mindful of
differences among French Protestants in terms of degree and type of
religious devotion, political orientation, temperament, and
circumstances. It is partly for this reason that no clear pattern
emerges in Adams’s analysis. Yet he is not emphasizing the diversity
of French Protestant responses, and he seems to assume throughout that
there was in fact something distinctively Protestant about those
responses. Regrettably, he makes insufficient effort to establish this
point. It would have been useful if Adams had endeavored to sharpen the
contrast between Protestants (in both France and Algeria) and their
Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and atheist counterparts in the debate. Adams
has provided a potentially valuable resource, but mainly on the level of
details; he barely gets beyond “scissors-and-paste” work. He also
does not venture to draw contemporary lessons from his study or to
indicate potentially revealing parallels or contrasts with, for example,
French Protestant responses to the Holocaust, American Protestant
responses to the Vietnam War, or English-Canadian Protestant responses
to the aspirations of French Canadians and Canada’s aboriginal peoples
for greater autonomy.


Adams, Geoffrey., “The Call of Conscience: French Protestant Responses to the Algerian War, 1954-1962,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,