Thursday, 2 April 2015

Christopher Thomas: The Circumcellions: cautionary lessons of religious violence in North Africa

The Circumcellions were charismatic Donatist pirate groups who terrorised the Catholic Christians in North Africa in the fourth century. They were groups of holy men and women who travelled through villages on a continuing pilgrimage, remembering the martyrs of the Church in North Africa, holding charismatic meetings around the martyrs whitewashed shrines. The group was violent towards their enemies in the Catholic Church, and this was higlighted by the bruning of barns and Churches, the maiming of opponents and anyone who betrayed their cause and the destruction by armed gangs of isolated properties.  The actions of the Circumcellions have been compared by Edward Gibbon to the Camisards of Languedoc in the eighteenth century, and by others to the Marabouts or the Dervishes of modern North Africa. This paper will attempt to draw relevant comparisons between continuing religious violence in North Africa together with the religious violence between Muslems and Christians in West Africa, and in Nigeria in particular.

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