Beyond Primitivism: Indigenous Religious Traditions and Modernity

By Jacob K. Olupona | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Tribal religious traditions are constantly devalued in Western discourse on religion

John C. Mohawk

There have been changes, transformations, and challenges to the prevailing meta-narratives in Western culture. The West claims descent from Mediterranean cultures from the ancient world, as though Western history is more or less continuous and uninterrupted. That is not exactly accurate. The West descends more from two divisions of Christianity, the Greek and the Roman Churches, than from the Greek and Roman cultures.

The West was once a very rural place - a feudal place - for a long time. It is a product of that tradition of Western feudalism, and most of its institutions were formed during that time. To understand its history and why most non-Western and especially indigenous cultures are not centered or even given serious attention, we must review and understand the original narrative arose during the Age of Feudalism and that provided the West with an identity.

The West’s meta-narrative was vastly expanded in the eleventh century. At that time it centered on a story of a people who descended from the group that embraced a Christian tradition. This Christian tradition included an interpretation of historical events that urged that the Son of God came to earth and died for our sins - the sins not only of believers but of everyone on earth - and then ascended to heaven. It constituted a very complex and emotionally powerful story that sought to impart meaning to human experiences around suffering, loss, and death. At that time, the followers of this tradition almost universally believed that the Son of God was about to return and that the believers were or should be required to defend the faith. Acting ostensibly on this belief, a succession of popes launched the Crusades, the European foreign wars of conquest of peoples and territory in order to secure the Holy Land in anticipation of the second coming of Christ, but also avowedly for the purpose of seizing the assets of unbelievers. These wars lasted about two centuries.

The Crusades brought a lot more than warfare to the West. The Crusades involved an incident wherein a rural and relatively unsophisticated culture attacked an ancient civilization. When the Crusaders arrived in Asia Minor they encountered things that they had never imagined existed, including spices and porcelain, sugar and textiles, and many things they could not buy at home. One of the most important things that resulted from the Crusades was trade with the East. The road to the Orient began at Constantinople and then continued through passes and mountains all the way into the Gobi desert and China.

Around the year 1300 - the Crusades can be said to have ended circa 1291, following a lot of mostly failed military efforts in the Levant - we find the introduction to Western Europe of chemically propelled weapons - firearms - using gunpowder, which had probably been invented in China. The Christians were particularly well positioned to take

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