Atlantic History Native American Religions
by
David J. Silverman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 December 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0156

Introduction

There are two different bodies of scholarship on American Indian religion, separated by academic discipline and period of focus. Archeologists and anthropologists make up the first group and train their attention on Indian life before the era of European colonization. For the most part, their data comes from archeological excavations supplemented by Indian oral histories, written accounts of Indian life from the post-Columbian era, and the comparison of different tribal societies. This scholarship tends to concentrate on centralized Indian societies, such as the Mayas, Aztecs, Incas, and Moundbuilders, because of the archeological mark those societies left. The second body of scholarship consists of historical explorations of Indian religious life under colonialism. Historians, literary scholars, and social and cultural anthropologists make up this field. Generally, their work focuses on Indians and European missionaries. Here, too, the sources drive the content. Historians rely upon written records to ply their trade, and missionaries had more to say about Indian religion, particularly Indian Christianity, than any other group of record keepers. Both of these scholarly camps have been shifting their emphasis in recent years. Some of the best recent work on Indian life before colonization has broadened its scope from the study of Indian material life to the interplay of religion and social and political hierarchy. Put another way, it has examined how Indians produced ideology—systems of belief, ritual, symbolism, and everyday behavior—that made social structures seem God-given or natural. Historical scholarship has changed, too. It was once common to question whether Indian conversion to Christianity was genuine, and to assume that missionaries were either altruistic or, in the case of scholarship after the late 1960s, wolves in sheep’s clothing. Today’s scholarship has little to do with these debates. For instance, increasing numbers of scholars of Indian Christianity avoid the term “conversion” because, they argue, it reflects the missionaries’ perspective and not the experience of Indians themselves. Instead, these scholars focus on how Native people “adopted” Christianity and used their own traditions to make it meaningful for themselves. They treat Indian evangelization of other Indians as well as colonial missionary work. Historians are also increasingly aware that many missionaries, despite their promotion of a colonial agenda that was ultimately hostile to Indian interests, often served as the best friends Indians had in an exploitative colonial regime. Some missionaries made genuine efforts to understand their charges, if only to undermine their beliefs.

General Overviews

It is commonplace for scholars of American Indian religions to emphasize the diversity of Indian beliefs and rituals. Nevertheless, Indians across space and time have shared certain religious elements, such as shamanism, the notion of spiritual guardianship, and belief that spiritual power courses through the world and the things in it. The same can be said of Indian responses to missionaries and of Indian Christianity in the colonial world: these developments contained both tremendous diversity and important similarities. The scholarly works included in this section analyze these broad trends. Earle 1991 presents theories on the economic and ideological bases of chiefly power that are applicable to a number of American Indian societies before and during the era of European colonization. Eliade 1964 introduces readers to shamanism, the most basic feature of American Indian religious life. Hulktrantz 1980 and Martin 2001 provide succinct, wide-ranging overviews of American Indian religion that address the most common problematics in the field. In a study of Indian ways of telling history, Nabakov 2002 illustrates how Indians often conceived of the human and sacred past as one in the same. Historical studies of American Indian religious change typically focus on Indian men’s reaction to missionaries. Yet Pointer 2007 reminds us that Indians influenced Euro-American Christianity, too, while St. Pierre and Long Soldier 1995 insists that we recognize the essential role of women in Indian religious life.

South and Central American Traditions

The Maya, Aztec, and Inca Empires have long captured the imaginations of archeologists, and for good reason. The stories of these societies not only should be told, given their dramatic expansionism, but they can be told in some detail because of the remains they left behind and their documentation by Spanish conquistadores and missionaries. These remains of these empires include the great and small materials of religious life, such as temples, burial chambers, mummies, astronomical observatories, idols, calendars, friezes, codices, sacrificial stones, and weapons. Recent scholarly interpretation of these objects has centered on the substance of Indian religious ideology and the relationship between religion and politics. Whereas Wolf 1974 is the essential introduction to the modern era of the field, the Cambridge History of Native Peoples (Solomon and Schwartz 1999) is the most current overview. Conrad and Demarest 1984 and, especially, Clendinnen 1991 take readers deep into the ideological worlds of Central and South America’s most powerful peoples, but Hassig 2001 questions whether these ideas were quite as formative as these authors assert.

North American Moundbuilders

The Moundbuilding societies of the Mississippi River drainage were in decline on the eve of contact with Europeans from some combination of environmental stress, warfare, and ideological uncertainty. Scholarly debate about the causes remains vibrant. Like the great Central and South American civilizations, the Hopewellian (c. 200 CE–500 CE) and Mississippian (c. 1000 CE–1700 CE) Moundbuilding societies were characterized by large public works, great chiefs, a religious priesthood, urban centers surrounded by agricultural suburbs, long-distance trade, and a rich material life. Scholarship on these peoples, like their southern counterparts, is also concerned with the ideological bases of political hierarchy. Shaffer 1992 is an accessible introduction to this material. Issues of ideology and cosmology are treated in Emerson 1997 and Hudson 2003. Studies of the interplay between ideology, economy, society, and environment among the Moundbuilders can be found in Galloway 1989, Smith 2000, and Pauketat and Emerson 1997.

  • Emerson, Thomas E. Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

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    This theoretically sophisticated work is interested in how the political elites at Cahokia made their rule hegemonic (or, to put it another way, made it appear natural) through ideology and symbolism. In this, Emerson distinguishes himself from scholars of the Moundbuilders who focus on everyday economic life.

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  • Galloway, Patricia. The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Artifacts and Analysis. Papers presented at an archaeological conference held at the Cottonlandia Museum in Greenwood, MS, September 1984. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

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    Nineteen essays derived from an academic conference explore the similarities and differences of religious and political iconography in the North American Southeast during the Mississippian period, including the idea that Indian peoples in this region participated in a shared ceremonial cult.

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  • Hudson, Charles H. Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

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    In this creative gem, Hudson imagines a series of conversations between a Spanish priest accompanying the conquistador Tristan de Luna in his explorations of the Southeast in 1559–1560, and an Indian priest from the Moundbuilding center of Coosa in modern Georgia. In these conversations, the Coosa priest explains his people’s lifeways and beliefs. Though fictional, this work is thoroughly informed by scholarship. It is one of the best introductions to the Mississippian world.

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  • Pauketat, Timothy R., and Thomas E. Emerson, eds. Cahokia: Domination and Ideology in the Mississippian World. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

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    Collectively, the essays in this collection contend that the Moundbuilding community of Cahokia played a preeminent role ideologically, politically, and economically among Mississippian chiefdoms. The volume represents a state of the field.

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  • Shaffer, Lynda Norene. Native Americans before 1492: The Moundbuilding Centers of the Eastern Woodlands. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992.

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    An introduction to Mississippian life designed for general audiences. Accessible and informed.

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  • Smith, Marvin T. Coosa: The Rise and Fall of a Southeastern Mississippian Chiefdom. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

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    A slim yet comprehensive account of Coosa, the largest chiefdom in the Mississippian Southeast, in what is now parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. Draws on archeological data and early historical accounts to treat society, economy, warfare, and ideology.

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The Pueblo Indians and Their Predecessors

Along with the Moundbuilders, the Pueblo Indians and their predecessors, the Hohokams (c. 300 CE–1400 CE) and Anasazis (c. 1000 CE–1500 CE) have captured the bulk of attention from scholars of pre-Columbian North Americans. Indians in the Southwest, like those in the Mississippi River Valley and Southeast, combined corn-beans-squash agriculture, a rich religious ideology, impressive architectural works, warfare, and long-distance trade to create a vibrant and populous culture with deep marks in the archeological record. Another parallel is that scholars of the pre-Columbian Southwest, like those of the Moundbuilders, have also struggled to determine the relationship between politics, warfare, economy, society, and ideology among these groups, and to identify the cause or causes for the Anasazis’ collapse. The early chapters of Calloway 2003 provide the most accessible yet substantive introduction to the topic. Noble 1984, an edited collection on Chaco Canyon, represents the state of the field, while Turner and Turner 1999 addresses the most politically charged issue regarding this site: cannibalism. Schaafsma 2000 is a thought-provoking work that carries the discussion of religious ideology and warfare to the Pueblo Indians, who, some scholars believe, absorbed the Chaco Indians after their dispersal.

  • Calloway, Colin G. One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

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    A masterful synthesis of western Indian history before 1800, including the rise of complex societies in the Southwest. This work is especially valuable for comparing developments in the Southwest with those of the Mississippi River Valley.

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  • Noble, David Grant, ed. New Light on Chaco Canyon. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 1984.

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    W. James Judge’s contribution to this collection of essays contends that Chaco Canyon, one of the most impressive archeological sites from the pre-Columbian Southwest, was a ritual center for Anasazi peoples throughout the San Juan Basin. The volume as a whole provides an overview of this essential place.

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  • Schaafsma, Polly. Warrior, Shield, and Star: Imagery and Ideology of Pueblo Warfare. Santa Fe, NM: Western Edge, 2000.

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    Drawing on such sources as rock pictographs, painted shields, and oral histories, Schaafsma explores cosmology and symbolism among pre-Columbian Pueblo Indians. Her work is distinctive in a field often dominated by narrow materialist perspectives.

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  • Turner, Christy G., and Jaqueline A. Turner. Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999.

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    Presents the archeological evidence for cannibalism in the Chaco Canyon area and interprets it as part of a ritual complex influenced by the Aztecs.

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Farmers of the East

Indians living between southern New England and Carolina shared a number of characteristics despite their diversity. Most of them had a mixed subsistence base of corn-beans-squash agriculture, hunting, fishing, shell fishing, and wild food gathering, with the men responsible for killing wild animals and the women responsible for raising and gathering plant foods and processing the men’s kills. These societies were less centralized than the Moundbuilders to the west, but more centralized than the hunter gatherers to the north. Shamans were the religious authorities, and sometimes these figures possessed close ties to political elites. Scholarship is just beginning to unravel the nature of these relationships. Students interested in the Indians of southern New England should begin with the works of the anthropologists William S. Simmons and Kathleen Bragdon, whose scholarship has shaped the field for over thirty years (see Simmons 1976 and Bragdon 1996). Bragdon, in particular, is innovative in her use of Indian-language sources. Gleach 1997 and Williamson 2003 likewise bring the insights of cultural anthropology to the study of belief, ritual, and power among Virginia’s Powhatan Indians. Fur 2009, a study of the Delawares, and Perdue 1998, on the Cherokees, highlight gender and the role of women, topics that are too often neglected in scholarly treatments of Indian religious life. No Indian people have received more scholarly attention than the Iroquois. Engelbrecht 2003, an exploration of Iroquois cosmology, is an imaginative and thorough synthesis of the state of the field.

  • Bragdon, Kathleen J. Native People of Southern New England, 1500–1650. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

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    Drawing on a mix of ethnographic and historical sources, including Wampanoag language texts produced during the 17th century by Indians and Englishmen alike, Bragdon presents a historical ethnography of the Indians of southern New England during the early colonial period. This volume is the basic introduction to the indigenous cultures of New England.

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  • Engelbrecht, William. Iroquoia: The Development of a Native World. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003.

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    In a crowded field, this title is the best introduction to Iroquois belief and ritual in the early contact period.

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  • Fur, Gunlög. A Nation of Women: Gender and Colonial Encounters among the Delaware Indians. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

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    A focused exploration of gender construction in Delaware Indian life, including its religious underpinnings and expressions.

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  • Gleach, Frederic W. Powhatan’s World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

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    An original examination of Powhatan-English relations as a clash of cultures, with particular emphasis on the religious and ideological bases of Powhatan chiefly authority. Includes a fascinating interpretation of John Smith’s “rescue” by Pocahontas as a ritual adoption.

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  • Perdue, Theda. Cherokee Women: Gender and Cultural Change. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

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    As in Fur 2009, Perdue places gender at the center of Cherokee life, including religious life.

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  • Simmons, William S. “Southern New England Shamanism: An Ethnographic Reconstruction.” In Papers of the Seventh Algonquian Conference, 1975. Edited by William Cowan, 217–256. Ottawa, Canada: Carleton University Press, 1976.

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    Simmons provides the single best account of shamanism in southern New England.

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  • Williamson, Margaret Holmes. Powhatan Lords of Life and Death: Command and Consent in Seventeenth-Century Virginia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

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    A historical ethnography focused on the ideological and practical bases of Powhatan chiefly and religious authority in the early 1600s. Makes several breakthroughs in its treatment of Powhatan priests.

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Hunter-Gatherers

Hunter-gatherers could be found across Native America, from the Arctic to Patagonia and from Maine to Alaska. These peoples spoke dozens of languages and lived in an equal variety of environments. Yet their religious lives were remarkably similar, with an emphasis on shamanistic ritual, curing, and divination, and on men acquiring a spirit guardian in a vision to protect them in hunting and warfare. The scholarship agrees on these points. The main point of contention erupted in the 1980s when Calvin Martin posited that Indian overhunting in the fur trade was the product of an Indian “war on animals,” caused by the supposed Indian belief that game animals were responsible for the sudden appearance of epidemic diseases such as smallpox (see Martin 1978). Martin’s thesis has been thoroughly discredited. Nevertheless, Martin continues to produce bold and sometimes compelling statements on the way that Indians, in particular, and modern humans, in general, have suffered from their growing distance from their hunter-gatherer roots (see Martin 1999). Hallowell 1955 is a creative work on hunter-gatherer psychology that anticipated Martin in a number of respects. Martin 1978 sums up Martin’s perspective, while Krech 1981, an edited volume, captures the scholarly backlash to Martin. The current state of scholarship is well represented by Basso 1996 and Tanner 1979, on the worldviews of the Apaches and Crees, respectively.

  • Basso, Keith H. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

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    Basso evokes an Apache landscape alive with stories, spirits, and cultural meaning. His insights about the Apaches have wide application to other Indian peoples across the hemisphere.

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  • Hallowell, A. Irving. “Some Psychological Characteristics of the Northeastern Indians.” In Culture and Experience. By A. Irving Hallowell, 125–150. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1955.

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    Hallowell’s essay is a classic exploration of the complex religious relationship between northeastern hunters and their game animals.

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  • Krech, Shepard, III, ed. Indians, Animals, and the Fur Trade: A Critique of Keepers of the Game. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1981.

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    The essays in this volume, written mostly by anthropologists, forcefully rebut the thesis of Martin 1978. Collectively, the authors offer students of religion the important reminders not to overstate their arguments and always to take heed of the material basis of human life.

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  • Krech, Shepard, III. The Ecological Indian: Myth and History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

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    By examining the actual practices of Indian peoples, this work shatters the myth that the religion and values of historic Indians restrained them from overexploiting their environment.

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  • Martin, Calvin Luther. Keepers of the Game: Indian-Animal Relationships and the Fur Trade. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978.

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    Though Martin’s thesis has been discredited, his early exposition of hunter-gatherer spiritual life remains the best available.

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  • Martin, Calvin Luther. The Way of the Human Being. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

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    Informed by the author’s work among American Indians past and present, this book is an impassioned and learned plea that humankind has lost something fundamental in its drift from its hunter-gatherer roots.

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  • Tanner, Adrian. Bringing Home Animals: Religious Ideology and Mode of Production of the Mistassini Cree Hunters. New York: St. Martin’s, 1979.

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    This work, based on the author’s fieldwork among the Crees of the Canadian subarctic, provides a compelling portrait of how people give meaning to the quotidian.

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Missions and Indian Christianity

Historical scholarship on American Indian religion, particularly during the colonial period, has focused disproportionately on Indian Christianity and on Christian missions to Indians. The reasons for this emphasis are clear. For one, historians depend on written evidence, and most of the written evidence relating to Indian religion deals with Christian missions. Additionally, and relatedly, missions were the primary context for religious conversations between Indians and colonists. Indeed, missions could be found throughout the Americas from the earliest days of colonization, often far beyond the range of intensive colonial settlement. For some Indians in the interior of the Americas, missionaries, alongside traders and slave raiders, were the face of colonialism. The works here represent the evolution of the field over the last thirty years. Axtell 1985 is the best introduction to French and English missions in New France and New England, while Grant 1984 ranges through Canadian missions over four centuries. Though Axtell and Grant generally focus on European priorities and the question of whether Indians converted according to missionary standards, they both gesture in the direction of future scholarship by suggesting the range of factors that made Christianity appealing to Indians. More recent studies, represented here by Griffiths and Cervantes 1999, Martin and Nicholas 2010, McNally 2000, and Salisbury 2003, have shifted attention away from missionaries and toward Indians themselves, with a particular concern with how they made Christianity something meaningful to themselves. Andrews 2013 places a fresh focus on the critical role of indigenous missionaries in their own people’s evangelization.

  • Andrews, Edward E. Native Apostles: Black and Indian Missionaries in the British Atlantic World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

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    A pathbreaking examination of Indian and black missionaries at work in Native America and Africa.

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  • Axtell, James. The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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    A beautifully written and thoroughly researched comparison of French and English missionary campaigns in Northeast America and of Indian responses. It is the standard introduction to the subject.

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  • Grant, John Webster. Moon of Wintertime: Missionaries and the Indians of Canada in Encounter since 1534. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984.

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    A broad overview of Canadian missions from the 16th through the 20th centuries. Provides wide coverage interspersed with important analytical insights on issues of conversion, Indian agency, and the relationship between missions and empire.

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  • Griffiths, Nicholas, and Fernando Cervantes, eds. Spiritual Encounters: Interactions between Christianity and Native Religions in Colonial America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

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    These essays range through the missions of the Western Hemisphere during the colonial era. The editors place these case studies and the literature as a whole within a sophisticated theoretical framework.

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  • Martin, Joel W., and Mark Nicholas, eds. Native Americans, Christian Missionaries, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

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    This collection of essays by historians and literary scholars provides a state of the field of the study of Indian Christianity. The editors ably trace the evolution of scholarly debate over the past forty years.

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  • McNally, Michael D. “The Practice of Native American Christianity.” Church History 69.4 (2000): 834–859.

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    Forcefully argues that scholars need to focus on religious practice rather than belief as a source of meaning for Christian Indians, in acknowledgment of the limits of the sources and the role of ritualism in Indian life.

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  • Salisbury, Neal. “Embracing Ambiguity: Native Peoples and Christianity in Seventeenth-Century North America.” Ethnohistory 50.2 (2003): 247–259.

    DOI: 10.1215/00141801-50-2-247Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A convincing argument that conversion is an inherently flawed concept for scholars of American Indian Christianity. Taking Salisbury seriously means discarding the basic lens through which generations of scholars have read their sources.

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Indians and English Missionaries

The study of Indians and English missionaries during the 17th century is limited to New England because of the lack of English missionary activity elsewhere, aside from Maryland. In New England, these missions clustered around Massachusetts Bay, Cape Cod, and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Among the missions’ most notable creations were a number of “praying towns” set up for the exclusive use of Christian Indians on land guaranteed to the Indians by colonial authorities. In the 18th century, the missionaries’ field opened up somewhat, as the Narragansetts, Pequots, Mohegans, Niantics, Montauketts, Delawares, Mohawks, and Oneidas began to host a mix of Congregationalist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican missionaries. Among the most important developments in this subfield in recent years is the recognition that (1) Indians were full participants in their own Christianization rather than passive objects of missionary teaching, (2) Indian traditions informed Indian Protestantism no less than Indian Catholicism, and (3) the Great Awakening was a watershed in the spread of Christianity among Indians in the English colonies. The scholarship of William S. Simmons in the 1970s and 1980s (Simmons 1979, Simmons 1983), anticipated the Indian-centered focus of more recent work. Naeher 1989, van Lonkhuyzen 1990, Cohen 1993, Silverman 2005, Romero 2011, and Wyss 2012 have continued this evolution by bringing Indian understandings of Christianity, including how Christianity resonated with certain traditional beliefs, to the fore. Axtell 1988, a short essay on the English Jesuit missions of Maryland, and Richter 1992, a study of Anglican missionary work among the Mohawks, offer important counter-perspectives to the missionary efforts of both English Puritans and French Jesuits.

  • Axtell, James. “White Legend: The Jesuit Missions in Maryland.” In After Columbus: Essays in the Ethnohistory of Colonial North America. By James Axtell, 73–85. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Details the only English Catholic mission in the history of colonial America: the short-lived Jesuit mission to the Piscataway, Wicomiss, and Nanticoke Indians of Maryland. This mission both fed into and ultimately fell victim to the Protestant-Catholic violence that tore apart Maryland during the 17th century.

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  • Cohen, Charles L. “Conversion among Puritans and Amerindians: A Theological and Cultural Perspective.” In Puritanism: Transatlantic Perspectives on a Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Faith. Edited by Francis J. Bremer, 233–256. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1993.

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    This pathbreaking essay examines Indian engagement with Puritan theology in the praying town of Natick. It illustrates that Indians grasped most Puritan concepts but struggled mightily with the ideas of original sin and ecstatic reception of grace.

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  • Naeher, Robert James. “Dialogue in the Wilderness: John Eliot and the Indian Exploration of Puritanism as a Source of Meaning, Comfort, and Ethnic Survival.” New England Quarterly 62.3 (1989): 346–368.

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    Emphasizes that Indians in the Massachusetts praying towns took an interest in Christianity because it gave them a sense of purpose, meaning, and organization in the wake of epidemics that decimated their peoples.

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  • Richter, Daniel K. “‘Some of Them . . . Would Always Have a Minister with Them’: Mohawk Protestantism, 1683–1719.” American Indian Quarterly 16.4 (1992): 471–484.

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    Examines the poorly known Anglican mission to the Mohawks of the Iroquois League in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Though the Mohawks gave this mission a lackluster reception, the mission did lay the groundwork for a much fuller Mohawk engagement with Anglicanism later in the century.

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  • Romero, R. Todd. Making War and Minting Christians: Masculinity, Religion, and Colonialism in Early New England. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.

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    A much-needed study of how Indian and English gender systems affected, and were affected by, colonialism.

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  • Silverman, David J. Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha’s Vineyard, 1600–1871. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511806537Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the survival of the Wampanoags of Martha’s Vineyard during the colonial era and beyond was partially a consequence of their Christianity. This study places a special emphasis on the ways that the Wampanoags “indigenized” Christianity by infusing it with traditional meanings and grafting their social structure onto church government.

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  • Simmons, William S. “Conversion from Indian to Puritan.” New England Quarterly 52.2 (1979): 197–218.

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    A compelling argument that the elements of Puritan Christianity that appealed most to Indians were those that resonated with their customary beliefs and practices.

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  • Simmons, William S. “Red Yankees: Narragansett Conversion in the Great Awakening.” American Ethnologist 10.2 (1983): 253–271.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1983.10.2.02a00030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sees the spread of evangelical Protestantism among the Narragansetts, and, for that matter, the Pequots, Mohegans, and Niantics, during the Great Awakening as a result of the similarities between shamanism and evangelical belief and practice.

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  • van Lonkhuyzen, Harold W. “A Reappraisal of the Praying Indians: Acculturation, Conversion, and Identity at Natick, Massachusetts, 1646–1730.” New England Quarterly 63.3 (1990): 396–428.

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    One of the first challenges to an earlier scholarship that portrayed the praying Indians of Massachusetts as passive victims of imperialistic missionaries. Van Lonkhuyzen sees the praying Indians as dynamic participants in their own Christianization, for their own purposes.

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  • Wyss, Hilary E. English Letters and Indian Literacies: Reading, Writing, and New England Missionary Schools, 1750–1830. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

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    Emphasizes indigenous Christian educational networks in colonial New England as the foundation for better-known Native literacy programs, and for Indian political activism, in the 19th century and beyond.

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Indians and French Missionaries

Missions were fundamental to Indian-French relationships in North America. Just as French fur traders ventured deep into Indian country to ply their wares, so too did Jesuits travel hundreds of miles beyond France’s St. Lawrence colony into the Great Lakes region and Mississippi River to proselytize Indian communities. The Jesuits and their Indian charges also founded a handful of Christian Indian towns in the St. Lawrence Valley near French Quebec and Montreal. In turn, Christianity became one of the means by which Indians and French colonists claimed to share some common cause and to inhabit a shared moral community. Scholarship is just beginning to come to terms with this latter development, having previously emphasized the equally important point that missionary work was rife with tension both between the Jesuits and their Indian hosts, on the one hand, and between those Indians who engaged with Christianity and those who rejected it, on the other. Trigger 1976, a study of Hurons, launched modern scholarly discussions of whether Indians were materially or ideologically motivated to grant missionaries an audience. It also treats one of the most important missions in the history of New France. Vecsey 1997 covers the entire range of French-Indian missionary encounters in North America and is the best introduction to the topic. Richter 1985 is a penetrating treatment of the political factionalism that typically accompanied Christian missions among Indians, while Sleeper-Smith 2001 highlights the critical role of Indian women in the Jesuit missions of the Great Lakes and Illinois country. Their findings have broad application for other times and places. Anderson 2007, Greer 2005, Leavelle 2011, Morrison 2002, and Chmielewski 2012 provide methodologically innovative and analytically sophisticated treatments of seminal issues like indigenous identity, conversion, imperial rivalry, and scholarly epistemology in the study of French-Indian missions.

  • Anderson, Emma. The Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

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    In a beautifully crafted, heart-wrenching account, Anderson explores the inability of a Christian Huron (or Wyandot) from the mid-17th century to find acceptance among either his indigenous community or French colonists.

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  • Chmielewski, Laura M. The Spice of Popery: Converging Christianities on an Early American Frontier. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012.

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    A creatively researched study of religious rivalry in the Maine borderland contested by the Wabenakis, French, and English. Contends that, especially during the 17th century, religious faiths sometimes converged and not only clashed to produce a distinct “religious eclecticism.”

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  • Greer, Allan. Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    Greer’s biography of the Catholic Mohawk Catherine Tekakwitha, a candidate for Catholic sainthood, is as much about 17th-century Mohawk and French colonial societies as it is about Tekakwitha herself. Greer is especially interested in the sociocultural milieu that produced Tekakwitha and the factors that inspired those who outlived her to promote her as a saint.

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  • Leavelle, Tracy Neal. The Catholic Calumet: Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

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    A methodologically innovative study of how the Indians (mostly Illinois) and French Jesuit missionaries filtered Christian ideas through Indian terminology, cultural tropes, and power structures, thereby giving these ideas indigenous meanings.

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  • Morrison, Kenneth M. The Solidarity of Kin: Ethnohistory, Religious Studies, and the Algonkian-French Religious Encounter. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    Intelligent, theoretically informed, and challenging, Morrison uses French-Abenaki religious encounters in 17th- and 18th-century Maine to challenge the very notion of conversion.

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  • Richter, Daniel K. “Iroquois versus Iroquois: Jesuit Missions and Christianity in Village Politics, 1642–1686.” Ethnohistory 32.1 (1985): 1–16

    DOI: 10.2307/482090Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Historically, most Indian communities with an active mission have broken into Christian and traditionalist factions that parallel or overlay older fault lines. Richter traces the deep factionalism that accompanied Jesuit missions to the Iroquois during the mid- to late 17th century. These divisions led to the creation of new Christian Iroquois towns in the St. Lawrence Valley.

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  • Sleeper-Smith, Susan. Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.

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    Sleeper-Smith demonstrates that Indian women were at the forefront of Indian Catholicism in the western Great Lakes during the late 17th and 18th centuries as godparents, interpreters, and cultural go-betweens.

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  • Trigger, Bruce G. The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660. 2 vols. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1976.

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    A classic study of how the Huron confederacy, the focus of Jesuit missionary work during the 1630s and 1640s, eventually shattered under the strains of Iroquois attacks and religious factionalism. It also traces how some Hurons reorganized after this collapse, with Jesuit assistance.

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  • Vecsey, Christopher. The Paths of Kateri’s Kin. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.

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    This wide-ranging synthesis is the essential introduction to Indian-French religious encounters during the colonial era.

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Indians and Spanish Missionaries

To an even greater degree than the French, the Spanish made missionary work fundamental to their relations with America’s indigenous peoples. Unlike the French, however, most (albeit not all) Spanish missions were institutions into which Indians moved, as opposed to the missionaries moving into Indian communities. These missions also took root in a context of violent Spanish conquest of Indian peoples, and then contributed to the siphoning of Indian labor and resources for Spanish public works projects and Spanish colonists’ private gain. These factors have helped to discourage scholars from exploring the substance of Indian Christianity in Spanish colonial contexts. So have deeply problematic missionary records generated through such fraught exchanges as confession by priests with little understanding of their charges’ language. Nevertheless, as increasing numbers of scholars learn indigenous languages and study indigenous language texts from the colonial era, they are beginning to probe more deeply into the religious lives of Indians under Spanish colonialism. Galgano 2005 and Vecsey 1996 are the best single-volume introductions to the scholarship of Spanish-Indian missions in North America. Trailblazing studies have included Lockhart 1992, with its use of indigenous sources to examine Mexico’s missions; Milanich 1999, with its use of archeological data to discuss the missions of Florida; Gutiérrez 1991, with its use of gender to analyze Spanish-Indian encounters in New Mexico; and Hackel 2005, with its use of demographic data to explore the California missions. Mills 1997 Sandos 2004, and Hass 2014 reflect current scholarship’s emphasis on Indian agency and the ambiguities of missionary encounters.

  • Galgano, Robert C. Feast of Souls: Indians and Spaniards in the Seventeenth-Century Missions of Florida and New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

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    An excellent introductory synthesis of the scholarship of the missions of Spanish Florida and New Mexico.

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  • Gutiérrez, Ramón A. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sex, and Power in New Mexico, 1500–1846. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991.

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    Original and provocative, this now classic study argues that gender construction was fundamental to Spanish colonialism and racial hierarchy in colonial New Mexico. Early chapters trace how Spanish missions to the Pueblo Indians were constituent of this dynamic.

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  • Hackel, Steven. Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769–1821. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

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    Hackel’s study has quickly become the standard work on the missions of California. He at once traces the environmental catastrophes that drove Indians into the missions, the diseases that killed scores of them there, and Indians’ creative engagement with Spanish Catholicism.

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  • Hass, Lisbeth. Saints and Citizens: Indigenous Histories of Colonial Missions and Mexican California. Berkeley, CA, and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2014.

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    An inventive study of how the Chumas, Lucieños, and Yokuts incorporated Spanish missions and Christianity into their lives and worldview. Its treatment of Indian religious art is especially compelling.

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  • Lockhart, James. The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.

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    The essential study of the Nahua people of central Mexico in the era of Spanish colonization. It is notable for its pioneering use of Nahuatl language texts produced by Nahua people themselves. Advances our understanding of syncretic processes in indigenous cultural change under colonialism.

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  • Milanich, Jerald T. Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions and Southeastern Indians. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999.

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    The best single-volume treatment of the Indian-Spanish relations in the missions of Florida. Milanich does an admirable job of drawing on both archeological and documentary evidence.

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  • Mills, Kenneth. Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Andean Religion and Extirpation, 1640–1750. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

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    A compelling examination of the struggle between Spanish authorities and Andean Indians as the Spanish sought to extirpate “idolatry” from Indian life. Along the way, Mills illustrates the dynamism of Indian religion, including the compartmentalization, syncretism, and resistance that variously characterized their engagement with Catholicism.

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  • Sandos, James A. Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

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    A pathbreaking study of the California missions in its insistence that Indians exercised a great deal of agency in the creation and destruction of the system.

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  • Vecsey, Christopher. On the Padres’ Trail. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996.

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    A comprehensive overview of Spanish-Indian missionary enterprises in North America.

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Indians and Moravian Missionaries

The most popular missions among Indians in the English colonies were not English at all, but German. Shortly after their arrival in North America in the 1740s, pietistic, pacifist Moravian missionaries gained a committed following among the Mohican, Delaware, and Shawnee Indians. However, English authorities persecuted the Moravians out of suspicion that they were undercover Jesuits intent on drawing the Indians to the French interest. After being drummed out of Connecticut and New York, the Moravians continued their missionary work in Pennsylvania and the Ohio Country. They attracted Indians by emphasizing communal work, gender equity, and religious song. Indians also appreciated that the Moravians seemed to be the only missionary society with no interest in obtaining their lands. The Moravians remained an important influence in Indian life well into the Revolutionary era, when their mission became one of many casualties of colonial Indian hating. Merritt 1997 and Wheeler 2008 help explain why the Moravians were so attractive to so many different Indians, without discounting the agency that Indians brought to this encounter. Dally-Starna and Starna 2002 trains its focus on the oft-forgotten Moravian mission in the Housatonic River valley of western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

  • Dally-Starna, Corinna, and William A. Starna. “American Indians and Moravians in Southern New England.” In Germans and Indians: Fantasies, Encounters, Projections. Edited by Colin G. Calloway, Gerd Gemünden, and Susanne Zantop, 83–96. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

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    A useful summary of Moravian-Indian relations in Connecticut by the editors of the Moravian records relating to this mission.

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  • Merritt, Jane T. “Dreaming of the Savior’s Blood: Moravians and the Indian Great Awakening in Pennsylvania.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 54.4 (1997): 723–746.

    DOI: 10.2307/2953880Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines serious Indian engagement with Moravian theology and ritual, with a notable emphasis on women’s roles in the missions, German and Indian alike.

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  • Wheeler, Rachel M. To Live Upon Hope: Mohicans and Missionaries in the Eighteenth-Century Northeast. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.

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    An innovate comparison of two missions to the Mohican Indians of the Housatonnic River valley during the mid-18th century, one a Moravian mission in northwest Connecticut, the another a Congregationalist mission in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Drawing on German as well as English-language sources, Wheeler highlights the differences in the records that these missions left behind, and what those differences tell us both about the nature of the missions and the Indians’ Christianity.

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Religion and Revitalization

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Indians throughout eastern North America participated in religious movements designed to express their racial solidarity as Indians against white territorial and cultural expansion, and to regain the self-determination they had lost under colonialism. Prophets such as the Delaware Neolin during the 1760s, the Seneca Handsome Lake during the 1790s and early 1800s, and the Shawnee Tenskwatawa during the 1810s preached that the Great Spirit had created Indians separately from whites and blacks, with the expectation that they would live distinctly Indian lives. The Great Spirit punished Indians with disease, land loss, and declining game because they had drifted from their proper way of life through such means as alcohol abuse, overhunting game animals, Christianity, and selling away their land. The prophets advocated rituals to purify Indians corrupted by colonial influences. They also promoted a sense of Indian racial solidarity that was entirely brand new. Indian war leaders would draw on this message to drum up militant pan-Indian resistance to white encroachment, culminating in such movements as Pontiac’s War of the 1760s and Tecumseh’s resistance during the 1810s. The Tupac Amarou movement in Peru paralleled these North American developments. Wallace 1972, a pathbreaking study of Handsome Lake, was the authoritative statement in the field for over twenty years until Dowd 1992 reenergized the field with his study of nativism during the era of the American Revolution. Important case studies include Edmunds 1983, a biography of the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa; Martin 1991, a work on the Red Stick Creeks leading up to the Battle of Horseshoe Bend; and Dennis 2010, a revisiting of the Handsome Lake story. Silverman 2010 sees a distinct form of Indian evangelical Christianity emerging in conversation with nativism among the Brothertown, Stockbridge, and Oneida Indians, while Stavig 1999 illustrates the revolutionary implications of nativist ideas in the Andean uprising of Tupac Amaru.

  • Cave, Alfred A. Prophets of the Great Spirit: Native American Revitalization Movements in Eastern North America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

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    An accessible introduction to the various prophetic movements that galvanized Indians in eastern North America between the mid-18th and early 19th centuries.

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  • Dennis, Matthew. Seneca Possessed: Indians, Witchcraft, and Power in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

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    Traces how the Senecas attempted to cope with their rapidly deteriorating situation under US colonialism in the 1790s and early 1800s by turning to Quaker missionaries, the nativistic message of Handsome Lake, and purging their community of witches.

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  • Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745–1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

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    This trailblazing study explores how prophetic nativism emerged in the Susquehannah and Ohio River valleys during the 1740s and 1750s among various Indian peoples struggling with colonialism, before it turned into a series of mass movements between the 1760s and 1810s.

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  • Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

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    A short, accessible, and insightful biography of Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, the inspiration behind Tecumseh’s resistance movement in the early 19th century.

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  • Fisher, Linford. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199740048.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An engaging study of southern New England Indian evangelicals during the era of the Great Awakening, which argues that we should see the Indians’ Christianity as a form of affiliation rather than conversion, and as the product of long-running historical processes instead of a sudden call to God.

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  • Martin, Joel W. Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees’ Struggle for a New World. Boston: Beacon, 1991.

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    Focused on the militant, nativistic Red Stick movement among the Creeks during the early 19th century, culminating in the Creeks’ defeat at the hands of Andrew Jackson and his Native American allies at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

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  • Silverman, David J. Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.

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    Illustrates that Indian racialism could emerge in contexts other than militant nativism. Using the stories of the multitribal, Christian Indian communities, Brothertown and Stockbridge, this study shows how Indians also expressed a sense of racial distinctiveness through evangelical Protestantism, expressed while confronting repeated dispossession and discrimination at colonial hands.

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  • Stavig, Ward. The World of Tupac Amaru: Conflict, Community, and Identity in Colonial Peru. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

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    Traces a massive indigenous revolt in 1780s Peru and Bolivia, with fascinating parallels to the nativist uprisings in North America.

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  • Wallace, Anthony F. C. The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. New York: Vintage, 1972.

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    This book is the classic study of Indian revitalization and of Handsome Lake’s movement. It is essential reading.

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Religion and Trade

In a subfield almost all their own, Hamell 1987 and Miller and Hamell 1986 argue that Indians sought European trade goods not only because of the utilitarian value of those items but also because of their esthetic and spiritual qualities, as Indians understood them. Calvin Martin and Bruce G. White provide their own case studies along these lines; see Martin 1975 and White 1994, respectively.

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