Signifiers for the divine: Noncompassionate aid in the French cités

by NOFIT ITZHAK

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Le Rocher is a Catholic charismatic NGO concerned with ameliorating the living conditions of immigrant populations in the French cités, or peripheral neighborhoods. While scholarly accounts define humanitarian practice through the idiom of compassion, Le Rocher's volunteers find compassion irrelevant to their endeavor. Instead, they articulate their mission in terms of their relationship with God, and in doing so they introduce God as an agent into the relational dynamic of the humanitarian encounter. This introduction of a third element into an otherwise dyadic relationship opens up possibilities for mutuality in a social setting in which relationships are typically defined as nonreciprocal. This highlights the need to take seriously God's agency in shaping the lives of religious actors, raising questions about the broader role that mediation, divine or otherwise, plays in establishing social relations in the contexts of aid and beyond.