Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape

Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape

Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape

Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape


In this interdisciplinary collection of essays, Joel W. Martin and Mark A. Nicholas gather emerging and leading voices in the study of Native American religion to reconsider the complex and often misunderstood history of Native people's engagement with Christianity and with Euro-American missionaries. Surveying mission encounters from contact through the mid-nineteenth century, the volume alters and enriches our understanding of both American Christianity and indigenous religion.

The essays here explore a variety of post-contact identities, including indigenous Christians, "mission friendly" non-Christians, and ex-Christians, thereby exploring the shifting world of Native-white cultural and religious exchange. Rather than questioning the authenticity of Native Christian experiences, these scholars reveal how indigenous peoples negotiated change with regard to missions, missionaries, and Christianity. This collection challenges the pervasive stereotype of Native Americans as culturally static and ill-equipped to navigate the roiling currents associated with colonialism and missionization.

The contributors are Emma Anderson, Joanna Brooks, Steven W. Hackel, Tracy Neal Leavelle, Daniel Mandell, Joel W. Martin, Michael D. McNally, Mark A. Nicholas, Michelene Pesantubbee, David J. Silverman, Laura M. Stevens, Rachel Wheeler, Douglas L. Winiarski, and Hilary E. Wyss.


Michelene Pesantubbee

Too often the story of Christian missions among Native Americans has tended toward one-dimensional renderings or particular methodological studies of events. Whether we are talking about the Jesuits in seventeenth-century New France, the Franciscans in Alta California in the eighteenth century, or nineteenth-century Protestant missionaries in the Southeast, the classic story of Native American Christian encounter in North America was told from the EuroAmerican perspective of religio-ethnocentric state building. The unquestioned image of the self-sacrificing missionary enduring the hardships of the frontier predominated into the twentieth century with little regard to the adversities Native peoples faced from advancing colonization of the Americas.

While such renderings make for compelling, motivating stories, it is not enough for scholars to interpret mission history, as George Tinker wrote in Missionary Conquest, based solely on the good intentions of the individual missionary or the mission imperative. The ideal did not function in isolation. Numerous factors—economic, political, personal, and vocational, as well as religious—were in a constant state of interplay as missionaries and missions struggled to maintain some semblance of stability in a highly unstable context. Nor did Indian missions move unidirectionally or unilaterally from missionary to missionized. Native Americans actively participated in mission encounters in multiple and varied ways.

In the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of American Indian activism and Native American studies programs, the traditional missionary saga gave way to more Native American-sympathetic stories. Some of those stories went to the other . . .

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