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The Gods of Indian Country

Dr. Jennifer Graber’s new book, “The Gods of Indian Country,” grew out of lingering questions from her first book, a study of American Quakers and prisons. Graber learned that Quakers served as missionaries to Native American reservations in the West. She combined this interest in Quaker missions with her research into Native American captivity, so that the resulting narrative contrasts the motives of U.S. officials with Kiowa captives on an Oklahoma reservation. The main claim of Graber’s book is that there were two “gods” of Indian Country — the religious beliefs of the Kiowas (onto which Western explorers superimposed monotheistic terms like “Great Spirit”) versus the Christianity of Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Religion in Graber’s narrative emerges as a site of contestation in the creation of the American West.

Using Kiowa material culture and artwork, which Kiowas used to record their history in non-alphabetic ways, Graber shows how the Kiowas adjusted their religious beliefs through contact with the Comanches and other Great Plains Indian nations, as well as the Americans, during the nineteenth century. Kiowas embraced new religious practices, such as the Sun Dance and the two Ghost Dance movements, to gain spiritual power, “dwdw,” which could be used to repel American invaders. The Red River War of 1874–75 failed to reclaim Indian Country, but Graber cautions her readers not to read inevitable defeat into this narrative. Letters, drawings, and other objects mailed to the reservation reveal how, after the war, Kiowa men in prison and Kiowa children in boarding schools made sense of their dislocation and retained their culture. Kiowa religion to this day remains an effort to rectify the world.

Dr. Graber shows how colonists cloak violence beneath a veneer of gentility and conquered peoples use religion to preserve their sense of community. This book provides a powerful argument against U.S. “nation-building” and the use of state power to break up families — something that the Trump administration is currently doing to Hispanic migrant families along the southern border.

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


The Gods of Indian Country

Podcast with Jennifer Graber (17 September 2018).

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Graber_-_The_Gods_of_Indian_Country_1.1

 

Daniel Gorman (DG): So I understand it’s very hot in Texas, Dr Graber!

Jennifer Graber (JG): It is! It’s about 100 degrees here, today!

DG: Now it’s making me wish for a never-ending winter. I’m calling from, practically, Canada!

JG: OK. That’s right!

DG: So today we’re going to be talking about your new book, The God’s of Indian Country: Religion and the Struggle for the American West. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in studying Native American history – particularly since your previous project was looking at Quakers and prisons?

JG: So the connection actually is prisons. And when I was doing research for my first book, which is on Antebellum prisons, I came across several stories in which I’d read about Native people being incarcerated after they had participated in uprisings, or other sorts of military uprisings, with the Americans. And the more I read into these stories I became curious about following up on them, after my first book was finished. And as I began to read a little bit about some of these episodes I found that religious reformers and missionaries were often active in forms of ministry to incarcerated Native people. And so that actually sounded a lot like some of the stories from my first book. And so, actually, prison was really the connection. But then I also . . . my very first job at a liberal arts college, I was asked to teach a course on Native American Religions. My predecessor in the job had taught such a class and it was really popular – and when you’re a young untenured faculty member you kind-of say “yes” to a lot of things!

DG: Yes!

JG: So I agreed to teach a semester-long class on Native American religions, which meant I needed to do a lot of research to prepare. And what I found was that the more research I did to prepare for that class, it helped me to understand a little bit more about what was going on in these episodes of Native incarceration that I was already interested in. And that’s kind-of how those two things came together.

DG: I see. So, well, this is jumping more to the topical elements of your book. We’re talking about the experience of incarcerated persons – I was seeing on the news this morning about the incarceration of migrant children at the border, and this sort-of perverted school that they make the children attend, where they’re inculcating them with American values, even while they can’t leave these prison camps. And I was just curious, with this book about reservations, do you see it as having import for what we’re going through right now?

JG: I do and there’s a very kind-of particular element, because I think we talk about the connection between incarceration and education in a couple of different ways, currently. The way that you’re talking about, in terms of children who are either seeking asylum or who have immigration cases being adjudicated while they’re being incarcerated, they have experience of educational structures kind-of put in place: forms of incarceration for migrants. But then also we talk about the connections between education and incarceration when we talk about the school-to-prison pipeline. When it comes to youth in cities, especially folks who are African American or Latino, who’ll find themselves disciplined in their educational settings, and being moved into forms of disciplined . . . or actually through the legal structure in the United States, or through policing. And I think there’s a precedent in the 19th century and you can see it in Native history, but it’s actually reversed. One thing I noticed about the 19th century, and the way that these things are connected to Native people, is that it’s a prison-to-school pipeline, instead.

DG: Interesting.

JG: Insofar as some Native people who are incarcerated – in a particular instance in my book they’re incarcerated after the 1874 Red River War – they were sent to a military prison, in this case. And an officer in the army administrated this prison, and put in place several forms of discipline that he thought to be very effective. He changed people’s hairstyles, he changed people’s clothing, he made people go to church, he made people go to class. And then, after this period of incarceration was over, he found this experiment to be so successful and so compelling that he then bought a military barracks and opened the very first off-reservation boarding school. He modelled that boarding school on the military prison that he had administered in earlier years. So it’s actually a kind of reversal. It’s a prison-to-school pipeline instead. But you can see how those structures are connected.

DG: Absolutely. And one thing I’ve been thinking about in some of my own research, looking at Philadelphia: you had the ethnic Jewish neighbourhood near the docks, but not far from that was one of the major boarding schools for Native Americans. So one thing that’s always struck me was that you had these children being transported thousands of miles to a completely new urban environment. I can’t imagine what the dislocation would be like.

JG: Right, and actually there’s one thing we have evidence of – which I find very compelling and really heart-breaking – we have some examples of letters that Native students in off-reservation boarding schools wrote back to their families on reservations. And then letters that families sent to them, in school. And these are letters in which people are trying to update one another about, you know, who is sick and who is healthy; who has a job; who’s actually living and who might have died – because such periods of times happened between these families being able to be in actual physical contact with each other. And so, there’s a kind-of heart-breaking archive of materials that go back and forth between the reservation and the off-reservation school. And the loneliness that pervades those letters is really . . . it’s very palpable.

DG: Now the story you’re telling – as you mentioned – with Indian Country, is this idea . . . it’s at the intersection of a couple of crumbling empires, France and Spain, and also the New American Empire. So I am curious – these letters that were coming back: what language were they being written in?

JG: So, it’s interesting. I look particularly, in this book, at the Kiowa Indians and at this point of time they don’t have a written language for spoken Kiowa. That doesn’t develop until the 20th century. So when they write letters home some of them were written in English and would have been sent back to the reservation, where they could be read by someone with English-speaking skills – which were just starting to kind-of be more widely held across the population in the last two decades of the 19th century. Sometimes they also wrote them in this pictorial language that mimicked, and put on paper, the motions of Plains Indian sign language. So you could see these visual records, or non-alphabetic writing. And then, of course, for other Indian nations . . . . There were other Indian nations that already had written languages and so they could write back in those languages. Or they could write back in English. But there’s a real variety of ways that people communicated with each other. And then people would also send each other drawings, and sometimes artefacts like moccasins, or other pieces of clothing. So lots of things were circulating between that loop between reservation and off-reservation boarding school.

DG: So, with this book, you mentioned in other interviews that this is a real contribution to material culture – which is, I guess, what historians have been calling archaeology lately. One theory I’ve thought about, when reading your book, was Jules Prown who’s talked about the importance of empathy in writing history: you actually handle the objects, you gain the sensory information, you figure out how they were used. In what environments were you finding these objects? Did you have to go to the Kiowa reservation? Were these in archives across the country?

JG: So, many of these things are actually not in the hands of Kiowa people. There is a tribal museum and there are some artefacts from the 19th century in that museum, but actually very few. So most of the things that I was looking at – things like drawings; tepee covers; shields; calendars, which is this form of historical remembered keeping – they’re in museums. So I spend a lot of time at the National Anthropological Archives, which is part of the Smithsonian institution. They have enormous holding in what we would think of as Plains Indian material culture. So it was there where I interacted with a lot of these materials. But then, other museums around the country have just hundreds and hundreds of Plains Indian drawings. And you can go. And some of those places you’re actually allowed to handle those objects yourself, sometimes those are really restricted – you might only be able to look at them while you’re wearing gloves. Or you might not – they might only make facsimiles available if the items are really very delicate. But they’re all over the place – except in Indian Country.

DG: So what are your views on repatriation, then?

JG: I would . . . I’m a person who would love to see more repatriation of objects and the support of the Native communities repatriating them within their own spaces and on their own terms. There are folks at the Kiowa tribal museum who interact with the Smithsonian, and do work on kind-of some cultural preservation kinds of projects. But there are a lot of Kiowa materials that are very far away from Kiowa people. So, one thing I try to do in my own research is gather digital images of objects that are in other places. And I’m working with the tribal museum to make some of those accessible. And, right now, digital might be one of the forms where we can do that most easily. Repatriation has been a really thorny issue, ever since NAGPRA was passed in the ‘90s. And I think we still have a long way to go.

DG: So we’re talking about this idea of repatriation. This then calls to mind the related concept of, I guess, decentring our narratives about American history. So when I think back to my . . . well, I’m not that old! But when I think of just a few years ago, when I was in High School, there really was no Native American history being taught to us. Even though the narrative of American religion has expanded to include other faiths, Native American religions really aren’t a part of that. I was curious if you’ve thought at all about how we should be teaching Native American religions to children?

JG: Oh that’s great. And I have. So I think there’s a couple of levels on which I could respond to that question. When I teach at UTE, the University of Texas, I have lots and lots of students who also have had very little background in their . . . at least their high school years, with Native American history. Many of them do a unit in their Texas history class about Native nations that had either occupied or moved through what became Texas – but it’s very much a pre-colonial story. And then, once there are kind-of Texans here, Native people disappear from that story – which is part of Texas history, actually. So what I find is that students are really eager to learn more. And one thing I’ve done in my classes at UTE is just up the number of lectures and syllabus content percentage that cover Native materials. So, I begin my class on American Religious history at Cahokia, in the high middle ages, and we start with a major Native city along the Mississippian. Many of my student are really surprised that we start, you know, in the year 1100. But that’s where we start. And I actually, this past year, ended the class with the protest at Standing Rock. So I wanted to try to push deeper into Native past in North America, but also not allow Native people to disappear, once we get into the 20th and 21st century. But I can also think about this question . . . . Both my children, who just finished 4th and 7th grade, just finished Texas History in public school. And both of them had units that interacted with Native history in Texas. And that’s one where I think, you know, Texas has a particular and really difficult history around Native people. And I think some real honesty about Texans and their real effort to rid the state of Native people in the mid-19th century – we have to grapple with that when we teach this as a part of Texas history. It is Texas history. And I’d love to see a little bit more kind-of grappling with that story.

DG: Well it’s interesting, with you living in Texas. And I’m thinking that many of the major high school textbook companies are also based in Texas. And they’re advancing, well – shall we a say, a conservative reading of American history?

JG: Yes. That’s right. And Texas, of course, is a textbook market that then shapes the national market. There are other states that are interested in the same sort of narrative crafted for Texas. That narrative is also favoured in other places. So what happens in Texas textbooks then happens elsewhere, as well. So actually reshaping that story here, and thinking about that story, has been an important part of a lot of historians who work in universities here in Texas. There’s a kind-of network of us who, at times, go and talk at the Texas Board of Education meetings, at their public hearings, kind-of working on these questions about who is represented, how the past is represented. It’s an uphill battle here.

DG: I was thinking that in April I was in Oklahoma City, and I went to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

JG: Yes.

DG: And you can see there that this battle is being fought in the museum. Because you can tell that it very clearly started as the Cowboy Museum – and now they’re bringing in the Native American exhibits.

JG: Yes. And that’s a really amazing museum, insofar as you’re absolutely right; for a long, long time it was the Cowboy Museum – the National Cowboy Museum.

DG: A story they tell well.

JG: And they have really … the name change that adds Western Heritage, and then kind-of tries to broaden and be more inclusive about who’s within that Western heritage, kind-of mirrors much bigger  trends in public history that are really important. You know . . . and that museum actually had a ton of incredible Plains Indian material culture in their archive! It’s one of the places I went to do research. They have amazing holdings!

DG: That’s not on display.

JG: But it’s not on display – you’re absolutely right. That’s another place where I think they’re taking baby steps, or initial steps, to make a more inclusive story. But there’s still a long way to go.

DG: While I was at the museum they had an exhibition of painting by – I believe he was Muscogee Creek Seminole – his name was Jerome Tiger. He painted in the mid-20th century. And his paintings are distinctive because the figures are . . . it’s a flat background. There’s no sense of depth to the picture. And when I was reading your book and looking at the many photographs of – well, I guess they’re digital scans – of these drawings that Kiowa people made, it’s very similar design with this lack of depth, this flat image.

JG: Yes.

DG: I was curious, have you looked at Kiowa art since the reservation . . . well, I guess we’re still in the reservation period. Rather, have you looked at paintings made in the last 100 years? The art forms that were developing in the 19th century – do they continue?

JG: They do. Actually so . . . there was a set of artists – that have been called by some folks “The Kiowa Five” and, eventually, there was a realisation that there was also a female artist there, and she’s now part of a group called “The Kiowa Six” – artists who grew up and were young children at the end of the 19th century/ turn of the 20th century, and who kind-of inherited many of the artistic traditions. They would have seen people drawing; they would have seen people painting on tepees; they would have seen Kiowa calendars, where people did history; and they would have seen these kinds of artistic practices. They then were sent to school. And one of the places they were sent to school there was a teacher who really tried to help them develop artistic skills, without having them, necessarily, abandon the particular Plains Indian visual style that they had learned as young people. And so there was a kind of school of artists, really popular in the 1920s and 30s, called the Kiowa Five. And there are actually now, in the contemporary period, many Native artists who have a Plains Indian background who kind-of riff on Native art. And they take the kind-of flat presentation that you’re talking about and they bring that into . . . they combine that with contemporary materials. So this idea – that style, that developed on the plains in the 18th and 19th century, on tepees and later on paper – is still being riffed on by Native artists. And it’s pretty exciting.

DG: I remember in the book you don’t talk too much about the materiality of how the drawings were made, so I was curious if you might elaborate a little bit? They’re creating drawings, they’re sending them back from school. Previously they would have been making drawings on buffalo hide. Do you have any information about this transition of Kiowa art forms being done on natural materials, to on the materials that are provided by the American Empire?

JG: Yes. And so . . . it’s that critical moment with contact with the American that brings theses new drawing materials into play. There’s an anthropologist at the Smithsonian who has been trying to find if we have any examples of Kiowa drawing on paper, really, prior to the reservation period. And she has not been able to find any, even though we have ample examples of shields, tepees, buffalo hide – as you suggested. But it was really contact with the Americans, first through the establishment of the reservation, but then also for some Kiowa in the period of incarceration. The man who ran the military prison, where many Kiowas were sent after the Red River War, gave out paper and pencils and coloured pencils as a way for people to pass the time, and later noticed that the Native men were creating these drawings with one another. And then he encouraged them to sell drawing to tourists – which is one of the reasons that they show up in Eastern Seaboard museums so often. So really it’s that contact with Americans that makes paper and pencil available. And, in some ways, there’s a sort of . . . I mean, paper and pencils are just easier to use than buffalo hide! So, in some ways, it just becomes easier to draw, and to paint with these new materials. And the artists just really take up those new materials with gusto.

DG: So I’d like to transition a little bit from the theoretical material to talk about the narrative of the book, in particular.

JG: OK

DG: You begin The Gods of Indian Country with this evocative description of the 1873 Sun Dance on the Sweetwater Reservation, which is newly created in what’s modern Oklahoma. I was thinking of past books on Native American history, for instance, Anthony Wallace’s Death and Rebirth of the Senaca or Tracy Leavelle’s’ The Catholic Calumet – those also start in the middle of a ritual, the way you do. Were you consciously trying . . . . Is this a trope that you were working with? Or is that kind-of an accidental comparison?

JG: You know, that’s interesting that both of those books also begin with a ritual. Actually, my inspiration for this was the beginning of Robert Orsi’s The Madonna of 115th Street! (Laughs).

DG: Oh, right! That would be the street possession.

JG: Which also began with a ritual and what I remember, when I was trying to figure out how to start the book . . . . Because it’s a book that technically begins in 1803, but I didn’t think actually starting in 1803 was the place to start, because there really wasn’t much contact between Americans and Kiowa, like there’s no contact in that period. So I was thinking about, “How do I set up all that’s at stake in this contact, at least potentially would be at stake, with this contact between Kiowas and Americans?” And this particular Sundance had a lot of witnesses – or not witnesses, necessarily . . . in some ways – witness documents left over, and a lot of anthropological material, ethnographic interviews, where people reflected back on it. So there was a lot of shall-we-say evidence about this particular one. And to me it had a lot of interpretive potential, because it was one where we have the first American – or, at least, the one that we know for sure there’s an American witnessing the ritual. And he wrote so much about it, about his experiences of it. So I started to think that it could be a really great place to start. But I also didn’t want to foreground the Quaker who witnessed it. I didn’t want to foreground his experience. I wanted to try to kind-of make the reader go into the Kiowa world, and not just the Quaker’s world as he experienced the Kiowa. And that made me think about Bob Orsi and how effectively in his book he brings the reader, with this kind-of dramatic story, into the world of the Catholics who are celebrating the Festa for Mount Carmel, in Harlem. And I know people have lots of things to say about the beginning of that book, but I found that book really effective in drawing readers in and bringing them into this question about intercultural encounter. And so, yes, he’s really the inspiration there.

JG: You know, I was not expecting Italian Catholics in Manhattan. But now that you mention it, it does work.

JG: But that’s the joy of Religious Studies, right? You can take reflections on a ritual somewhere and use those tools in a ritual in different part of the world.

DG: Yes, but comparison is tricky. For instance, when I mention the flat drawing without the sense of perspective that you see in European art, my mind originally went to, actually, the drawings that you see in Ancient Egyptian artefacts. And then I was thinking, “Well, is that a fair . . . you know – is that a fair a comparison to make, since they’re so far apart?”

JG: Well it’s interesting. Art historians have really done a lot of heavy-lifting when it comes to interpreting and understanding, Plain Indian visual art. And I think one of the things that they have really argued is to take this art very seriously as art, despite it’s having a different sense of perspective, and despite . . . . Because in the 19th century there were many people, many Americans, when they encountered this art they thought it was childlike and simplistic. And actually, early anthropologists were not interested in it because they wanted to see works on buffalo hide, not paper, right? They didn’t want Native people to be changing. They wanted to preserve this kind-of timeless and older idea that they thought Native people had been performing. They didn’t want to look at this paper stuff which they considered an innovation. So it’s been art historians who have really tried to say, “This is art and we need to take it seriously as art.” In the same way that we, you know – we don’t even question any more whether what ancient Egyptians were creating was art. It’s art, right?

DG: Right.

JG: But it took a longer time for folks to be able to talk that way about Plains Indian art.

DG: One thing I appreciate about your book is that you’re using these . . . . You’re not only using the drawings and paintings as validations of Native American art, you’re also using it to show that they’re recording their history as it’s happening. For instance, you have, after the Osage Indians attack, in 1823 I believe, you have these drawings showing the Kiowa memorialising their dead.

JG: Yes. And that is . . . . Oh sorry, I won’t interrupt!

DG: No it’s alright. I was just getting excited about this! As the book goes on you have just example after example into the reservation period, as their land is being taken away, they’re interpreting their history in a completely different language from the Americans.

JG: Right. And that’s one of the most kind-of pervasive ideas that is part of the whole complex that we talk about in terms of the “vanishing Indian”. The way that Americans were kind-of writing Native people out of the future. And one of the kind-of tropes that would be constantly kind-of brought up in the vanishing Indian rhetoric was, “These are people with no history. They have no sense of their own history.” This would be one of the many reasons that these folks would see that there would be an eventual disappearance of Native people. And so part of what I . . . and I think this is a bit perpetuated by historians who are kind-of unwilling to deal with non-alphabetic sources. There are sources outside of alphabetic and textual sources. And so what I really wanted to do was to push against, or at least show how hard Americans were working to vanish Indians, while at the same time Native People were absolutely creating . . . they were historicising themselves. And they had debates about, “Which events do you memorialise? What’s going to go into the calendar as the most significant event of the year?” And different calendars have different events memorialised. So not only are they keeping that history, they debate that history. Yes. So it was important to me to really frontload those sources and then also kind-of send the message to historians – who often say that it’s difficult to work on Native materials if you don’t have textual or written language in any period – like, “Yes, you can!” You just have to be creative about it.

DG: In designing the layout of book, did you select the position of the images, or did your editors do that?

JG: We kind-of worked together. I usually suggested a placement. And sometimes they took the suggestion and just went with it. And other times we negotiated where things might go. I feel really lucky. From the beginning I asked them for colour plates, like, a section of colour plates. And I was really shocked when they said, “Yes”. So unfortunately the plates can’t be interspersed in the text, just because that would make production very difficult. But I’m really glad they’re there .They mean you have to kind-of tunnel through the text a little bit, when one of those plates comes up. But I’m really glad that it’s present. And one of the things I found early on, with the editors and the outside reviewers, is that they were very open to the placement of especially Kiowa drawings, and Kiowa calendar examples, as ways to reinforce this message that they are documenting themselves, remembering their past, and interpreting their new situations.

DG: There’s an encyclopaedic component to the book, I suppose, in that you’re bringing these images to a wider audience. You also supply an extensive appendix of historical figures from the Kiowa community. I forget the word Wikipedia uses. I think its “disambiguating”. Because you say there are all these name variations. And you put them all in one place for the first time.

JG: Yes. And actually, I worked with an anthropologist who’s been active in Kiowa country for a very long time, and he was very generous. He has worked for a long, long time to collect not only all the possible Kiowa name variations that are possible – because they appear in lots of different ways in different kinds of sources . . . . So he was really vital in my effort to get names spelt correctly, and represented correctly. Because there’s just so many ways, and there’s a long history of Native names being mangled by American authors. So I just wanted to be as careful as I possibly could, and do the best work around naming, and making sure that I could give the best and most thorough account of naming that I could. Because naming is one of the places where I think there’s been shortcuts taken in the work of American history.

DG: What would you say the book’s thesis is?

JG: I’d say it has two. I have a thesis about the Americans who were involved in the process of colonising the Kiowa, and then a thesis about the Kiowa themselves. In terms of the Americans who were operating to colonise Kiowas, I was interested in the folks who saw themselves as a peaceful vanguard coming into Indian country. These were folks who decried what was happening with the military, and when there were the military attacks on Native people, they hated Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Bill. But they were absolutely kind-of foundational and crucial to American expansion. And I think that their effort to designate expansion as a potentially peaceful enterprise was very effective. And it really . . . they very effectively masked other kinds of colonial violence. They weren’t Andrew Jackson, they weren’t Sherman, they didn’t operate in those ways, but they were absolutely essential to the occupation and suppression of Kiowa people, and somehow, very successfully, made that a peaceful process. So that was what I wanted to study about that. Like, how did they effectively take something violent and name it peace, and convince everybody? Because I think they did. I think they convinced other people that this was peaceful. So that’s my main kind-of concern with those folks. I think the thesis in terms of the Kiowa response – I wanted to show that religion was one of the central ways and one of the central places that Kiowas could draw on traditions, but also create these new sorts of rituals to address changing situations. So I wanted to show that there were ways of riffing on the past, and bringing the past into the present. But also those kind-of incredible ritual effects of credibility and creativity that helped them as they tried to resist occupation.

DG: In terms of resistance – you don’t use the word “prophetic” to describe the sort of religious practices that are happening on the reservation: the Sun Dance, the Ghost Dance, eventually experiments with peyote, even interpretations of Christianity. What was your choice not to use the word “prophetic”?

JG: There are a couple of reasons for it. Partly because in the 19th century, and this happened with movements around the United States, that word could be used derisively by Americans. They would talk about maybe a tribal nation that had some sort of revitalisation movement in direct response to American occupation. And they would talk derisively about a prophet who was at the centre of it, right? And usually be meaning “prophet” in scare quotes, like, not a real prophet, but a prophet to these people with bad religion. So I wanted to get away from it because it had been used pejoratively. And then, I think, also there’s so much great work in Religious Studies about varieties of movements in colonial settings where religion is kind-of reimagined to address a colonial situation, that I wanted to draw on language from that work. I felt that those writings – whether they be about colonial era, occupations of parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, or in Australia – that work was really, to me, way more useful, and the language out of those projects was so much more compelling and rich that I thought, “You know what, I just don’t need this word prophet.” It would have been a little easier, right? Like I think when you say, Native American prophecy it communicates something to readers, right. They might think of Tecumseh’s brother and they might think of Handsome Lake. So there’s some effectiveness and usefulness to it but I was willing to kind-of give that up, because I wanted to see if we could do something else with some other kinds of language.

DG: So we’re just about out of time, but we’re almost up to the present, talking about the endurance of Kiowa religion. At the close of your book in the epilogue, you talk about your own journey to Kiowa country in Oklahoma, and witnessing these ceremonies. And, you know, you’re seeing things that outsiders typically don’t. And it’s very fraught to be white person to be present there. How do Kiowa people respond to you wanting to tell their story without being a full member of the community?

JG: Well, when I went to visit, one of the things I always tried to make clear was that I was not an anthropologist: I wasn’t doing interviews, I wasn’t going to quote, I wasn’t taking big observations, I wasn’t trying to be a kind-of classic participant observer. So, in some ways, I didn’t necessarily bear the burden I think that anthropologists often bear, when they go to work within Native communities. I have some friends who are anthropologists in Kiowa communities, and they are people who have these kind-of decades-long sets of relationships. So one thing I tried to make clear was that my story is studying historical sources, but that anyone working in Native American history today also talks about how there’s a responsibility to the present. And you know, Peter Nabokov in his books talks about this: there’s no Native history that doesn’t have a connection to today. So I think one of the things I felt like I needed to do was just to try my best to understand the present, without really asking anything. So when I would go there, I just would do things like show up at church and if folks wanted to talk to me – great! If not – great! And that kind-of helped me. I just started by showing up. I really wanted to be clear about, “I’m not asking for anything”. And I think I just kept showing up enough that I made some friends. And I think, along with that, I’ve always tried to signal that my hope is I will, if anything is desired of me, I will give it back. So you know, I think it’s a different . . . I think when historians are dealing with Native communities, even though you have this kind-of project that’s related on documents from the past and you don’t necessarily ever have to . . . .You know – I could have written this book and never gone to the reservation. But I also feel that by going there, I was able to write about the past with an eye toward the present. Especially because I can see those communal values that I write about in the past, those are still operative, and I witnessed those things. And that was really kind-of powerful, and I think it helped me write a better book.

DG: We have been speaking to Jennifer Graber at the University of Texas, Austin. Thank you very much for your time!

JG: Thanks so much. I had fun!


Citation Info: Graber, Jennifer and Daniel Gorman Jr. 2018. “’The Gods of Indian Country”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 17 September 2018. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 30 June 2018. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/the-gods-of-indian-country/

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with transcribing the Religious Studies Project archive, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

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Evangelical Yoga: Cultural Appropriation and Translation in American Religions

super-funny-pet-picture-the-yo-5926Dr. Brown began her career as a historian of evangelicalism, and soon branched out into the study of religious healing and “new religions” in the U.S. In this interview, we discuss her interest in yoga as a new American phenomenon and the way that some evangelical Christians practice it. Brown provides a historic overview of bodily–religious practices in America, starting with mesmerism, occultism, osteopathy, and chiropractic in the nineteenth century. These practices challenged the standard “heroic” model of medicine: Instead of the patient experiencing torturous medical treatments, a practitioner simply realigns the patient’s body or does a quick procedure. Such bodily practices blurred, in some cases, with Pentecostal and Holiness Christians’ use of prayer as a medical treatment. (Today, many chiropractors retain an interest in bodily energy and proper alignment, though they may not articulate this view to their patients.)

As the nineteenth century progressed, many Americans consumed translations of Hindu and Buddhist literature. Asian concepts of bodily practice and energy fields (qi, meridians, chakras) entered the lexicon of new American religions. Theosophy, in particular, borrowed from Hindu and Buddhist concepts. The introduction of Eastern metaphysics to America created a small market for the introduction of yoga. This market grew in the 20th century as Vivekananda and Yogananda brought forms of yoga (and, in Yogananda’s case, a hybrid of Hinduism & Christianity) to the U.S. Today, evangelical Christians are adopting yoga, finding parallels between chakras and the Holy Spirit, or — in an act of cultural appropriation — creating a new kind of yoga shorn of Hindu references. The American Hindu community has criticized such cultural appropriation. Some Hindus have also suggested that a Christian doing yoga poses, or asana, may slowly convert to Hinduism, making evangelical yoga a stealth victory for Vedic culture.

The interview concludes with a discussion of Dr. Brown’s field research methods, along with her and Mr. Gorman’s thoughts about secularization in America and the inadequacies of secularism as a research concept.

Editor’s Note: On 29 June 2017 we published a response to this interview, written by Philip Deslippe, which provides an important and well-argued counter-narrative to this interview. As with every podcast we publish, we encourage listeners/readers to digest the podcast in tandem with the response(s) , to explore further if interested, and to get in touch in the comments, via email, or on social media to continue the discussion. 

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Nag Champa incense, and more.

A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.

Evangelical Yoga: Cultural Appropriation and Translation in American Religions

Podcast with Candy Gunther-Brown (19 June 2017).

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Gunther-Brown – Evangelical Yoga 1.1

Daniel Gorman (DG) : Dr Candy Gunther-Brown, welcome to the Religious Studies Project!

Candy Brown (CB): Thank you.

DG: So, I’m calling you from up-state New York – you’re in Indiana, and I’m told the weather is equally miserable in both places.

CB: That seems to be about right.

DG: OK. So, today we’re going to be talking about your research into new religious movements, particularly: how people who are not Hindu wind up practising yoga.

CB: Sure.

DG: So to begin, why don’t you tell our listeners how you got interested in new religious movements or, in this case , old religious practices being done in a new way?

CB: Sure. Well, my research trajectory really started with looking at Evangelicals in the 19th century and at print culture. And then, as I wanted to move forward in time to look at later 19th century, into the 20th century and into the 21st century, I realised that it was really a much bigger story than just what was going on in the United States with the Evangelicals. And so I needed to start looking at global moments and much more interconnection. And I also realised that a big part of the story was Pentecostal charismatic Christianity. So that took my research, then, into the directions of looking at, particularly, Pentecostal practices of prayer for healing and deliverance from evil spirits. And so I did a lot of interview work in the field, worked with various Pentecostals and asked them about their healing experiences. And so this led to me to start asking questions that were, in a sense, more of an empirical nature of what happens when people pray for healing. So then I was looking at some science and religion kinds of questions. But I also got some very interesting responses from my Pentecostal respondents. Because, when I started asking them about prayer for healing, they also started to volunteer that they loved their chiropractors.

DG: Really?

CB: And this was a somewhat surprising response to me, given what I knew about Chiropractics: that it’s roots were in mesmerism and spiritualism, and the founders and developers of the tradition saw themselves as doing something very different from Christianity. And the Christian informants that I was talking to, not only did they love their chiropractors but they also insisted that they were Christian. They didn’t bother telling me that their medical doctors were Christian, but they really wanted me to know that their chiropractors were. Again this was very interesting because if you look at survey research that’s been done on chiropractors you see that around 80% or so will say that they’re Christians, and around 80% or so share vitalistic, metaphysical beliefs, very much in line with the founders of chiropractics. So you’ve got a really interesting kind-of blending of worldviews and frameworks and interpretations of the world. And I realised that this was really just the tip of the iceberg. And so, from looking at chiropractic I began to look at other kinds of complementary and alternative medicine, including various kinds of meditation – transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation, but also Reiki, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, homeothapy, aromatherapy – and realised that some of the most engaged practitioners were actually Evangelical Christians. And particularly the ones who were interested in charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity, who had a kind of worldview where there’s some kind of spiritual force that’s interacting with the world. So a lot of the reasoning process that these Evangelicals used was: if there’s a spirit and it’s having beneficial effects on health, then there must be a kind of an analogy between the Holy Spirit and the spiritual properties that are at work in these other practices. And thus, I landed on yoga and mindfulness practised by Evangelicals, as well as by a lot of other Americans who engage in these practices, for various reasons – related to spirituality as much as health and wellness.

DG: That’s a lot! Let me . . . . I’ll take one thread and we’ll work through this. Some listeners, especially outside the United States, may not be familiar with some of the traditions you mentioned, some of the 19th century occult things: mesmerism, and chiropractic. Could you talk a little bit more about how these alternative viewpoints to Christianity . . . where they came from?

CB: Sure. Well around the middle of the 19th century there was a lot of dissatisfaction among certain Americans who were dealing with both a medical orthodoxy and a religious orthodoxy. (5:00) And the medical orthodoxy was heroic medicine – and by today’s standard, [it was] not very effective and very aggressive. So, things like vomiting with mercury derivatives and bleeding people. And it was the patient who was the hero as they were subjected to all kinds of very strenuous treatments by doctors.

DG: Torture.

CB: Yes. I mean, for many patients that was their perspective. But then a lot of the Calvinist theologians, who were in the dominant mainstream, basically gave the advice that patients should submit to their doctors as a way of resigning to God’s will for sickness. And the reason was that spiritual sanctification required a kind of physical kind of submission and sickness. And so this dominant theology, that sanctification is produced through suffering in the body, aligned well with heroic medicine. But there was also a lot of resistance. And so this is where you start getting the emergence of nature-cure kinds of medical alternatives. But then you also start to get the development of divine healing movements where the interest is in a focus on prayer for healing. So, whether it is a nature-cure looking to water and spiritual forces and kind-of the alignment of the planets, or whether it’s a prayer to God the Father through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, there is a widespread search for something else – some alternative to the mainstream offerings.

DG: That’s very interesting because I recently read, for my graduate school lists, Catherine Albanese’s A Republic of Mind and Spirit. And she talks, in that book, about how osteopathy emerged as sort-of this quasi-religious movement: the idea that you can align the energy forces in your body by manipulating bones.

CB: Yes. And actually the founder of chiropractic, D.D. Palmer, was accused by Still, the founder of osteopathy, of basically stealing his ideas. The ideas are so close. And they both emerge out of a vitalistic metaphysical framework. And what’s interesting is that osteopathy was much more embraced by the medical mainstream. So that, today, there’s really a kind of a sense of equivalence, almost, between an osteopathic medical degree and an MD. Whereas chiropractic is still much more on the fringes, even though it’s become a lot more mainstream. And it’s not necessarily that osteopathy has actually renounced the metaphysical framework, but they’ve been a lot more intentional and effective in terms of gaining mainstream medical legitimacy.

DG: Well, that’s one thing I’ve wondered about – I mean, as just someone looking at medical treatments – you know, chiropractors don’t receive the same training in anatomy and physiology that a doctor or a modern osteopath receives. . .

CB: That’s true. And it’s not just a matter of difference in training, but it’s really a difference in philosophy. An idea that Palmer articulated . . . . So Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, basically said that all disease is a matter of a failure of alignment with innate intelligence – that’s universal intelligence, so “innate” was short for this. And so you may ask the question, what are chiropractors adjusting? And it’s actually, they’re adjusting the spine for the sake of having a free flow of innate. It’s not just a physical kind of adjustment. So that was the rationale for how chiropractic could affect all kinds of other conditions, whether it’s having earaches, or infections, or whether it’s turning a breach baby – I mean there’s all kinds of different claims that, even today, are made for chiropractic. And they stem from the idea that, really, the key to health is the innate intelligence. And so it’s that philosophy that’s really at the core, and why there’s still so much tension with modern medicine.

DG: I do want to move onto the yoga connection. But there’s one question I’ll pose to you as somebody who researches these kinds of movements: so to some, let’s say an atheist medical practitioner, what you’re describing is pseudo-science. But that doesn’t seem that way to people who practise it and believe that it helps them. How do you navigate that balance between judging and understanding?

CB: Well, I think this is where it’s important to really look at a multiplicity of perspectives and to try and explain: well, who are the developers of various practices? But not only what are the roots of these practices, what are today’s philosophies? And this is why for chiropractic, for instance, it’s important that there’s survey research that’s been done by chiropractors, that basically confirm that the beliefs that are held by many chiropractors today are actually very much in alignment with those that were articulated by the Palmers. (10:00) Now that doesn’t mean that the chiropractors always communicate that with their patients. In fact, that often is not the case. And so, one of the things that it’s important for scholars to do is to actually look at the variety of narratives that are articulated by practitioners as well as patients, depending on who their audiences are. And this is something that we’ll see with yoga, as well – that explanation of what practices do, why they’re practices, what they mean – you may not always get the same explanation if you’re looking at different audiences, and different purposes for giving that account of what the practice is.

DG: So now, this is where I think chiropractic and yoga tie together. This concept of energy in the body – well, to someone who knows anything about Hinduism, this sounds a lot like the idea of chakras and energy flows in the body. So, in the 19th century, when people like Palmer and others were starting their work, what understanding in America was there of Indian religions?

CB: Sure. Well, there was a combination of Western metaphysical traditions – something like homeothapy or aromatherapy would be rooted in that kind of tradition – and there was often quite a bit of exchange, though, with Asian religious traditions as well. So a lot of the people who were developing these Western metaphysical ideas, they actually were reading texts that they got from India and other parts of Asia. They were interacting with ideas of say Prana or qi, or chakras and meridians, as you mentioned. And so there’s often a real, kind of, exchange and consonance in these ideas. And a lot of the practitioners of chiropractic or yoga will say, yes, there’s a lot that there actually is in common between the Western and Eastern traditions.

DG: Yes. I was thinking of the Theosophist, people like Madam Blavatsky, who think you can control the spirits with your mind – and then she goes and lives in India for a decade!

CB: Well exactly! And then she actually formally converted to Buddhism, and she drew extensively on Hinduism and a variety of Western traditions and Freemasonry. So, that kind of eclectic interest in various forms of spiritually – sometimes framed as science themselves . . . . A lot of the pioneers in the kinds of movements that are popular today were very interested in exploring a variety of practices and traditions.

DG: So, as far as yoga goes, when did that begin to be introduced to the American market? I’m thinking, for instance, in the 1920s there were the immigration restrictions, so how was this material – about philosophy and exercise – how as that making the crossing to America?

CB: Sure, well even as early as the 19th century you’ve got the transcendental folks, like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who are reading as many translated Hindu and Buddhist texts as they’re able to. And you got Thoreau who’s doing his best to practice yoga. So even in the 19th century you can see some of the beginnings of practices coming into America. The World Parliament of Religion, in 1893, was a really important event. Because there you’ve got Vivekananda – actually, several of those Hindu and Buddhist spokespersons – who are starting to frame practices in a language of science, to basically argue that Hinduism and Buddhism (as they’re starting to be named and understood by Westerners) are, actually, more compatible with modern science than Christianity is. And so you start to have a stream of popularisers and, even with immigration restrictions, you’ve got enough who are either coming into the United States themselves or whose books and publications are crossing over, that the influence, again, begins to be disseminated. Yogananda is another one of these hugely influential figures who sets up a base in California and continues to be popular even into the present day with his Self-Realisation Fellowship. And so now his followers are continuing to disseminate the traditions. And so there’ve been a variety of health and beauty promotions, exercise promotions, the use of television – so really an increase over the course of the 20th century, but accelerating with: the lifting of immigration restrictions in the 1960s; the interest of the Beat generation; the counter-culture. But then, even more recently in the 1990s and beyond, you start to see this increasing mainstream status – even to the point of putting yoga and mindfulness practices into public schools. And that really is just within the last couple of decades.

DG: (15:00) Well it was interesting when you mentioned Yogananda in the 1930s, because he was somebody who preached that Jesus was another incarnation of the other Hindu deities, an avatar.

CB: And that’s been a very common strategy. A very common strategy by a lot of the promoters of Yoga is to argue for consonance, for complementarity. And that’s actually been one of the things that’s been motivating for Evangelical Christians even, who feel that there’s something missing in their own tradition. And so they’re trying to fill in and supplement by borrowing from other kinds of traditions.

DG: So Evangelical Christians in the present day: how are they accessing yoga? What kinds of facilities, for instance?

CB: Well, a lot of times there’s the YMCA, there’s health clubs, sometimes more traditional yoga studios. So some Christians will find their way either into the health club version or into the studio version. But then also there’s a proliferation of explicitly Christian versions of yoga or alternatives to yoga. And so you start to get movements like: Christo-yoga, holy yoga, fully fit, Yahweh yoga, praise moves. . . . And some of them keep yoga somewhere in the title, some of them try to remove yoga from the title. And there’s a kind of Evangelical sense that religion, really, is fundamentally reducible to language. It’s about what you believe and what you say that you believe. And so if you change the language, and you say you’re no longer doing “sun salutations” – salutes to the sun – but you say you’re doing “son salutations” – s-o-n, instead of s-u-n – you’ve now repurposed the practice and dedicated it to Jesus. You’re no longer doing pranayana but you’re breathing in the Holy Spirit. So by re-labelling either individual poses or larger practices, many Evangelicals are convinced that they’ve basically emptied the contents . . . . They’ve removed the Hindu contents from the container of neutral yoga practices, and they’ve poured in Bible verses and prayers. Now with a different framework of religion where it’s about practices, not necessarily just beliefs, then that may seem a rather strange or unworkable kind of approach. So some Hindu critics of the Christianisation of yoga will basically say, the prayers are actually the bodily practices. Doing the sun salutation with your body is a form of devotion to Surya the sun god. And so there are actually some warnings by Hindu spokespersons, saying that ultimately Evangelicals are going to find their faith corrupted, by their own standards, and they’re going to be led into the true way of enlightenment. And it may not be so easy just to re-label practices and make them Evangelical.

DG: Do you think – building on this theme of Hindu response – are there Hindu groups that are offended that anyone’s just using this tradition, without any sense of where it comes from?

CB: Oh there are definitely critiques of cultural appropriation. And the Hindu American Foundation launched a Take back Yoga campaign in 2008. And some of their spokespersons have been critical of Christian appropriation. But you find this, similarly, with Buddhists who complain about appropriation of mindfulness practices and claim that they’ve been secularised or, in some cases, they claim that they’ve been Christianised. So that’s definitely a critique that’s present.

DG: Now, I’m curious in the way you go about researching these things. Do you travel to Christian yoga studios? And when you go there, what do you do? Are you a participant or are you just observing?

CB: I’ve done observing. I’ve relied a lot on just the proliferation of online sources and video presentations, and [I’ve] also been present in meditation settings. And I’ve observed – I don’t participate. I think that there are ethical issues that come into play with that, so my stance is that of an observer. I do a lot of interview work with participants and with teachers. And I also do empirical work and look at the studies that have been done. And this is an interesting aspect, is to ask, “Well, what happens when people participate in either secularised or Christianised versions of something like yoga or mindfulness meditation?” And what’s interesting is that there is sociological work that suggests that there are, actually, some profound changes in spiritual and religious experiences that result – even, sometimes, from very short term involvement. But that, basically, the longer people tend to be involved in these practices, the more likely what started off as just an exercise class has turned into a spiritual pursuit. And the content of religious practices does tend to shift towards practices that would be more aligned with, say, Hinduism than with Christianity. And this is, actually, very much parallel to the kinds of claims that are made by yoga teachers and mindfulness teachers, who are very confident that the practices themselves are transformative.(20:00) And so, here, you get both proponents of yoga and mindfulness, and some of the Christian critics, who are essentially arguing that there is something inherent about theses practices themselves that transform people, regardless of what their intentions are going into the practices. Intentions, it seems, can actually change through the experiences of practices. And that claim does, to some degree, seem to be borne out by the sociological research that’s been done.

DG: Do you see any regional differences, in the United States, about the Christian reception of yoga?

CB: Well, it seems that – predictably in some ways – the coasts have a lot more yoga and a lot more Christian yoga. And also, some of the controversies over this . . . . You see more Christian yoga on the coast, you also see just more yoga programmes. But it’s not coincidental that where the most high profile law suit over yoga in public schools took place – it was in Encinita, San Diego County, California. And it was actually right next door to Yogananda’s Self-Realisation Fellowship.

DG: That’s interesting.

CB: This is also the birthplace of Ashtanga yoga in the United States, which was brought over by Pattabhi Jois, and that was the particular form of yoga that was being practised in the public schools where there was a lawsuit. So, a place like Encinita is interesting because something like 45% of the population practices yoga, compared with – as of 2012, which was when that 45% came out – it was about 9%, nationally. Now it’s about 15%, nationally. About 40% of the population is Christian, but that compares to about 70% of the total US population that’s Christian. So you have fewer Christian and more religious diversity in a place like Ansonita. But you still have a lot of Christians who are practising – and it was a minority of those Christians who protested against yoga. The large majority seemed to actually be pretty interested in practising it themselves.

DG: We’re closing in on the end our session, but I want to try to connect this practice of yoga to some of the other things you’ve mentioned, particularly transcendental meditation. It’s billed as TM now, it’s sort-of this exercise, but there’s no real sense of where that comes from. Do you think Christians are also participating in TM movements?

CB: I think that they are in one of the main places where TM has really got in its foothold: in what’s now called “quiet-time programmes” in public schools. So transcendental meditation more comes out of Hindu meditation traditions. And this is, actually, one of the places where . . . . Really, one of the only law suits where there was a judicial decision defining religion was a case of Malnak v. Yogi, in 1979, which found that transcendental meditation was a religion. And one of the lines in the concurring opinion by Arlin Adams, he said, “Well, if a Catholic can’t practice in schools, then neither should a transcendental meditator be allowed to do so.” Even so, TM programmes and quiet-time programmes have proliferated in public schools even until the present day, alongside mindfulness programmes. So I think that, a lot of the time, Christians and others – atheists as well – really don’t know where practices are coming from, and they don’t know how connected to the originating traditions those practices remain. So it’s not just a matter of, “ a long time ago there were ancient religious roots”. But, if you look at how practices are being framed when not being marketed to the public, you actually find that there are still a lot of the same claims that this is, for instance, a “Vedic victory” when yoga gets into public schools, or this is “stealth Buddhism”, when mindfulness gets into the schools. So those are the kinds of claims that are made when talking to Hindu or Buddhist sympathiser audiences. But a lot of the people who are interested in doing practices for health or wellness, they really don’t know where these practices come from and they really haven’t thought that much about how intentions may change through their participation in these practices.

DG: If anything, the future of religion in this country is going to be very interesting, because we’re going to see . . . .

CB: (Laughs) I think so too!

DG: Well I’m thinking, if the country is growing more secular, the question is: if these practices endure, then do we need to rethink the idea of secularisation?

CB: Well, I think we absolutely do. And this is where my working title for the book I’m working on now, on yoga and mindfulness in public schools, is “Secular and Religious”. And I think that practices actually can be both at the same time. (25:00) And that by presenting practices as secular that this can actually be a more effective way of advancing new forms of religion and spirituality.

DG: Thank you for your time, Dr Gunther-Brown.

CB: Thank you very much.

Citation Info: Gunther-Brown, Candy 2017. “Evangelical Yoga: Cultural Appropriation and Translation in American Religions”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 19 June 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 16 June 2017 Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/evangelical-yoga-cultural-appropriation-and-translation-in-american-religions/

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Jesuits, Mormons, and American Religion in the World

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Dr. Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp has written extensively on the importance of space and geography in studying American religions. I interviewed her at the University of Notre Dame, Cushwa Center’s Seminar in American Religion. This session dealt with Dr. John McGreevy (History, Notre Dame)’s new book, “American Jesuits and the World.” Maffly-Kipp and Thomas Bender (History, NYU) gave remarks about the book; McGreevy responded; and two hours of Q&A with scholars and graduate students followed.

My conversation with Maffly-Kipp begins with McGreevy’s book, expands to include her work on Mormonism in contrast to Catholicism, and ends with a discussion of evangelical historian Mark Noll, in whose honor Notre Dame was originally going to host a conference, but was cancelled at the last minute. This free-ranging conversation nonetheless centers on Jesuits, Mormons, and transnational religious history.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Frankincense, and Myrh.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World

Podcast with Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock

Audio and transcript available at: Maffly-Kipp_-_Jesuits,_Mormons_and_American_Religion_in_the_World_1.1

Daniel Gorman (DG): Dr Maffly-Kipp, welcome to the Religious Studies Project

Laurie Maffly-Kipp (LMK): Thank you.

DG: We’re here at the Morris Inn, at the University of Notre Dame. We just finished the Cushwa Centre’s Biannual Seminar in American Religion, discussing John McGreevy’s book on Jesuits in the World. So, you have been writing about space, and geography, and understanding religion for more than twenty years now, beginning with your essay in Thomas Tweed’s edited volume, Retelling US Religious History. I’d be curious to know how your views have evolved, and what you believe is the importance of space and geography in studying American religions.

LMK: That essay was my initial foray into the field and it was more of a thought piece, based on sort-of the hypothetical question of: what would you do if you didn’t narrate American religious history from the perspective of European movements from East to West – particularly British American movements. In a sense, it was also inspired by the work, in the 1930s, of Herbert Bolton – who was a historian of empires in the New World – and his basic observation that the Spanish Empire had been a part of North America and South America, long before the British ever came along. So, what would it do to sort-of retell the story of the growth of the US nation and religion in that sort-of setting, but come at it from the perspective of all theses different movements into North America, at various points in time? So that was, I think, a framework that I laid out. And since then I’ve been, I guess, exploring different avenues into that. Most recently, I’ve been spending time doing work on Mormon history and looking at Mormonism. But I think that that focus on space has then led me to think about Mormonism differently: how do I think about Mormonism as having a particular kind of centre in the United States, but also has having other areas in other parts of the world that are significant for particular purposes?

DG: So today, the book we’ve been talking about – American Jesuits in the World, by John McGreevy – it’s dealing with, well, somewhat missionary activity, but a little different from what you focus on. Because you’re often talking about American Mormons going outwards, whereas he’s talking about, at first, Europeans coming to missionise America. Can you talk a little bit about the differences you see between Mormons and Jesuits operating on the world stage?

LMK: Well, they’re very different. I mean, certainly, they’re different in terms of having a different focus on what they were doing with other people. So, for Jesuits: Jesuits are a particular Catholic order; their jobs revolve around educating peoples, administering the sacraments and keeping people in the faith. For Mormons, the goal tends to be to create habits of discipline and industry – much like those of the missionaries themselves. There’s sort-of a distinct separation between the kinds of spiritual practices that a Jesuit missionary undertakes, and what he’s trying to inculcate in other people. Whereas, for Mormon’s, they were sort-of one and the same thing. So that’s just one small difference. But, I think, on all kinds of different levels there are differences. But there are also similarities, because Mormons are also exiles – perhaps exiles in their own land. But they have a very – I guess, the best way to put it is – angular relationship to the US government in the 19th century, and often a very combative relationship. So, they aren’t sold on the idea of the nation state as necessarily an all-encompassing good, just as the Catholics are disaffected from the US Government in various ways.

DG: Well, certainly, one of the points that came up in the Q and A session, today, was that the Jesuits were roundly denounced as a secret society on the floor of Congress – one that should be banned. But there wasn’t widespread Catholic persecution in the 19th century, the way we saw against the Mormons.

LMK: I don’t know, I think you could argue with that: the burning of convents, riots in the streets . . .

DG: Well, that’s true.

LMK: . . . in Philadelphia and Boston. So, in some ways, I think that the tensions were manifest in more physical kinds of ways than they were for the Mormons. There were a few incidents with the Mormons. And the Mormons certainly fought back at various points. So I think, actually, a comparison of them is really helpful to see the ways that Protestant America was shaping the limits of its own toleration.

DG: I suppose, what I was thinking of more was that there was not state legislation against the Catholic Church in the way that there was, for instance, when the Governor of Missouri declared war on the Mormon people, saying: “Leave my state or I’m going to kill all of you!” (5:00) That is a difference.

LMK: Right! Yes. You’re right. That’s a difference. Although, I think one of the interesting things about John McGreevy’s book is the way he points out how assiduously Protestant Americans worked to create laws that would exclude Catholics in certain kinds of ways. So, from public education: there were certain rules put in place that made it obvious that the Catholics were not going to fall within the bounds of the law. I mean, their kind of education wouldn’t be acceptable as a form of public education. So, it seems to me that the very creating and shaping of laws is another way to put boundaries around religious toleration.

DG: Now, I’m curious also . . . You’ve obviously read the book – you’ve just delivered a short paper commenting on it. If you were writing a book about transnational religion in the 19th century – I mean, McGreevy is focussing on the ideas of nationhood and politics – what would be the factors that you’d want to pursue? What do you see as mattering the most?

LMK: Well, in fact, I am writing that kind of book right now.

DG: Well that’s fortuitous!

LMK: Yes. So, in fact, I am writing a book on transnational religion, in that I am writing a history of Mormonism that tries to take seriously Mormonism as a global religion and an international movement from the beginning, not simply since World War II. It’s certainly the case that there are now more Mormons outside the US than in, but even in the 1850s there were more Mormon’s in England than in the US.

DG: Oh certainly, they were very active with sending missionaries – also to Scandinavia as well as England.

LMK: Later, to Scandinavia. There were sort-of waves of migration, and missionisation and migration, starting with England and moving into Scandinavia by the 1860s and 1870s. And all of those – or many, many of those people – came over to the US, and really saved what had been a dying movement by the 1850s.

DG: Yes. I believe you mentioned, during the Q and A period, that most Mormons at the end of the 19th Century in America were foreign-born.

LMK: Either foreign-born or second generation at best. Because, yes, the bulk had been immigrants.

DG: That’s not a comment that the Church stresses very much any more!

LMK: No, but it’s also not a comment that other historians have noticed much.

DG: Certainly not.

LMK: I think the focus has been on Mormonism as a distinctly American religion, which is certainly true in terms of the influences on its founders. But it’s not true in terms of who joined the movement in the first half-century.

DG: Very interesting. I think the claims you’re making will certainly overhaul graduate reading lists round the country – including my own! So, the other thing . . . I’m thinking that at my University , the University of Rochester, the graduate . . .well, loosely defined, our graduate interests are supposed to be around “the world of goods, the world of nations and the world of ideas”. So, a nice way to integrate cultural and social history. Now, listening to the Q and A today, lo and behold! The comments wind up revolving around ideas, goods and nations. So the comments from, for instance, Thomas Bender – one of your co-panellists – saying that we should think of the Jesuits as a cosmopolitan religion; the discussion from Dr McGreevy that later Jesuits were embracing American nationalism, even though they weren’t necessarily OK with separation of church and state; and your discussion of the culture Jesuits were bringing from around the world. Now, I just recapped – for the listeners – a lot of material and I certainly threw a lot at you, but I’d be curious . . . . These concepts of the physical things and the more intangible things: what do you see of those as their place in American religion?

LMK: What do I see as the place of those in American religion?

DG: So, I suppose, is there an aspect: nationhood, ideology, material culture? Do you see one factor as being more important than another?

LMK: No. I think what I was trying to call for was not separating them – at least, disaggregating them in some way but not isolating any of them one from another. I think it’s easy. . . . We often get a little too free with our definitions of globalism, internationalism, transnationalism. . .

DG: Sure

LMK: . . . and I think, part of what my colleague was calling for was the use of the term cosmopolitan as sort-of an orientation towards the rest of the world. (10:00) What it seems to me, though, that using that term can do is to draw attention away from the way power flows in the movements: the power of states is one kind of power, economic power is another kind of power. I think that’s how I would break things down. Material goods are interesting to focus on, but there’s also, appending to that, the question of “Who’s paying for what?”

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: Right? And that determines the flow of those goods.

DG: So, if you were to say, simply, that “Oh, the Jesuits were cosmopolitan”, that may be obscuring who’s leading their operations.

LMK: Right. So, if you just notice that they’re bringing chalices over from Italy and putting them into chapels in North Dakota, it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the circumstances behind those movements. And so, you just don’t want to separate those two things out. I suppose that’s the simple point I’m trying to make.

DG: So, a lot of the conversation today dealt with the fact that the Jesuits do eventually, wind up launching outward from their bases in America to the Pacific Empire. And that really intersects with several of your books dealing with Pacific missionaries. Could you expand a bit on missionaries in the Pacific?

LMK: Yes. I think the 19th Century was the Pacific Century in that regard. If one could say that the 17th and 18th centuries sort-of focussed on Atlantic movements – with the slave trade, with European migrations to the new World – the Pacific Century is very much caught up, at least in terms of the relationship of the US to other nations, with: movements from various countries in Asia, eastward; the US becoming an imperial power, moving to places like Hawaii and later down to Central and South America. And those sorts of exchanges and contexts become focal points for interesting religious phenomena.

DG: Sure. And then the other thing, I’m thinking about, though, was – coming towards the end of the conversation – was that McGreevy’s book is mostly focussing on putting Jesuits into the international story, not so much on their interior life. I mean, he touches on that in the discussion with Father Bapst but it’s not the main point of the book. And we’re sitting here at the Cushwa Centre which has. . . the nature of spirituality and history has been a recurring topic for them. Do you think the book could have done more to consider the interior life of these priests?

LMK: By interior life, do you mean . . . ? I mean, he does consider things like the devotionalism, the increasing devotionalism in the 19th century – which is tied to interiority, I guess.

DG: I suppose I was thinking of the one gentleman’s comments which were about: “the book doesn’t really deal with the sort of spiritual exercises that Jesuits do”.

LMK: Yes. It ‘s certainly more focussed on the Jesuits as missionaries. And it struck me, as that conversation was going on, that Jesuits are not necessarily trying to inculcate the same disciplines in the people they are leading to the faith as they do in themselves. And, in a sense, those are almost two different tasks of a missionary. One question is: how do you inculcate discipline, education, bodily exercises or whatever into your subjects? But, as members of a Jesuit order, how do you try to maintain your own spiritual discipline, which might be a very different thing?

DG: Oh, certainly.

LMK: That’s certainly not where McGreevy’s interest lays.

DG: Well, it also brings up an interesting contrast with your work, for instance, studying Mormons – who take the Protestant idea of “every man his own priest” to an extreme, compared to the Catholic priest, saying: “There are certain things that are just for us and not for you.”

LMK: Exactly. Exactly, yes. So Mormons: they’re trying to replicate themselves and say, “This is how you live a Christian life – do as I do.” It’s a lay order, there isn’t a trained ministry, in that sense. So, I think , the tasks are really different. And what the Jesuits are trying to preserve for themselves in their own spiritual lives, can be – and in some situations is – very different from what they’re trying to get others to do.

DG: Another topic that comes up, involving America in the World in Dr McGreevy’s book, is the fact that Jesuits were becoming more politically liberal as the 20th century approached, but they had an interesting relationship to America as empire. For instance, they’re perfectly happy to sail on American ships to go into the Pacific. But on the other hand, they oppose, for instance, the war in the Philippines, in the early 1900s, because it’s a war against a Catholic nation. So, in the Mormon Church, did you find similar ambivalence about the imperial message?

LMK: Earlier on there was a lot of ambivalence about it. (15:00) When Mormons send off missionaries to the South Pacific in the mid-19th century, and later to places like New Zealand, the message is, “We’re also being oppressed by our government, just as you are being oppressed.” In other words, they’re an anti-colonialist movement spreading a message of joining common cause with the oppressed people’s in Utah. “And we will”, you know, “have more strength together”. So, yes, it’s sort-of an interesting thing. And, of course, by the 20th century they are certainly in line with American liberal values in a very different way. But there are other traditions that have a much more – I would say – a much more conflicted relationship to the US Government throughout. So, African American Christians, for example, also have some debates about how much to support the American imperial project, in various places: be it Haiti, where there’s a long tradition of African American missionaries in Haiti; or in Africa, because they have their own loyalties as they see it to people in Africa. So I think the whole issue of loyalties to religion and nation – aside from the Protestant mainstream one – have always been much more conflicted, and often more complicated, than we’ve realised.

DG: So we’ve spent a long time talking about comparative aspects of your work and Dr McGreevy’s work. But, I’m curious now. The role of the Catholic Church today in the United States is . . . . So, just to narrow in on Catholicism: the Catholic Church today is a large supporter of the United States Government, although it’s basically at odds with – sometimes at odds over – social issues. Do you think that trend is going to continue, of the Catholic Church having a liberal voice in American society? Because there certainly was a resurgence of conservatism under John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

LMK: Yes . . . . Historians, typically, aren’t very good prophets.

DG: Yes, so I caveat all of this with, “This may go wrong!”

LMK: Right! You know, I think there are potentially lots of counter-cultural elements in Catholicism . Even the social teachings of Catholicism – there is an anti-militarism which goes way back, that is combined, in ways different for Catholics, with their pro-life policies. So even though they might agree with evangelical Christians or other Protestants about questions of abortion, they’d part ways over the role of the American military and its work abroad. So it’s a complicated picture, I think. And as we’ve seen – and as a historian I suppose my take is – it’ll probably come around again. We will see more episodes of liberal . . . . I’m not a whiggish historian, so I don’t believe that we are in some inevitable march towards progress of all sorts, or enlightenment. And therefore it’s hard to predict what the next step would look like.

DG: Absolutely. The thing that’s been weighing on my mind – less so than recent political developments – is population shifts and demographics in the Catholic Church. I mean, certainly, with the rise of birth control – despite what bishops might want to know – the families are smaller now than they were in, say, the 1800s. And certainly, with the rise of secularity, I am curious to see the role of Catholicism in American public life. Dr McGreevy’s book deals with them taking on a larger role and now, I wonder, as the population shrinks, what’s going to happen?

LMK: That’s a great question. We have certainly seen revivals before in this country.

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: So it’s hard to predict. The demographic shifts are obviously significant, but exactly how they’ll play out, I think, is not easy to prognosticate. Just because there are people in the Southern Hemisphere who are becoming the voice of Christianity, it’s not clear to me what political pay-off that has, or what path that portends. In fact, if you look at something that I know a little more about, in Protestant missionary work, the kinds of Protestantism that are making in-roads in places like Africa and South America are some of the more conservative kinds of Protestantism: Pentecostalism . . .

DG: Which is a counter-narrative to the modern, growing secularism in America.

LMK: And now they’re sending missionaries back to the United States.

DG: Really?

LMK: Yes. There are reverse migratory flows of missionaries. One of the biggest churches in Western Europe right now is a church – and this may be out of date because it’s a few years ago someone told me this: that there’s a huge evangelical church that was founded by a Nigerian pastor that has grown by leaps and bounds in Europe. (20:00) Now who that’s growing among, in Europe, is an interesting question. But, of course, the make-up of Western Europe and the United States is changing, as well. So the demography may just follow back to the Northern Hemisphere.

DG: Sure. Well, this discussion of transnational Catholicism and which particular voice will win out, makes me think of the original intention for why we’re sitting here in Notre Dame. So, for our listeners, this conference was originally meant to be part of a much larger conference on the work of Mark Noll, the historian of American Christianity. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the conference had to be, mostly, scrapped. But I’m curious what you would think of this, to bring in Mr Noll as an evangelical historian and historian of evangelicalism. His recent work has been abandoning America Studies, to some extent, to talk about the world. His book, Clouds of Witnesses is about Africa and Asia. So, the work of Mark Noll: how, if at all, does that influence your research? Do you see his views about pluralism . . . do you think those are going to carry more weight, going forwards, in the academy?

LMK: In certain sections of the academy, absolutely. I mean, Mark has been a pioneer in that sort of field, looking at global Christianity, for a long time. And thinking about, well – he’s a historian with an eye to the future, and where the church is going. And that’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle that I think has trickled back into the academy, in all kinds of ways. So I don’t see that stopping, by any means. But the question of what globalism or increasing globalisation of any of these religious traditions actually means for piety, for spirituality, for institutional life is, I think, the next big question. We know what it means in terms of bodies moving from one place to another, but how that actually, then, plays out – in terms of building institutions and building structures – is anybody’s guess.

DG: Well, and you’ve also mentioned – on sort-of a final note – that you and the other panellists talk about how the Catholics have become, you know, comfortable with their place in American society. Whereas Mark Noll, in his works, is talking about how some evangelicals want to make the country an explicitly evangelical nation – and he rejects that, as an evangelical man. So do you see these fights in the academy at all, over how to define religion? Should there be an exclusively Protestant historical mould, or should we find news ways of thinking and defining religion – ways that aren’t just tied to Christianity?

LMK: So, are you thinking . . . ? Yes – I think the horse is out of barn on that one! I don’t see going back to any kind of narrow focus on either churches, or institutional life or Protestantism. But I think, in some ways, the study of religion in all of its dimensions can only enrich the future study of Protestantism, along with other traditions.

DG: Yes, I think pluralism is here to stay. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supporting, right?

LMK: Yes.

DG: And then, a genuinely final note, I’ll ask: some scholars consider Mormonism a Christian faith; others say it is a Christian inspired faith.Where do you stand on those issues?

LMK: It’s certainly inspired by Protestantism and that’s where, if you look at the first sort of members of the movement, they came by way of other Christian traditions. I don’t . . . . The theological question – of whether it is a Christian tradition – I don’t feel, as a scholar, is mine to answer. I guess, on one level, I take seriously the self-identification of Mormons who see themselves as Christians. I think it’s an interesting question to look at. I think there are other Mormons who don’t see themselves as Christian, so that’s also an interesting question: where are the fault lines, and when and where do these questions matter? As a cultural historian, I think those are the more interesting questions for me. But I am not a theologian and I am not a historian of a particular kind of church tradition, so I’ll leave that to the experts.

DG: Laurie Maffly-Kipp discussing bodies in space: what they think, what they say and what they do. Thank you very much.

LMK: You’re welcome. Thank you.


Citation Info: Maffly-Kipp, Laurie. 2017. “Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 29 May 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 22 May 2017. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/jesuits-mormons-and-american-religion-in-the-world/

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

 

Religion and American Law

In this interview, Professor Eric Mazur discusses a variety of issues relating to religion and law in the USA, such as the evolving state of First Amendment jurisprudence, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, dominant trends in the study of religion and American law, and controversial legislation such as the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Dr. Mazur also discusses his efforts to help cultivate a space at the American Academy of Religion that is explicitly devoted to the study of religion and American law. This interview provides an introduction and summary of this increasingly important field.

Minority Religions and the Law, and our general introduction to Religion and the Law with Winnifred F. Sullivan. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, potpourri, vintage cars, and more.

Religious Demography in the US

In this week’s podcast we focus on religious demography and identification, survey tools used for religious demography in America, differences between religious identities and identifications, Americans’ shifting religious identifications, correlations between religion and social positions such as ethnicity or generational cohort, and correlations with various social and political issues.

Expanding beyond the introduction to quantitative sociology of religion the RSP conducted earlier with David Voas, this conversation with Darren Sherkat covers religious demography in the American context. Unlike in the UK, or elsewhere, the U.S. census does not include questions about religion. U.S. religious demographers rely on privately-funded surveys, such as the General Social Survey (GSS), the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey, Baylor Religion Survey, and Gallup polls, among others, for large-scale nationally representative data on religion. Sherkat evaluates the reliability of various surveys as well as the quality of the data on non-Christian populations in the U.S., given that the vast majority of respondents self-identify as Christians or as “nones.” demography (Ariela Keysar), belief and belonging (Abby Day), and identity and identification (with the Culture on the Edge group). Based on findings explored further in his book, Changing Faith (2014), Sherkat explains how generational cohort, lifecourse position, immigration, ethnicity, and religious switching affect religious identifications in America, as well as correlations between religious identifications and sexuality, among other topics.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, model airplanes, snow globes and more!

Self-immolation as a religious act: The contested martyrdom of Roger Allen LaPorte, Catholic Worker

 

Millions of people, most of them civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War. Almost 58,000 of the war’s victims were American citizens. While most of the physical and technical conflict took place overseas, political and ideological battles were waged within the United States.

Some of these Americans died, as it were, by their own hand. In 1965, Roger Allen LaPorte, a member of the Catholic Worker, self-immolated in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City. While LaPorte himself described his act of protest as a specifically religious act, the validity of this description would soon be—and remain—contested, finding opposition among the Catholic hierarchy. The attention of U.S. media gave the contestation of martyrdom a public arena.

In this interview, postdoctoral researcher of U.S. Catholicism, Francesca Cadeddu, shares some of her reflections on LaPorte, whose contested martyrdom by self-immolation is the topic of her present postdoctoral project.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, pot noodles, very small trains, and more.

Francesca Cadeddu is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Institutional Sciences in Cagliari in Italy. She is also a fellow researcher at the Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, Italy. She wrote her PhD dissertation on the Jesuit priest and theologian John Courtney Murray, an important figure in U.S. Catholicism who featured prominently in the development of the the Second Vatican Council’s draft of Dignitatis Humanae (which the interviewer learned is pronounced “humaneh” rather than “hoomanay” shortly before the interview, hence the interviewer’s hesitation).

Having researched at two of the most prominent institutions for Catholic Studies in the U.S., Georgetown and Notre Dame, Cadeddu visited Notre Dame by means of a research grant from Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame in the spring of 2015.

 

Baby Boomers, Quest Culture, and Spiritual Seeking

Wade Clark Roof is Emeritus Professor of Religion and Society in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the director of the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life. He has published many books and articles on religion in the United States, especially focusing on developments within liberal Protestantism and American mainline congregations, the spiritual journeys of the Baby Boom generation and their effect on the spiritual marketplace, and religious pluralism and civil religion. These investigations have traced the contours of post-WWII American religious and social life, revealing the protean fluidity of “religion” and “spirituality” as scholarly and popular categories.

In this interview with Dusty Hoesly, discussion focuses on Roof’s work on the Baby Boom generation and beyond, particularly as expressed in his books A Generation of Seekers (1993) and Spiritual Marketplace (1999). In these books, Roof combined survey data with panel studies and interviews across a broad spectrum of Americans to describe the “quest culture” and “spiritual seeking” at the heart of America’s changing religious landscape, one which prizes “reflexive spirituality” amidst an increasingly pluralistic and evolving spiritual marketplace.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make – particularly as the season known by many in certain contexts as “Christmas” is just around the corner, and this might have some impact upon the buying habits of visitors to our website in contexts where this term has particular “meaning” invested in it, due to the particular histories and power structures of those contexts.

Studying Vernacular Religion in the US

Vernacular religion is a subject which fascinates us here at the RSP, because in keeping with our critical perspective, it challenges that idea that neat categorical boundaries may be drawn, and reminds us that when attempts are made to draw them, particular interests are being served. David Robertson was given the chance to sit down with Leonard Norman Primiano – one of the pre-eminent scholars of that field – at the BASR 2014 conference in Milton Keynes earlier this month, and we are delighted to bring you the fruits of that meeting today.

The Virgin Mary and Child Jesus with Saints, 1882, Oil on Wood, 13 1/4 x 17 3/4 inchesPrimiano begins by describing how he came to study vernacular religion as a young scholar under Don Yoder, who introduced the ethnographic study of “folk religion” to the US academy. We discuss the relationship between the study of religion and the study of folklore, and he then introduces some of his ongoing research. Particular attention is paid to the case of Father Divine and the Peace Mission movement, an indigenous US communitarian religious movement, now in terminal decline. Of particular interest is Primiano’s emphasis that vernacular religion should not be considered beside mainstream religion; rather, vernacular religion is all religion as it is encountered in the field.

Primiano is Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania. He has published widely – please click his photo in the right-hand column above for details of his recent publications. He is currently curating Graces Received, an exhibition of painted and metal ex votos from Italy at Cabrini College until October 26th, 2014. It will open at Indiana University’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures in January for the Spring semester.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

Back in the SSSR: Reflections on the 2013 SSSR/RRA Conference

SSSR 2013Boston WaterfrontI had the great fortune of attending the 2013 Society for the The Religious Studies Project (RSP).  The 2013 SSSR took place in Boston Massachusetts from November 8th – 10th a few blocks away from the Boston Harbor. Luckily, the overall tone of the conference and the attending scholars, were much warmer than the brisk weather outside the doors of the lovely Westin Waterfront Hotel. This conference report seeks to capture the unadulterated energy and excitement of a young scholar new to the social scientific study of religion and invite more established scholars to reflect on their early days in the field.

Eight AM bright and early the first day of the conference drew my attention to a session on “New Religious Movements” that featured a presentation by a former RSP podcast respondent Dusty Hoesly assessing the possibility of the Universal Life Church (ULC) as a new religious movement. I was surprised to learn that Hoesly’s presentation was, as far as he could tell, one of the first scholarly looks at the ULC group from academia. He provided some interesting data on Kirby J. Hensley, the founder of the ULC. According to Dusty, one of Hensley’s central concerns in founding the ULC was to demonstrate the ‘absurdity’ of governments giving religious organizations tax-exempt status in the United States. Thus by becoming ordained as a ULC Minister, one could start their own ‘church’ from home and at least in theory be tax-exempt. In the latter part of the morning, Dr. Carissa Sharp spoke about ‘the relationship between religious complexity and pro-sociality’. Dr. Sharp sought to challenge current psychological priming methods in examining the prosociality of religion by introducing the concept of integrative complexity (IC) calling for the need of a deeper level of understanding in the connection between religion and prosociality.

The SSSR Presidential Panel: How Religion Works: Disciplinary Perspectives and Bridges was phenomenal!

The SSSR Presidential Panel: How Religion Works: Disciplinary Perspectives and Bridges was phenomenal!

Every seat was full and a row of people stood along the back wall to hear scholars presenting their disciplinary and research perspectives in the social scientific study of religion. Dr. Laurence Iannaccone spoke about looking at religion through an economic lens taking into account the idiosyncrasies that research on religion demands and that economists often ignore arguing for a study of religion and economics in which both contribute to the other. Dr. Gerardo Marti addressed the study of religion from a sociological perspective followed by Dr. Doug Oman (a scholar in the Public Health field) arguing that the boundaries between disciplinary fields are often blurred and can even overlap at times. Dr. Ann Taves was the final panelist. In words that embody her ‘Religious Experience Reconsidered’ approach to religion, she tied together the multiple disciplines represented on the panel and spoke about a careful balancing of what she termed the ‘interdisciplinary hat’, with the ‘discipline hat’ in the study religion from multiple academic perspectives.

Dr. R. Stephen Warner delivered the annual H. Paul Douglass Lecture (sponsored by the RSP podcast by Douglas Pratt that shared a similar ‘tone’. In Warner’s lecture and Pratt’s podcast, both scholars appear to be parsing what can and can not be included in the category of ‘religion’ making them appear as a stable monolith of fixed positive traits, discounting variation among individuals and assigning negative traits to secularity. Warner’s SSSR lecture and Pratt’s podcast problematically essentialise religious identities and appear as a dangerous call for scholars to offer protection for religion in the public sphere instead of simply researching religion (for a further critical response see Beaman, 2013).

Author Meets Critic - Cragun SSSR 2013The second day of the conference it was time to attend my first ‘author meets critics’ with a review of former RSP podcast scholar Dr. Ryan T. Cragun’s What You Don’t Know About Religion (but should). Cragun had pen and paper out taking notes while the invited critics, Dr. Michael Nielsen, Dr. Christopher Chiappari and Dr. Rick Phillips, spoke – as good critics do – with both praise and careful critique. Dr. Cragun announced that a follow up book titled “More Of What You Don’t Know About Religion” is currently in the works and it was refreshing to hear him advocate for conducting science that was not just for other academics in a specific field, but also for the public as a whole. Later that day, I attended an organized panel on the “Biological and Evolutionary Aspects of Religion” that featured an informative talk by Dr. Stewart Guthrie outlining “A Biological, Evolutionary, and Cognitive Approach” to religion. Upon conclusion of the panel, I was fortunate to have Dr. Guthrie spend several minutes that day, at two separate times no less, discussing both the cognitive and psychological study of belief and non-belief with me. Dr. Guthrie clearly understands what it means to a young student such as me when they get to not only ask questions from a top scholar, but also get asked questions back! This teaching style certainly builds bridges and seems to be indicative of the commitment the SSSR has towards fostering relationships between students and scholars. In fact, the theme according to the Dr. Christopher F. Silver, as the Graduate Student Representative for 2014, and RSP podcast interviewee Dr. Ralph W. Hood Jr. as the Program Chair, this theme of mentorship and collaboration seems to be a something that we can expect to continue into the next year.

The final day of the conference I attended a session on teaching psychology of religion titled “Psychological Approaches to Understanding Religion”. One of the panelist, Dr. Kevin Ladd (RSP podcast on the psychology of prayer with Dr. Ladd coming soon), shared a hands on approach he uses to both demonstrate the problems scholars have defining religion, and to give undergraduates practical experience dealing with real problems researchers encounter. He has each student come up with an operational definition of religion to use for research and then to compare with each other student – obviously they can and do vary greatly. This way, students also gain practical experience navigating the discourse in the study of religion as well.

Thomas J. Coleman III with Ann Taves at SSSR 2013

Thomas J. Coleman III with Ann Taves at SSSR 2013

The final session, titled ‘Atheist Worldviews and Communities’ was the culmination of the conference and resulted in dialectic between the scholars and those attending for the final twenty-five minutes. If the seat count on the last day of an academic conference – at the very last panel no less (which people commonly skip out on attempting to get a head start to the airport) – is any indication of the burgeoning interest in a topic then I dare not say what is and there was a quite an audience for this panel! Scholars from sociology, religious studies and psychology brought together multiple perspectives on current atheism research around the United States. An important quote that has guided my studies comes from psychologist of religion Antoine Vergote on the importance of looking at not only studying belief but also un-belief for “one cannot be understood without the other” (1997). What a way to end a conference – with an engaging conversation on the importance of new directions in research!

*The next Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference will be held October 31-November 2, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

References

Vergote, A. (1997). Religion, belief and unbelief: A psychological study (Vol. 5). Leuven     University Press.

Paul Williamson on Serpent Handling

Paul Williamson

Paul Williamson

The use of serpents – more commonly known as ‘venomous snakes’ – within religious practices is by no means a new phenomenon within religious and cultural contexts. Certainly there are plenty of examples of where serpents have been power symbols both in totem and ritualistic traditions.  Moreover, many of the world’s population identify with serpent play as a potentially dangerous exercise. Within this risk potential, the serpent carries a variety of different auspicious meanings related to culture and/or the impermanence of life. The Southeast United States is no exception. The Appalachian Mountain region of the Southeast was geographically isolated in many parts from the rest of the United States until recently. This isolation coupled with the challenges of a rural socio-economic lifestyle created uncertainty within the minds of many inhabitants. Religious beliefs and practices provided meaning and certainty within an uncertain world. Serpent Handling traditions of Appalachia were no exception.

Serpent handling as a religious practice appeared within the first decade of the twentieth century. The practice emerged in east Tennessee and spread to other parts of the Southern Appalachian Mountain region of the United States. While many different groups, both Holiness and Pentecostal, enact the practice, the serpent handling groups themselves have no parent organization that binds them together. What binds the groups together is a sharing in diversity of belief with similar religious practices (Burton, 1993 pg. 20-21). Serpent handling sects are historically and philosophically linked to three forms of American Protestantism: Holiness, fundamentalism, and Pentecostalism, although typically many groups would identify their membership as Holiness (Hood, found in Brown & Mcdonald, 2000). The fundamentalists influence among serpent handlers is in their acceptance of a plain reading of the Bible when it is appropriate (Hood, Hill, & Williamson, 2005).

As handling serpents began spreading throughout the Southern Appalachians, the notoriety of serpent bite deaths increased (Hood & Williamson, 2008). Much of the public fascination with these traditions relates primarily to the dangerous practice of handling of serpents or drinking of poison as part of the religious ritual. Many outsider observers assume that serpent handling traditions are of one religion or of a single theology. Such an assumption cannot be further from the truth. Many of the churches diverge on issues of textual interpretation of the Bible and theology. Their only unifying practice is dictated within Mark 16. For those within these traditions, handling of serpents or drinking of poison is an issue of religious freedom. Most states have enacted laws outlawing the practice of serpent handling. Regardless of the legal discrimination or the physical risk to themselves, the serpent handling sects assume the risk to follow God’s commandment (Hood, 1998).

In this week’s podcast, Chris Silver and Dr Paul Williamson explore Williamson’s research, and by proxy his colleague Ralph W. Hood Jr. (see our podcast from 2 weeks ago) related to documentation of the Serpent Handling Sects of Appalachia. By some accounts these traditions are in decline due to globalization. Williamson has attempted to study these traditions qualitatively and quantitatively to better understand the profound sense of religious commitment and deeper meaning of the theology and practices of the Serpent Handling sects.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

WP WilliamsonW. Paul Williamson is professor of psychology at Henderson State University (USA), although he has not always been in academic research. He was previously a full-time clergy in a Pentecostal denomination for 17 years, but then became more interested in religion from a psychological perspective. This led to his studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology with training in both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Applying these approaches to the psychology of religion, he has published work in the areas of mysticism, religious fundamentalism, Christian serpent handling, and, most recently, spiritual transformation within the context of substance abuse recovery. He has co-authored The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism (2005, Guilford Press), with Ralph W. Hood, Jr., and Peter C. Hill; and Them That Believe: The Power and Meaning of the Christian Serpent Handling Tradition (2008; University of California Press), with Ralph W. Hood, Jr. He is a recipient of the Margaret Gorman Early Career Award and the Distinguished Service Award, both from the American Psychological Association, Division 36: Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

According to Williamson, “What so often is missing in research is a balanced approach in the psychological study of religious phenomena. It typically is either from the objective standpoint or from the subjective point of view. What is needed for a more complete understanding of a particular phenomenon is the blending together of both perspectives in the use of quantitative and qualitative methodologies.”

References:

  • Brown, Fred & Mcdonald, Jeanne (2000). The serpent handlers: three families and their faith. Blair publishing: Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
  • Burton, Thomas. (1993). Serpent handling believers. University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Hood, R. W., Jr., (1998).  “When the spirit maims and kills: social psychological considerations of the history of serpent handling sects and the narrative of handlers. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 8, 71-96.
  • Hood, R. W., Jr., Hill, P.C., & Williamson, W. P. (2005). The psychology of religious fundamentalism.  New York: Guilford.
  • Hood, R. W., Jr. & Williamson, W. P. (2008).  The power and meaning of the Christian serpent- handling tradition.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press.

Religion and the Law

Within modern American society the meme of a separation of Church and State exists without a doubt; however, there is very little evidence to actually prove that this separation exists, functions as such, or indeed that it ever existed. In the textbooks, popular news outlets and in the political arena religion is supposed to be wholly withheld-expelled in favor of majority rule. However, when we turn our attention to state-managed organizations such as the federal prisons or state forest services or support for military veterans, we find that the lines are blurred.

With an eye to this seemingly ironic phenomenon Winnifred F. Sullivan presented a lecture entitled “Ministries of Presence: Chaplains as Priests of the Secular” at Arizona State University as part of the ASU Center for Religion and Conflict’s lecture series. Excerpted from her upcoming book of the same title, Sullivan considers the oversight, regulation and licensure of religious chaplains within the American Veterans’ Administration, as well several other governmental and on-governmental institutions. In this interview with Chris Duncan (Arizona State University), the discussion centers predominantly on the world in which many chaplains come to find themselves due to a “new kind of religious universalism”; from having to be prepared to minister across the borders of their own religious traditions, as in the case of a Catholic chaplain being required to assist Jewish or otherwise non-Catholic practitioners in a federal prison or a chaplain working with the state of Maine Warden Service. Sullivan asks whether we really have a separation of the Church and the State, how do we insure that everyone’s religious needs are being met within secular institutions like the Veterans’ Administration, and how does the State license and approve of applicants to the chaplaincy- how does, should, could an ostensibly secular federal organization approve or disapprove of religious ministers within its ranks.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

Sullivan is the Department Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington as well as Affiliate Professor of Law in the Maurer School of Law at the same institution. She holds both a J.D. and a PhD. from the University of Chicago and is the author of  Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States (Harvard 1994), The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton 2005), and Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton 2009).

Podcasts

The Gods of Indian Country

Dr. Jennifer Graber’s new book, “The Gods of Indian Country,” grew out of lingering questions from her first book, a study of American Quakers and prisons. Graber learned that Quakers served as missionaries to Native American reservations in the West. She combined this interest in Quaker missions with her research into Native American captivity, so that the resulting narrative contrasts the motives of U.S. officials with Kiowa captives on an Oklahoma reservation. The main claim of Graber’s book is that there were two “gods” of Indian Country — the religious beliefs of the Kiowas (onto which Western explorers superimposed monotheistic terms like “Great Spirit”) versus the Christianity of Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Religion in Graber’s narrative emerges as a site of contestation in the creation of the American West.

Using Kiowa material culture and artwork, which Kiowas used to record their history in non-alphabetic ways, Graber shows how the Kiowas adjusted their religious beliefs through contact with the Comanches and other Great Plains Indian nations, as well as the Americans, during the nineteenth century. Kiowas embraced new religious practices, such as the Sun Dance and the two Ghost Dance movements, to gain spiritual power, “dwdw,” which could be used to repel American invaders. The Red River War of 1874–75 failed to reclaim Indian Country, but Graber cautions her readers not to read inevitable defeat into this narrative. Letters, drawings, and other objects mailed to the reservation reveal how, after the war, Kiowa men in prison and Kiowa children in boarding schools made sense of their dislocation and retained their culture. Kiowa religion to this day remains an effort to rectify the world.

Dr. Graber shows how colonists cloak violence beneath a veneer of gentility and conquered peoples use religion to preserve their sense of community. This book provides a powerful argument against U.S. “nation-building” and the use of state power to break up families — something that the Trump administration is currently doing to Hispanic migrant families along the southern border.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, pickles, duct tape, and more.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


The Gods of Indian Country

Podcast with Jennifer Graber (17 September 2018).

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Graber_-_The_Gods_of_Indian_Country_1.1

 

Daniel Gorman (DG): So I understand it’s very hot in Texas, Dr Graber!

Jennifer Graber (JG): It is! It’s about 100 degrees here, today!

DG: Now it’s making me wish for a never-ending winter. I’m calling from, practically, Canada!

JG: OK. That’s right!

DG: So today we’re going to be talking about your new book, The God’s of Indian Country: Religion and the Struggle for the American West. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in studying Native American history – particularly since your previous project was looking at Quakers and prisons?

JG: So the connection actually is prisons. And when I was doing research for my first book, which is on Antebellum prisons, I came across several stories in which I’d read about Native people being incarcerated after they had participated in uprisings, or other sorts of military uprisings, with the Americans. And the more I read into these stories I became curious about following up on them, after my first book was finished. And as I began to read a little bit about some of these episodes I found that religious reformers and missionaries were often active in forms of ministry to incarcerated Native people. And so that actually sounded a lot like some of the stories from my first book. And so, actually, prison was really the connection. But then I also . . . my very first job at a liberal arts college, I was asked to teach a course on Native American Religions. My predecessor in the job had taught such a class and it was really popular – and when you’re a young untenured faculty member you kind-of say “yes” to a lot of things!

DG: Yes!

JG: So I agreed to teach a semester-long class on Native American religions, which meant I needed to do a lot of research to prepare. And what I found was that the more research I did to prepare for that class, it helped me to understand a little bit more about what was going on in these episodes of Native incarceration that I was already interested in. And that’s kind-of how those two things came together.

DG: I see. So, well, this is jumping more to the topical elements of your book. We’re talking about the experience of incarcerated persons – I was seeing on the news this morning about the incarceration of migrant children at the border, and this sort-of perverted school that they make the children attend, where they’re inculcating them with American values, even while they can’t leave these prison camps. And I was just curious, with this book about reservations, do you see it as having import for what we’re going through right now?

JG: I do and there’s a very kind-of particular element, because I think we talk about the connection between incarceration and education in a couple of different ways, currently. The way that you’re talking about, in terms of children who are either seeking asylum or who have immigration cases being adjudicated while they’re being incarcerated, they have experience of educational structures kind-of put in place: forms of incarceration for migrants. But then also we talk about the connections between education and incarceration when we talk about the school-to-prison pipeline. When it comes to youth in cities, especially folks who are African American or Latino, who’ll find themselves disciplined in their educational settings, and being moved into forms of disciplined . . . or actually through the legal structure in the United States, or through policing. And I think there’s a precedent in the 19th century and you can see it in Native history, but it’s actually reversed. One thing I noticed about the 19th century, and the way that these things are connected to Native people, is that it’s a prison-to-school pipeline, instead.

DG: Interesting.

JG: Insofar as some Native people who are incarcerated – in a particular instance in my book they’re incarcerated after the 1874 Red River War – they were sent to a military prison, in this case. And an officer in the army administrated this prison, and put in place several forms of discipline that he thought to be very effective. He changed people’s hairstyles, he changed people’s clothing, he made people go to church, he made people go to class. And then, after this period of incarceration was over, he found this experiment to be so successful and so compelling that he then bought a military barracks and opened the very first off-reservation boarding school. He modelled that boarding school on the military prison that he had administered in earlier years. So it’s actually a kind of reversal. It’s a prison-to-school pipeline instead. But you can see how those structures are connected.

DG: Absolutely. And one thing I’ve been thinking about in some of my own research, looking at Philadelphia: you had the ethnic Jewish neighbourhood near the docks, but not far from that was one of the major boarding schools for Native Americans. So one thing that’s always struck me was that you had these children being transported thousands of miles to a completely new urban environment. I can’t imagine what the dislocation would be like.

JG: Right, and actually there’s one thing we have evidence of – which I find very compelling and really heart-breaking – we have some examples of letters that Native students in off-reservation boarding schools wrote back to their families on reservations. And then letters that families sent to them, in school. And these are letters in which people are trying to update one another about, you know, who is sick and who is healthy; who has a job; who’s actually living and who might have died – because such periods of times happened between these families being able to be in actual physical contact with each other. And so, there’s a kind-of heart-breaking archive of materials that go back and forth between the reservation and the off-reservation school. And the loneliness that pervades those letters is really . . . it’s very palpable.

DG: Now the story you’re telling – as you mentioned – with Indian Country, is this idea . . . it’s at the intersection of a couple of crumbling empires, France and Spain, and also the New American Empire. So I am curious – these letters that were coming back: what language were they being written in?

JG: So, it’s interesting. I look particularly, in this book, at the Kiowa Indians and at this point of time they don’t have a written language for spoken Kiowa. That doesn’t develop until the 20th century. So when they write letters home some of them were written in English and would have been sent back to the reservation, where they could be read by someone with English-speaking skills – which were just starting to kind-of be more widely held across the population in the last two decades of the 19th century. Sometimes they also wrote them in this pictorial language that mimicked, and put on paper, the motions of Plains Indian sign language. So you could see these visual records, or non-alphabetic writing. And then, of course, for other Indian nations . . . . There were other Indian nations that already had written languages and so they could write back in those languages. Or they could write back in English. But there’s a real variety of ways that people communicated with each other. And then people would also send each other drawings, and sometimes artefacts like moccasins, or other pieces of clothing. So lots of things were circulating between that loop between reservation and off-reservation boarding school.

DG: So, with this book, you mentioned in other interviews that this is a real contribution to material culture – which is, I guess, what historians have been calling archaeology lately. One theory I’ve thought about, when reading your book, was Jules Prown who’s talked about the importance of empathy in writing history: you actually handle the objects, you gain the sensory information, you figure out how they were used. In what environments were you finding these objects? Did you have to go to the Kiowa reservation? Were these in archives across the country?

JG: So, many of these things are actually not in the hands of Kiowa people. There is a tribal museum and there are some artefacts from the 19th century in that museum, but actually very few. So most of the things that I was looking at – things like drawings; tepee covers; shields; calendars, which is this form of historical remembered keeping – they’re in museums. So I spend a lot of time at the National Anthropological Archives, which is part of the Smithsonian institution. They have enormous holding in what we would think of as Plains Indian material culture. So it was there where I interacted with a lot of these materials. But then, other museums around the country have just hundreds and hundreds of Plains Indian drawings. And you can go. And some of those places you’re actually allowed to handle those objects yourself, sometimes those are really restricted – you might only be able to look at them while you’re wearing gloves. Or you might not – they might only make facsimiles available if the items are really very delicate. But they’re all over the place – except in Indian Country.

DG: So what are your views on repatriation, then?

JG: I would . . . I’m a person who would love to see more repatriation of objects and the support of the Native communities repatriating them within their own spaces and on their own terms. There are folks at the Kiowa tribal museum who interact with the Smithsonian, and do work on kind-of some cultural preservation kinds of projects. But there are a lot of Kiowa materials that are very far away from Kiowa people. So, one thing I try to do in my own research is gather digital images of objects that are in other places. And I’m working with the tribal museum to make some of those accessible. And, right now, digital might be one of the forms where we can do that most easily. Repatriation has been a really thorny issue, ever since NAGPRA was passed in the ‘90s. And I think we still have a long way to go.

DG: So we’re talking about this idea of repatriation. This then calls to mind the related concept of, I guess, decentring our narratives about American history. So when I think back to my . . . well, I’m not that old! But when I think of just a few years ago, when I was in High School, there really was no Native American history being taught to us. Even though the narrative of American religion has expanded to include other faiths, Native American religions really aren’t a part of that. I was curious if you’ve thought at all about how we should be teaching Native American religions to children?

JG: Oh that’s great. And I have. So I think there’s a couple of levels on which I could respond to that question. When I teach at UTE, the University of Texas, I have lots and lots of students who also have had very little background in their . . . at least their high school years, with Native American history. Many of them do a unit in their Texas history class about Native nations that had either occupied or moved through what became Texas – but it’s very much a pre-colonial story. And then, once there are kind-of Texans here, Native people disappear from that story – which is part of Texas history, actually. So what I find is that students are really eager to learn more. And one thing I’ve done in my classes at UTE is just up the number of lectures and syllabus content percentage that cover Native materials. So, I begin my class on American Religious history at Cahokia, in the high middle ages, and we start with a major Native city along the Mississippian. Many of my student are really surprised that we start, you know, in the year 1100. But that’s where we start. And I actually, this past year, ended the class with the protest at Standing Rock. So I wanted to try to push deeper into Native past in North America, but also not allow Native people to disappear, once we get into the 20th and 21st century. But I can also think about this question . . . . Both my children, who just finished 4th and 7th grade, just finished Texas History in public school. And both of them had units that interacted with Native history in Texas. And that’s one where I think, you know, Texas has a particular and really difficult history around Native people. And I think some real honesty about Texans and their real effort to rid the state of Native people in the mid-19th century – we have to grapple with that when we teach this as a part of Texas history. It is Texas history. And I’d love to see a little bit more kind-of grappling with that story.

DG: Well it’s interesting, with you living in Texas. And I’m thinking that many of the major high school textbook companies are also based in Texas. And they’re advancing, well – shall we a say, a conservative reading of American history?

JG: Yes. That’s right. And Texas, of course, is a textbook market that then shapes the national market. There are other states that are interested in the same sort of narrative crafted for Texas. That narrative is also favoured in other places. So what happens in Texas textbooks then happens elsewhere, as well. So actually reshaping that story here, and thinking about that story, has been an important part of a lot of historians who work in universities here in Texas. There’s a kind-of network of us who, at times, go and talk at the Texas Board of Education meetings, at their public hearings, kind-of working on these questions about who is represented, how the past is represented. It’s an uphill battle here.

DG: I was thinking that in April I was in Oklahoma City, and I went to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

JG: Yes.

DG: And you can see there that this battle is being fought in the museum. Because you can tell that it very clearly started as the Cowboy Museum – and now they’re bringing in the Native American exhibits.

JG: Yes. And that’s a really amazing museum, insofar as you’re absolutely right; for a long, long time it was the Cowboy Museum – the National Cowboy Museum.

DG: A story they tell well.

JG: And they have really … the name change that adds Western Heritage, and then kind-of tries to broaden and be more inclusive about who’s within that Western heritage, kind-of mirrors much bigger  trends in public history that are really important. You know . . . and that museum actually had a ton of incredible Plains Indian material culture in their archive! It’s one of the places I went to do research. They have amazing holdings!

DG: That’s not on display.

JG: But it’s not on display – you’re absolutely right. That’s another place where I think they’re taking baby steps, or initial steps, to make a more inclusive story. But there’s still a long way to go.

DG: While I was at the museum they had an exhibition of painting by – I believe he was Muscogee Creek Seminole – his name was Jerome Tiger. He painted in the mid-20th century. And his paintings are distinctive because the figures are . . . it’s a flat background. There’s no sense of depth to the picture. And when I was reading your book and looking at the many photographs of – well, I guess they’re digital scans – of these drawings that Kiowa people made, it’s very similar design with this lack of depth, this flat image.

JG: Yes.

DG: I was curious, have you looked at Kiowa art since the reservation . . . well, I guess we’re still in the reservation period. Rather, have you looked at paintings made in the last 100 years? The art forms that were developing in the 19th century – do they continue?

JG: They do. Actually so . . . there was a set of artists – that have been called by some folks “The Kiowa Five” and, eventually, there was a realisation that there was also a female artist there, and she’s now part of a group called “The Kiowa Six” – artists who grew up and were young children at the end of the 19th century/ turn of the 20th century, and who kind-of inherited many of the artistic traditions. They would have seen people drawing; they would have seen people painting on tepees; they would have seen Kiowa calendars, where people did history; and they would have seen these kinds of artistic practices. They then were sent to school. And one of the places they were sent to school there was a teacher who really tried to help them develop artistic skills, without having them, necessarily, abandon the particular Plains Indian visual style that they had learned as young people. And so there was a kind of school of artists, really popular in the 1920s and 30s, called the Kiowa Five. And there are actually now, in the contemporary period, many Native artists who have a Plains Indian background who kind-of riff on Native art. And they take the kind-of flat presentation that you’re talking about and they bring that into . . . they combine that with contemporary materials. So this idea – that style, that developed on the plains in the 18th and 19th century, on tepees and later on paper – is still being riffed on by Native artists. And it’s pretty exciting.

DG: I remember in the book you don’t talk too much about the materiality of how the drawings were made, so I was curious if you might elaborate a little bit? They’re creating drawings, they’re sending them back from school. Previously they would have been making drawings on buffalo hide. Do you have any information about this transition of Kiowa art forms being done on natural materials, to on the materials that are provided by the American Empire?

JG: Yes. And so . . . it’s that critical moment with contact with the American that brings theses new drawing materials into play. There’s an anthropologist at the Smithsonian who has been trying to find if we have any examples of Kiowa drawing on paper, really, prior to the reservation period. And she has not been able to find any, even though we have ample examples of shields, tepees, buffalo hide – as you suggested. But it was really contact with the Americans, first through the establishment of the reservation, but then also for some Kiowa in the period of incarceration. The man who ran the military prison, where many Kiowas were sent after the Red River War, gave out paper and pencils and coloured pencils as a way for people to pass the time, and later noticed that the Native men were creating these drawings with one another. And then he encouraged them to sell drawing to tourists – which is one of the reasons that they show up in Eastern Seaboard museums so often. So really it’s that contact with Americans that makes paper and pencil available. And, in some ways, there’s a sort of . . . I mean, paper and pencils are just easier to use than buffalo hide! So, in some ways, it just becomes easier to draw, and to paint with these new materials. And the artists just really take up those new materials with gusto.

DG: So I’d like to transition a little bit from the theoretical material to talk about the narrative of the book, in particular.

JG: OK

DG: You begin The Gods of Indian Country with this evocative description of the 1873 Sun Dance on the Sweetwater Reservation, which is newly created in what’s modern Oklahoma. I was thinking of past books on Native American history, for instance, Anthony Wallace’s Death and Rebirth of the Senaca or Tracy Leavelle’s’ The Catholic Calumet – those also start in the middle of a ritual, the way you do. Were you consciously trying . . . . Is this a trope that you were working with? Or is that kind-of an accidental comparison?

JG: You know, that’s interesting that both of those books also begin with a ritual. Actually, my inspiration for this was the beginning of Robert Orsi’s The Madonna of 115th Street! (Laughs).

DG: Oh, right! That would be the street possession.

JG: Which also began with a ritual and what I remember, when I was trying to figure out how to start the book . . . . Because it’s a book that technically begins in 1803, but I didn’t think actually starting in 1803 was the place to start, because there really wasn’t much contact between Americans and Kiowa, like there’s no contact in that period. So I was thinking about, “How do I set up all that’s at stake in this contact, at least potentially would be at stake, with this contact between Kiowas and Americans?” And this particular Sundance had a lot of witnesses – or not witnesses, necessarily . . . in some ways – witness documents left over, and a lot of anthropological material, ethnographic interviews, where people reflected back on it. So there was a lot of shall-we-say evidence about this particular one. And to me it had a lot of interpretive potential, because it was one where we have the first American – or, at least, the one that we know for sure there’s an American witnessing the ritual. And he wrote so much about it, about his experiences of it. So I started to think that it could be a really great place to start. But I also didn’t want to foreground the Quaker who witnessed it. I didn’t want to foreground his experience. I wanted to try to kind-of make the reader go into the Kiowa world, and not just the Quaker’s world as he experienced the Kiowa. And that made me think about Bob Orsi and how effectively in his book he brings the reader, with this kind-of dramatic story, into the world of the Catholics who are celebrating the Festa for Mount Carmel, in Harlem. And I know people have lots of things to say about the beginning of that book, but I found that book really effective in drawing readers in and bringing them into this question about intercultural encounter. And so, yes, he’s really the inspiration there.

JG: You know, I was not expecting Italian Catholics in Manhattan. But now that you mention it, it does work.

JG: But that’s the joy of Religious Studies, right? You can take reflections on a ritual somewhere and use those tools in a ritual in different part of the world.

DG: Yes, but comparison is tricky. For instance, when I mention the flat drawing without the sense of perspective that you see in European art, my mind originally went to, actually, the drawings that you see in Ancient Egyptian artefacts. And then I was thinking, “Well, is that a fair . . . you know – is that a fair a comparison to make, since they’re so far apart?”

JG: Well it’s interesting. Art historians have really done a lot of heavy-lifting when it comes to interpreting and understanding, Plain Indian visual art. And I think one of the things that they have really argued is to take this art very seriously as art, despite it’s having a different sense of perspective, and despite . . . . Because in the 19th century there were many people, many Americans, when they encountered this art they thought it was childlike and simplistic. And actually, early anthropologists were not interested in it because they wanted to see works on buffalo hide, not paper, right? They didn’t want Native people to be changing. They wanted to preserve this kind-of timeless and older idea that they thought Native people had been performing. They didn’t want to look at this paper stuff which they considered an innovation. So it’s been art historians who have really tried to say, “This is art and we need to take it seriously as art.” In the same way that we, you know – we don’t even question any more whether what ancient Egyptians were creating was art. It’s art, right?

DG: Right.

JG: But it took a longer time for folks to be able to talk that way about Plains Indian art.

DG: One thing I appreciate about your book is that you’re using these . . . . You’re not only using the drawings and paintings as validations of Native American art, you’re also using it to show that they’re recording their history as it’s happening. For instance, you have, after the Osage Indians attack, in 1823 I believe, you have these drawings showing the Kiowa memorialising their dead.

JG: Yes. And that is . . . . Oh sorry, I won’t interrupt!

DG: No it’s alright. I was just getting excited about this! As the book goes on you have just example after example into the reservation period, as their land is being taken away, they’re interpreting their history in a completely different language from the Americans.

JG: Right. And that’s one of the most kind-of pervasive ideas that is part of the whole complex that we talk about in terms of the “vanishing Indian”. The way that Americans were kind-of writing Native people out of the future. And one of the kind-of tropes that would be constantly kind-of brought up in the vanishing Indian rhetoric was, “These are people with no history. They have no sense of their own history.” This would be one of the many reasons that these folks would see that there would be an eventual disappearance of Native people. And so part of what I . . . and I think this is a bit perpetuated by historians who are kind-of unwilling to deal with non-alphabetic sources. There are sources outside of alphabetic and textual sources. And so what I really wanted to do was to push against, or at least show how hard Americans were working to vanish Indians, while at the same time Native People were absolutely creating . . . they were historicising themselves. And they had debates about, “Which events do you memorialise? What’s going to go into the calendar as the most significant event of the year?” And different calendars have different events memorialised. So not only are they keeping that history, they debate that history. Yes. So it was important to me to really frontload those sources and then also kind-of send the message to historians – who often say that it’s difficult to work on Native materials if you don’t have textual or written language in any period – like, “Yes, you can!” You just have to be creative about it.

DG: In designing the layout of book, did you select the position of the images, or did your editors do that?

JG: We kind-of worked together. I usually suggested a placement. And sometimes they took the suggestion and just went with it. And other times we negotiated where things might go. I feel really lucky. From the beginning I asked them for colour plates, like, a section of colour plates. And I was really shocked when they said, “Yes”. So unfortunately the plates can’t be interspersed in the text, just because that would make production very difficult. But I’m really glad they’re there .They mean you have to kind-of tunnel through the text a little bit, when one of those plates comes up. But I’m really glad that it’s present. And one of the things I found early on, with the editors and the outside reviewers, is that they were very open to the placement of especially Kiowa drawings, and Kiowa calendar examples, as ways to reinforce this message that they are documenting themselves, remembering their past, and interpreting their new situations.

DG: There’s an encyclopaedic component to the book, I suppose, in that you’re bringing these images to a wider audience. You also supply an extensive appendix of historical figures from the Kiowa community. I forget the word Wikipedia uses. I think its “disambiguating”. Because you say there are all these name variations. And you put them all in one place for the first time.

JG: Yes. And actually, I worked with an anthropologist who’s been active in Kiowa country for a very long time, and he was very generous. He has worked for a long, long time to collect not only all the possible Kiowa name variations that are possible – because they appear in lots of different ways in different kinds of sources . . . . So he was really vital in my effort to get names spelt correctly, and represented correctly. Because there’s just so many ways, and there’s a long history of Native names being mangled by American authors. So I just wanted to be as careful as I possibly could, and do the best work around naming, and making sure that I could give the best and most thorough account of naming that I could. Because naming is one of the places where I think there’s been shortcuts taken in the work of American history.

DG: What would you say the book’s thesis is?

JG: I’d say it has two. I have a thesis about the Americans who were involved in the process of colonising the Kiowa, and then a thesis about the Kiowa themselves. In terms of the Americans who were operating to colonise Kiowas, I was interested in the folks who saw themselves as a peaceful vanguard coming into Indian country. These were folks who decried what was happening with the military, and when there were the military attacks on Native people, they hated Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Bill. But they were absolutely kind-of foundational and crucial to American expansion. And I think that their effort to designate expansion as a potentially peaceful enterprise was very effective. And it really . . . they very effectively masked other kinds of colonial violence. They weren’t Andrew Jackson, they weren’t Sherman, they didn’t operate in those ways, but they were absolutely essential to the occupation and suppression of Kiowa people, and somehow, very successfully, made that a peaceful process. So that was what I wanted to study about that. Like, how did they effectively take something violent and name it peace, and convince everybody? Because I think they did. I think they convinced other people that this was peaceful. So that’s my main kind-of concern with those folks. I think the thesis in terms of the Kiowa response – I wanted to show that religion was one of the central ways and one of the central places that Kiowas could draw on traditions, but also create these new sorts of rituals to address changing situations. So I wanted to show that there were ways of riffing on the past, and bringing the past into the present. But also those kind-of incredible ritual effects of credibility and creativity that helped them as they tried to resist occupation.

DG: In terms of resistance – you don’t use the word “prophetic” to describe the sort of religious practices that are happening on the reservation: the Sun Dance, the Ghost Dance, eventually experiments with peyote, even interpretations of Christianity. What was your choice not to use the word “prophetic”?

JG: There are a couple of reasons for it. Partly because in the 19th century, and this happened with movements around the United States, that word could be used derisively by Americans. They would talk about maybe a tribal nation that had some sort of revitalisation movement in direct response to American occupation. And they would talk derisively about a prophet who was at the centre of it, right? And usually be meaning “prophet” in scare quotes, like, not a real prophet, but a prophet to these people with bad religion. So I wanted to get away from it because it had been used pejoratively. And then, I think, also there’s so much great work in Religious Studies about varieties of movements in colonial settings where religion is kind-of reimagined to address a colonial situation, that I wanted to draw on language from that work. I felt that those writings – whether they be about colonial era, occupations of parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, or in Australia – that work was really, to me, way more useful, and the language out of those projects was so much more compelling and rich that I thought, “You know what, I just don’t need this word prophet.” It would have been a little easier, right? Like I think when you say, Native American prophecy it communicates something to readers, right. They might think of Tecumseh’s brother and they might think of Handsome Lake. So there’s some effectiveness and usefulness to it but I was willing to kind-of give that up, because I wanted to see if we could do something else with some other kinds of language.

DG: So we’re just about out of time, but we’re almost up to the present, talking about the endurance of Kiowa religion. At the close of your book in the epilogue, you talk about your own journey to Kiowa country in Oklahoma, and witnessing these ceremonies. And, you know, you’re seeing things that outsiders typically don’t. And it’s very fraught to be white person to be present there. How do Kiowa people respond to you wanting to tell their story without being a full member of the community?

JG: Well, when I went to visit, one of the things I always tried to make clear was that I was not an anthropologist: I wasn’t doing interviews, I wasn’t going to quote, I wasn’t taking big observations, I wasn’t trying to be a kind-of classic participant observer. So, in some ways, I didn’t necessarily bear the burden I think that anthropologists often bear, when they go to work within Native communities. I have some friends who are anthropologists in Kiowa communities, and they are people who have these kind-of decades-long sets of relationships. So one thing I tried to make clear was that my story is studying historical sources, but that anyone working in Native American history today also talks about how there’s a responsibility to the present. And you know, Peter Nabokov in his books talks about this: there’s no Native history that doesn’t have a connection to today. So I think one of the things I felt like I needed to do was just to try my best to understand the present, without really asking anything. So when I would go there, I just would do things like show up at church and if folks wanted to talk to me – great! If not – great! And that kind-of helped me. I just started by showing up. I really wanted to be clear about, “I’m not asking for anything”. And I think I just kept showing up enough that I made some friends. And I think, along with that, I’ve always tried to signal that my hope is I will, if anything is desired of me, I will give it back. So you know, I think it’s a different . . . I think when historians are dealing with Native communities, even though you have this kind-of project that’s related on documents from the past and you don’t necessarily ever have to . . . .You know – I could have written this book and never gone to the reservation. But I also feel that by going there, I was able to write about the past with an eye toward the present. Especially because I can see those communal values that I write about in the past, those are still operative, and I witnessed those things. And that was really kind-of powerful, and I think it helped me write a better book.

DG: We have been speaking to Jennifer Graber at the University of Texas, Austin. Thank you very much for your time!

JG: Thanks so much. I had fun!


Citation Info: Graber, Jennifer and Daniel Gorman Jr. 2018. “’The Gods of Indian Country”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 17 September 2018. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 30 June 2018. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/the-gods-of-indian-country/

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with transcribing the Religious Studies Project archive, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

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Evangelical Yoga: Cultural Appropriation and Translation in American Religions

super-funny-pet-picture-the-yo-5926Dr. Brown began her career as a historian of evangelicalism, and soon branched out into the study of religious healing and “new religions” in the U.S. In this interview, we discuss her interest in yoga as a new American phenomenon and the way that some evangelical Christians practice it. Brown provides a historic overview of bodily–religious practices in America, starting with mesmerism, occultism, osteopathy, and chiropractic in the nineteenth century. These practices challenged the standard “heroic” model of medicine: Instead of the patient experiencing torturous medical treatments, a practitioner simply realigns the patient’s body or does a quick procedure. Such bodily practices blurred, in some cases, with Pentecostal and Holiness Christians’ use of prayer as a medical treatment. (Today, many chiropractors retain an interest in bodily energy and proper alignment, though they may not articulate this view to their patients.)

As the nineteenth century progressed, many Americans consumed translations of Hindu and Buddhist literature. Asian concepts of bodily practice and energy fields (qi, meridians, chakras) entered the lexicon of new American religions. Theosophy, in particular, borrowed from Hindu and Buddhist concepts. The introduction of Eastern metaphysics to America created a small market for the introduction of yoga. This market grew in the 20th century as Vivekananda and Yogananda brought forms of yoga (and, in Yogananda’s case, a hybrid of Hinduism & Christianity) to the U.S. Today, evangelical Christians are adopting yoga, finding parallels between chakras and the Holy Spirit, or — in an act of cultural appropriation — creating a new kind of yoga shorn of Hindu references. The American Hindu community has criticized such cultural appropriation. Some Hindus have also suggested that a Christian doing yoga poses, or asana, may slowly convert to Hinduism, making evangelical yoga a stealth victory for Vedic culture.

The interview concludes with a discussion of Dr. Brown’s field research methods, along with her and Mr. Gorman’s thoughts about secularization in America and the inadequacies of secularism as a research concept.

Editor’s Note: On 29 June 2017 we published a response to this interview, written by Philip Deslippe, which provides an important and well-argued counter-narrative to this interview. As with every podcast we publish, we encourage listeners/readers to digest the podcast in tandem with the response(s) , to explore further if interested, and to get in touch in the comments, via email, or on social media to continue the discussion. 

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.

Evangelical Yoga: Cultural Appropriation and Translation in American Religions

Podcast with Candy Gunther-Brown (19 June 2017).

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Gunther-Brown – Evangelical Yoga 1.1

Daniel Gorman (DG) : Dr Candy Gunther-Brown, welcome to the Religious Studies Project!

Candy Brown (CB): Thank you.

DG: So, I’m calling you from up-state New York – you’re in Indiana, and I’m told the weather is equally miserable in both places.

CB: That seems to be about right.

DG: OK. So, today we’re going to be talking about your research into new religious movements, particularly: how people who are not Hindu wind up practising yoga.

CB: Sure.

DG: So to begin, why don’t you tell our listeners how you got interested in new religious movements or, in this case , old religious practices being done in a new way?

CB: Sure. Well, my research trajectory really started with looking at Evangelicals in the 19th century and at print culture. And then, as I wanted to move forward in time to look at later 19th century, into the 20th century and into the 21st century, I realised that it was really a much bigger story than just what was going on in the United States with the Evangelicals. And so I needed to start looking at global moments and much more interconnection. And I also realised that a big part of the story was Pentecostal charismatic Christianity. So that took my research, then, into the directions of looking at, particularly, Pentecostal practices of prayer for healing and deliverance from evil spirits. And so I did a lot of interview work in the field, worked with various Pentecostals and asked them about their healing experiences. And so this led to me to start asking questions that were, in a sense, more of an empirical nature of what happens when people pray for healing. So then I was looking at some science and religion kinds of questions. But I also got some very interesting responses from my Pentecostal respondents. Because, when I started asking them about prayer for healing, they also started to volunteer that they loved their chiropractors.

DG: Really?

CB: And this was a somewhat surprising response to me, given what I knew about Chiropractics: that it’s roots were in mesmerism and spiritualism, and the founders and developers of the tradition saw themselves as doing something very different from Christianity. And the Christian informants that I was talking to, not only did they love their chiropractors but they also insisted that they were Christian. They didn’t bother telling me that their medical doctors were Christian, but they really wanted me to know that their chiropractors were. Again this was very interesting because if you look at survey research that’s been done on chiropractors you see that around 80% or so will say that they’re Christians, and around 80% or so share vitalistic, metaphysical beliefs, very much in line with the founders of chiropractics. So you’ve got a really interesting kind-of blending of worldviews and frameworks and interpretations of the world. And I realised that this was really just the tip of the iceberg. And so, from looking at chiropractic I began to look at other kinds of complementary and alternative medicine, including various kinds of meditation – transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation, but also Reiki, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, homeothapy, aromatherapy – and realised that some of the most engaged practitioners were actually Evangelical Christians. And particularly the ones who were interested in charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity, who had a kind of worldview where there’s some kind of spiritual force that’s interacting with the world. So a lot of the reasoning process that these Evangelicals used was: if there’s a spirit and it’s having beneficial effects on health, then there must be a kind of an analogy between the Holy Spirit and the spiritual properties that are at work in these other practices. And thus, I landed on yoga and mindfulness practised by Evangelicals, as well as by a lot of other Americans who engage in these practices, for various reasons – related to spirituality as much as health and wellness.

DG: That’s a lot! Let me . . . . I’ll take one thread and we’ll work through this. Some listeners, especially outside the United States, may not be familiar with some of the traditions you mentioned, some of the 19th century occult things: mesmerism, and chiropractic. Could you talk a little bit more about how these alternative viewpoints to Christianity . . . where they came from?

CB: Sure. Well around the middle of the 19th century there was a lot of dissatisfaction among certain Americans who were dealing with both a medical orthodoxy and a religious orthodoxy. (5:00) And the medical orthodoxy was heroic medicine – and by today’s standard, [it was] not very effective and very aggressive. So, things like vomiting with mercury derivatives and bleeding people. And it was the patient who was the hero as they were subjected to all kinds of very strenuous treatments by doctors.

DG: Torture.

CB: Yes. I mean, for many patients that was their perspective. But then a lot of the Calvinist theologians, who were in the dominant mainstream, basically gave the advice that patients should submit to their doctors as a way of resigning to God’s will for sickness. And the reason was that spiritual sanctification required a kind of physical kind of submission and sickness. And so this dominant theology, that sanctification is produced through suffering in the body, aligned well with heroic medicine. But there was also a lot of resistance. And so this is where you start getting the emergence of nature-cure kinds of medical alternatives. But then you also start to get the development of divine healing movements where the interest is in a focus on prayer for healing. So, whether it is a nature-cure looking to water and spiritual forces and kind-of the alignment of the planets, or whether it’s a prayer to God the Father through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, there is a widespread search for something else – some alternative to the mainstream offerings.

DG: That’s very interesting because I recently read, for my graduate school lists, Catherine Albanese’s A Republic of Mind and Spirit. And she talks, in that book, about how osteopathy emerged as sort-of this quasi-religious movement: the idea that you can align the energy forces in your body by manipulating bones.

CB: Yes. And actually the founder of chiropractic, D.D. Palmer, was accused by Still, the founder of osteopathy, of basically stealing his ideas. The ideas are so close. And they both emerge out of a vitalistic metaphysical framework. And what’s interesting is that osteopathy was much more embraced by the medical mainstream. So that, today, there’s really a kind of a sense of equivalence, almost, between an osteopathic medical degree and an MD. Whereas chiropractic is still much more on the fringes, even though it’s become a lot more mainstream. And it’s not necessarily that osteopathy has actually renounced the metaphysical framework, but they’ve been a lot more intentional and effective in terms of gaining mainstream medical legitimacy.

DG: Well, that’s one thing I’ve wondered about – I mean, as just someone looking at medical treatments – you know, chiropractors don’t receive the same training in anatomy and physiology that a doctor or a modern osteopath receives. . .

CB: That’s true. And it’s not just a matter of difference in training, but it’s really a difference in philosophy. An idea that Palmer articulated . . . . So Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, basically said that all disease is a matter of a failure of alignment with innate intelligence – that’s universal intelligence, so “innate” was short for this. And so you may ask the question, what are chiropractors adjusting? And it’s actually, they’re adjusting the spine for the sake of having a free flow of innate. It’s not just a physical kind of adjustment. So that was the rationale for how chiropractic could affect all kinds of other conditions, whether it’s having earaches, or infections, or whether it’s turning a breach baby – I mean there’s all kinds of different claims that, even today, are made for chiropractic. And they stem from the idea that, really, the key to health is the innate intelligence. And so it’s that philosophy that’s really at the core, and why there’s still so much tension with modern medicine.

DG: I do want to move onto the yoga connection. But there’s one question I’ll pose to you as somebody who researches these kinds of movements: so to some, let’s say an atheist medical practitioner, what you’re describing is pseudo-science. But that doesn’t seem that way to people who practise it and believe that it helps them. How do you navigate that balance between judging and understanding?

CB: Well, I think this is where it’s important to really look at a multiplicity of perspectives and to try and explain: well, who are the developers of various practices? But not only what are the roots of these practices, what are today’s philosophies? And this is why for chiropractic, for instance, it’s important that there’s survey research that’s been done by chiropractors, that basically confirm that the beliefs that are held by many chiropractors today are actually very much in alignment with those that were articulated by the Palmers. (10:00) Now that doesn’t mean that the chiropractors always communicate that with their patients. In fact, that often is not the case. And so, one of the things that it’s important for scholars to do is to actually look at the variety of narratives that are articulated by practitioners as well as patients, depending on who their audiences are. And this is something that we’ll see with yoga, as well – that explanation of what practices do, why they’re practices, what they mean – you may not always get the same explanation if you’re looking at different audiences, and different purposes for giving that account of what the practice is.

DG: So now, this is where I think chiropractic and yoga tie together. This concept of energy in the body – well, to someone who knows anything about Hinduism, this sounds a lot like the idea of chakras and energy flows in the body. So, in the 19th century, when people like Palmer and others were starting their work, what understanding in America was there of Indian religions?

CB: Sure. Well, there was a combination of Western metaphysical traditions – something like homeothapy or aromatherapy would be rooted in that kind of tradition – and there was often quite a bit of exchange, though, with Asian religious traditions as well. So a lot of the people who were developing these Western metaphysical ideas, they actually were reading texts that they got from India and other parts of Asia. They were interacting with ideas of say Prana or qi, or chakras and meridians, as you mentioned. And so there’s often a real, kind of, exchange and consonance in these ideas. And a lot of the practitioners of chiropractic or yoga will say, yes, there’s a lot that there actually is in common between the Western and Eastern traditions.

DG: Yes. I was thinking of the Theosophist, people like Madam Blavatsky, who think you can control the spirits with your mind – and then she goes and lives in India for a decade!

CB: Well exactly! And then she actually formally converted to Buddhism, and she drew extensively on Hinduism and a variety of Western traditions and Freemasonry. So, that kind of eclectic interest in various forms of spiritually – sometimes framed as science themselves . . . . A lot of the pioneers in the kinds of movements that are popular today were very interested in exploring a variety of practices and traditions.

DG: So, as far as yoga goes, when did that begin to be introduced to the American market? I’m thinking, for instance, in the 1920s there were the immigration restrictions, so how was this material – about philosophy and exercise – how as that making the crossing to America?

CB: Sure, well even as early as the 19th century you’ve got the transcendental folks, like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who are reading as many translated Hindu and Buddhist texts as they’re able to. And you got Thoreau who’s doing his best to practice yoga. So even in the 19th century you can see some of the beginnings of practices coming into America. The World Parliament of Religion, in 1893, was a really important event. Because there you’ve got Vivekananda – actually, several of those Hindu and Buddhist spokespersons – who are starting to frame practices in a language of science, to basically argue that Hinduism and Buddhism (as they’re starting to be named and understood by Westerners) are, actually, more compatible with modern science than Christianity is. And so you start to have a stream of popularisers and, even with immigration restrictions, you’ve got enough who are either coming into the United States themselves or whose books and publications are crossing over, that the influence, again, begins to be disseminated. Yogananda is another one of these hugely influential figures who sets up a base in California and continues to be popular even into the present day with his Self-Realisation Fellowship. And so now his followers are continuing to disseminate the traditions. And so there’ve been a variety of health and beauty promotions, exercise promotions, the use of television – so really an increase over the course of the 20th century, but accelerating with: the lifting of immigration restrictions in the 1960s; the interest of the Beat generation; the counter-culture. But then, even more recently in the 1990s and beyond, you start to see this increasing mainstream status – even to the point of putting yoga and mindfulness practices into public schools. And that really is just within the last couple of decades.

DG: (15:00) Well it was interesting when you mentioned Yogananda in the 1930s, because he was somebody who preached that Jesus was another incarnation of the other Hindu deities, an avatar.

CB: And that’s been a very common strategy. A very common strategy by a lot of the promoters of Yoga is to argue for consonance, for complementarity. And that’s actually been one of the things that’s been motivating for Evangelical Christians even, who feel that there’s something missing in their own tradition. And so they’re trying to fill in and supplement by borrowing from other kinds of traditions.

DG: So Evangelical Christians in the present day: how are they accessing yoga? What kinds of facilities, for instance?

CB: Well, a lot of times there’s the YMCA, there’s health clubs, sometimes more traditional yoga studios. So some Christians will find their way either into the health club version or into the studio version. But then also there’s a proliferation of explicitly Christian versions of yoga or alternatives to yoga. And so you start to get movements like: Christo-yoga, holy yoga, fully fit, Yahweh yoga, praise moves. . . . And some of them keep yoga somewhere in the title, some of them try to remove yoga from the title. And there’s a kind of Evangelical sense that religion, really, is fundamentally reducible to language. It’s about what you believe and what you say that you believe. And so if you change the language, and you say you’re no longer doing “sun salutations” – salutes to the sun – but you say you’re doing “son salutations” – s-o-n, instead of s-u-n – you’ve now repurposed the practice and dedicated it to Jesus. You’re no longer doing pranayana but you’re breathing in the Holy Spirit. So by re-labelling either individual poses or larger practices, many Evangelicals are convinced that they’ve basically emptied the contents . . . . They’ve removed the Hindu contents from the container of neutral yoga practices, and they’ve poured in Bible verses and prayers. Now with a different framework of religion where it’s about practices, not necessarily just beliefs, then that may seem a rather strange or unworkable kind of approach. So some Hindu critics of the Christianisation of yoga will basically say, the prayers are actually the bodily practices. Doing the sun salutation with your body is a form of devotion to Surya the sun god. And so there are actually some warnings by Hindu spokespersons, saying that ultimately Evangelicals are going to find their faith corrupted, by their own standards, and they’re going to be led into the true way of enlightenment. And it may not be so easy just to re-label practices and make them Evangelical.

DG: Do you think – building on this theme of Hindu response – are there Hindu groups that are offended that anyone’s just using this tradition, without any sense of where it comes from?

CB: Oh there are definitely critiques of cultural appropriation. And the Hindu American Foundation launched a Take back Yoga campaign in 2008. And some of their spokespersons have been critical of Christian appropriation. But you find this, similarly, with Buddhists who complain about appropriation of mindfulness practices and claim that they’ve been secularised or, in some cases, they claim that they’ve been Christianised. So that’s definitely a critique that’s present.

DG: Now, I’m curious in the way you go about researching these things. Do you travel to Christian yoga studios? And when you go there, what do you do? Are you a participant or are you just observing?

CB: I’ve done observing. I’ve relied a lot on just the proliferation of online sources and video presentations, and [I’ve] also been present in meditation settings. And I’ve observed – I don’t participate. I think that there are ethical issues that come into play with that, so my stance is that of an observer. I do a lot of interview work with participants and with teachers. And I also do empirical work and look at the studies that have been done. And this is an interesting aspect, is to ask, “Well, what happens when people participate in either secularised or Christianised versions of something like yoga or mindfulness meditation?” And what’s interesting is that there is sociological work that suggests that there are, actually, some profound changes in spiritual and religious experiences that result – even, sometimes, from very short term involvement. But that, basically, the longer people tend to be involved in these practices, the more likely what started off as just an exercise class has turned into a spiritual pursuit. And the content of religious practices does tend to shift towards practices that would be more aligned with, say, Hinduism than with Christianity. And this is, actually, very much parallel to the kinds of claims that are made by yoga teachers and mindfulness teachers, who are very confident that the practices themselves are transformative.(20:00) And so, here, you get both proponents of yoga and mindfulness, and some of the Christian critics, who are essentially arguing that there is something inherent about theses practices themselves that transform people, regardless of what their intentions are going into the practices. Intentions, it seems, can actually change through the experiences of practices. And that claim does, to some degree, seem to be borne out by the sociological research that’s been done.

DG: Do you see any regional differences, in the United States, about the Christian reception of yoga?

CB: Well, it seems that – predictably in some ways – the coasts have a lot more yoga and a lot more Christian yoga. And also, some of the controversies over this . . . . You see more Christian yoga on the coast, you also see just more yoga programmes. But it’s not coincidental that where the most high profile law suit over yoga in public schools took place – it was in Encinita, San Diego County, California. And it was actually right next door to Yogananda’s Self-Realisation Fellowship.

DG: That’s interesting.

CB: This is also the birthplace of Ashtanga yoga in the United States, which was brought over by Pattabhi Jois, and that was the particular form of yoga that was being practised in the public schools where there was a lawsuit. So, a place like Encinita is interesting because something like 45% of the population practices yoga, compared with – as of 2012, which was when that 45% came out – it was about 9%, nationally. Now it’s about 15%, nationally. About 40% of the population is Christian, but that compares to about 70% of the total US population that’s Christian. So you have fewer Christian and more religious diversity in a place like Ansonita. But you still have a lot of Christians who are practising – and it was a minority of those Christians who protested against yoga. The large majority seemed to actually be pretty interested in practising it themselves.

DG: We’re closing in on the end our session, but I want to try to connect this practice of yoga to some of the other things you’ve mentioned, particularly transcendental meditation. It’s billed as TM now, it’s sort-of this exercise, but there’s no real sense of where that comes from. Do you think Christians are also participating in TM movements?

CB: I think that they are in one of the main places where TM has really got in its foothold: in what’s now called “quiet-time programmes” in public schools. So transcendental meditation more comes out of Hindu meditation traditions. And this is, actually, one of the places where . . . . Really, one of the only law suits where there was a judicial decision defining religion was a case of Malnak v. Yogi, in 1979, which found that transcendental meditation was a religion. And one of the lines in the concurring opinion by Arlin Adams, he said, “Well, if a Catholic can’t practice in schools, then neither should a transcendental meditator be allowed to do so.” Even so, TM programmes and quiet-time programmes have proliferated in public schools even until the present day, alongside mindfulness programmes. So I think that, a lot of the time, Christians and others – atheists as well – really don’t know where practices are coming from, and they don’t know how connected to the originating traditions those practices remain. So it’s not just a matter of, “ a long time ago there were ancient religious roots”. But, if you look at how practices are being framed when not being marketed to the public, you actually find that there are still a lot of the same claims that this is, for instance, a “Vedic victory” when yoga gets into public schools, or this is “stealth Buddhism”, when mindfulness gets into the schools. So those are the kinds of claims that are made when talking to Hindu or Buddhist sympathiser audiences. But a lot of the people who are interested in doing practices for health or wellness, they really don’t know where these practices come from and they really haven’t thought that much about how intentions may change through their participation in these practices.

DG: If anything, the future of religion in this country is going to be very interesting, because we’re going to see . . . .

CB: (Laughs) I think so too!

DG: Well I’m thinking, if the country is growing more secular, the question is: if these practices endure, then do we need to rethink the idea of secularisation?

CB: Well, I think we absolutely do. And this is where my working title for the book I’m working on now, on yoga and mindfulness in public schools, is “Secular and Religious”. And I think that practices actually can be both at the same time. (25:00) And that by presenting practices as secular that this can actually be a more effective way of advancing new forms of religion and spirituality.

DG: Thank you for your time, Dr Gunther-Brown.

CB: Thank you very much.

Citation Info: Gunther-Brown, Candy 2017. “Evangelical Yoga: Cultural Appropriation and Translation in American Religions”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 19 June 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 16 June 2017 Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/evangelical-yoga-cultural-appropriation-and-translation-in-american-religions/

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Jesuits, Mormons, and American Religion in the World

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Conception de Ataco, El Salvador

Dr. Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp has written extensively on the importance of space and geography in studying American religions. I interviewed her at the University of Notre Dame, Cushwa Center’s Seminar in American Religion. This session dealt with Dr. John McGreevy (History, Notre Dame)’s new book, “American Jesuits and the World.” Maffly-Kipp and Thomas Bender (History, NYU) gave remarks about the book; McGreevy responded; and two hours of Q&A with scholars and graduate students followed.

My conversation with Maffly-Kipp begins with McGreevy’s book, expands to include her work on Mormonism in contrast to Catholicism, and ends with a discussion of evangelical historian Mark Noll, in whose honor Notre Dame was originally going to host a conference, but was cancelled at the last minute. This free-ranging conversation nonetheless centers on Jesuits, Mormons, and transnational religious history.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Frankincense, and Myrh.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World

Podcast with Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

Interviewed by Daniel Gorman Jr.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock

Audio and transcript available at: Maffly-Kipp_-_Jesuits,_Mormons_and_American_Religion_in_the_World_1.1

Daniel Gorman (DG): Dr Maffly-Kipp, welcome to the Religious Studies Project

Laurie Maffly-Kipp (LMK): Thank you.

DG: We’re here at the Morris Inn, at the University of Notre Dame. We just finished the Cushwa Centre’s Biannual Seminar in American Religion, discussing John McGreevy’s book on Jesuits in the World. So, you have been writing about space, and geography, and understanding religion for more than twenty years now, beginning with your essay in Thomas Tweed’s edited volume, Retelling US Religious History. I’d be curious to know how your views have evolved, and what you believe is the importance of space and geography in studying American religions.

LMK: That essay was my initial foray into the field and it was more of a thought piece, based on sort-of the hypothetical question of: what would you do if you didn’t narrate American religious history from the perspective of European movements from East to West – particularly British American movements. In a sense, it was also inspired by the work, in the 1930s, of Herbert Bolton – who was a historian of empires in the New World – and his basic observation that the Spanish Empire had been a part of North America and South America, long before the British ever came along. So, what would it do to sort-of retell the story of the growth of the US nation and religion in that sort-of setting, but come at it from the perspective of all theses different movements into North America, at various points in time? So that was, I think, a framework that I laid out. And since then I’ve been, I guess, exploring different avenues into that. Most recently, I’ve been spending time doing work on Mormon history and looking at Mormonism. But I think that that focus on space has then led me to think about Mormonism differently: how do I think about Mormonism as having a particular kind of centre in the United States, but also has having other areas in other parts of the world that are significant for particular purposes?

DG: So today, the book we’ve been talking about – American Jesuits in the World, by John McGreevy – it’s dealing with, well, somewhat missionary activity, but a little different from what you focus on. Because you’re often talking about American Mormons going outwards, whereas he’s talking about, at first, Europeans coming to missionise America. Can you talk a little bit about the differences you see between Mormons and Jesuits operating on the world stage?

LMK: Well, they’re very different. I mean, certainly, they’re different in terms of having a different focus on what they were doing with other people. So, for Jesuits: Jesuits are a particular Catholic order; their jobs revolve around educating peoples, administering the sacraments and keeping people in the faith. For Mormons, the goal tends to be to create habits of discipline and industry – much like those of the missionaries themselves. There’s sort-of a distinct separation between the kinds of spiritual practices that a Jesuit missionary undertakes, and what he’s trying to inculcate in other people. Whereas, for Mormon’s, they were sort-of one and the same thing. So that’s just one small difference. But, I think, on all kinds of different levels there are differences. But there are also similarities, because Mormons are also exiles – perhaps exiles in their own land. But they have a very – I guess, the best way to put it is – angular relationship to the US government in the 19th century, and often a very combative relationship. So, they aren’t sold on the idea of the nation state as necessarily an all-encompassing good, just as the Catholics are disaffected from the US Government in various ways.

DG: Well, certainly, one of the points that came up in the Q and A session, today, was that the Jesuits were roundly denounced as a secret society on the floor of Congress – one that should be banned. But there wasn’t widespread Catholic persecution in the 19th century, the way we saw against the Mormons.

LMK: I don’t know, I think you could argue with that: the burning of convents, riots in the streets . . .

DG: Well, that’s true.

LMK: . . . in Philadelphia and Boston. So, in some ways, I think that the tensions were manifest in more physical kinds of ways than they were for the Mormons. There were a few incidents with the Mormons. And the Mormons certainly fought back at various points. So I think, actually, a comparison of them is really helpful to see the ways that Protestant America was shaping the limits of its own toleration.

DG: I suppose, what I was thinking of more was that there was not state legislation against the Catholic Church in the way that there was, for instance, when the Governor of Missouri declared war on the Mormon people, saying: “Leave my state or I’m going to kill all of you!” (5:00) That is a difference.

LMK: Right! Yes. You’re right. That’s a difference. Although, I think one of the interesting things about John McGreevy’s book is the way he points out how assiduously Protestant Americans worked to create laws that would exclude Catholics in certain kinds of ways. So, from public education: there were certain rules put in place that made it obvious that the Catholics were not going to fall within the bounds of the law. I mean, their kind of education wouldn’t be acceptable as a form of public education. So, it seems to me that the very creating and shaping of laws is another way to put boundaries around religious toleration.

DG: Now, I’m curious also . . . You’ve obviously read the book – you’ve just delivered a short paper commenting on it. If you were writing a book about transnational religion in the 19th century – I mean, McGreevy is focussing on the ideas of nationhood and politics – what would be the factors that you’d want to pursue? What do you see as mattering the most?

LMK: Well, in fact, I am writing that kind of book right now.

DG: Well that’s fortuitous!

LMK: Yes. So, in fact, I am writing a book on transnational religion, in that I am writing a history of Mormonism that tries to take seriously Mormonism as a global religion and an international movement from the beginning, not simply since World War II. It’s certainly the case that there are now more Mormons outside the US than in, but even in the 1850s there were more Mormon’s in England than in the US.

DG: Oh certainly, they were very active with sending missionaries – also to Scandinavia as well as England.

LMK: Later, to Scandinavia. There were sort-of waves of migration, and missionisation and migration, starting with England and moving into Scandinavia by the 1860s and 1870s. And all of those – or many, many of those people – came over to the US, and really saved what had been a dying movement by the 1850s.

DG: Yes. I believe you mentioned, during the Q and A period, that most Mormons at the end of the 19th Century in America were foreign-born.

LMK: Either foreign-born or second generation at best. Because, yes, the bulk had been immigrants.

DG: That’s not a comment that the Church stresses very much any more!

LMK: No, but it’s also not a comment that other historians have noticed much.

DG: Certainly not.

LMK: I think the focus has been on Mormonism as a distinctly American religion, which is certainly true in terms of the influences on its founders. But it’s not true in terms of who joined the movement in the first half-century.

DG: Very interesting. I think the claims you’re making will certainly overhaul graduate reading lists round the country – including my own! So, the other thing . . . I’m thinking that at my University , the University of Rochester, the graduate . . .well, loosely defined, our graduate interests are supposed to be around “the world of goods, the world of nations and the world of ideas”. So, a nice way to integrate cultural and social history. Now, listening to the Q and A today, lo and behold! The comments wind up revolving around ideas, goods and nations. So the comments from, for instance, Thomas Bender – one of your co-panellists – saying that we should think of the Jesuits as a cosmopolitan religion; the discussion from Dr McGreevy that later Jesuits were embracing American nationalism, even though they weren’t necessarily OK with separation of church and state; and your discussion of the culture Jesuits were bringing from around the world. Now, I just recapped – for the listeners – a lot of material and I certainly threw a lot at you, but I’d be curious . . . . These concepts of the physical things and the more intangible things: what do you see of those as their place in American religion?

LMK: What do I see as the place of those in American religion?

DG: So, I suppose, is there an aspect: nationhood, ideology, material culture? Do you see one factor as being more important than another?

LMK: No. I think what I was trying to call for was not separating them – at least, disaggregating them in some way but not isolating any of them one from another. I think it’s easy. . . . We often get a little too free with our definitions of globalism, internationalism, transnationalism. . .

DG: Sure

LMK: . . . and I think, part of what my colleague was calling for was the use of the term cosmopolitan as sort-of an orientation towards the rest of the world. (10:00) What it seems to me, though, that using that term can do is to draw attention away from the way power flows in the movements: the power of states is one kind of power, economic power is another kind of power. I think that’s how I would break things down. Material goods are interesting to focus on, but there’s also, appending to that, the question of “Who’s paying for what?”

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: Right? And that determines the flow of those goods.

DG: So, if you were to say, simply, that “Oh, the Jesuits were cosmopolitan”, that may be obscuring who’s leading their operations.

LMK: Right. So, if you just notice that they’re bringing chalices over from Italy and putting them into chapels in North Dakota, it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the circumstances behind those movements. And so, you just don’t want to separate those two things out. I suppose that’s the simple point I’m trying to make.

DG: So, a lot of the conversation today dealt with the fact that the Jesuits do eventually, wind up launching outward from their bases in America to the Pacific Empire. And that really intersects with several of your books dealing with Pacific missionaries. Could you expand a bit on missionaries in the Pacific?

LMK: Yes. I think the 19th Century was the Pacific Century in that regard. If one could say that the 17th and 18th centuries sort-of focussed on Atlantic movements – with the slave trade, with European migrations to the new World – the Pacific Century is very much caught up, at least in terms of the relationship of the US to other nations, with: movements from various countries in Asia, eastward; the US becoming an imperial power, moving to places like Hawaii and later down to Central and South America. And those sorts of exchanges and contexts become focal points for interesting religious phenomena.

DG: Sure. And then the other thing, I’m thinking about, though, was – coming towards the end of the conversation – was that McGreevy’s book is mostly focussing on putting Jesuits into the international story, not so much on their interior life. I mean, he touches on that in the discussion with Father Bapst but it’s not the main point of the book. And we’re sitting here at the Cushwa Centre which has. . . the nature of spirituality and history has been a recurring topic for them. Do you think the book could have done more to consider the interior life of these priests?

LMK: By interior life, do you mean . . . ? I mean, he does consider things like the devotionalism, the increasing devotionalism in the 19th century – which is tied to interiority, I guess.

DG: I suppose I was thinking of the one gentleman’s comments which were about: “the book doesn’t really deal with the sort of spiritual exercises that Jesuits do”.

LMK: Yes. It ‘s certainly more focussed on the Jesuits as missionaries. And it struck me, as that conversation was going on, that Jesuits are not necessarily trying to inculcate the same disciplines in the people they are leading to the faith as they do in themselves. And, in a sense, those are almost two different tasks of a missionary. One question is: how do you inculcate discipline, education, bodily exercises or whatever into your subjects? But, as members of a Jesuit order, how do you try to maintain your own spiritual discipline, which might be a very different thing?

DG: Oh, certainly.

LMK: That’s certainly not where McGreevy’s interest lays.

DG: Well, it also brings up an interesting contrast with your work, for instance, studying Mormons – who take the Protestant idea of “every man his own priest” to an extreme, compared to the Catholic priest, saying: “There are certain things that are just for us and not for you.”

LMK: Exactly. Exactly, yes. So Mormons: they’re trying to replicate themselves and say, “This is how you live a Christian life – do as I do.” It’s a lay order, there isn’t a trained ministry, in that sense. So, I think , the tasks are really different. And what the Jesuits are trying to preserve for themselves in their own spiritual lives, can be – and in some situations is – very different from what they’re trying to get others to do.

DG: Another topic that comes up, involving America in the World in Dr McGreevy’s book, is the fact that Jesuits were becoming more politically liberal as the 20th century approached, but they had an interesting relationship to America as empire. For instance, they’re perfectly happy to sail on American ships to go into the Pacific. But on the other hand, they oppose, for instance, the war in the Philippines, in the early 1900s, because it’s a war against a Catholic nation. So, in the Mormon Church, did you find similar ambivalence about the imperial message?

LMK: Earlier on there was a lot of ambivalence about it. (15:00) When Mormons send off missionaries to the South Pacific in the mid-19th century, and later to places like New Zealand, the message is, “We’re also being oppressed by our government, just as you are being oppressed.” In other words, they’re an anti-colonialist movement spreading a message of joining common cause with the oppressed people’s in Utah. “And we will”, you know, “have more strength together”. So, yes, it’s sort-of an interesting thing. And, of course, by the 20th century they are certainly in line with American liberal values in a very different way. But there are other traditions that have a much more – I would say – a much more conflicted relationship to the US Government throughout. So, African American Christians, for example, also have some debates about how much to support the American imperial project, in various places: be it Haiti, where there’s a long tradition of African American missionaries in Haiti; or in Africa, because they have their own loyalties as they see it to people in Africa. So I think the whole issue of loyalties to religion and nation – aside from the Protestant mainstream one – have always been much more conflicted, and often more complicated, than we’ve realised.

DG: So we’ve spent a long time talking about comparative aspects of your work and Dr McGreevy’s work. But, I’m curious now. The role of the Catholic Church today in the United States is . . . . So, just to narrow in on Catholicism: the Catholic Church today is a large supporter of the United States Government, although it’s basically at odds with – sometimes at odds over – social issues. Do you think that trend is going to continue, of the Catholic Church having a liberal voice in American society? Because there certainly was a resurgence of conservatism under John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

LMK: Yes . . . . Historians, typically, aren’t very good prophets.

DG: Yes, so I caveat all of this with, “This may go wrong!”

LMK: Right! You know, I think there are potentially lots of counter-cultural elements in Catholicism . Even the social teachings of Catholicism – there is an anti-militarism which goes way back, that is combined, in ways different for Catholics, with their pro-life policies. So even though they might agree with evangelical Christians or other Protestants about questions of abortion, they’d part ways over the role of the American military and its work abroad. So it’s a complicated picture, I think. And as we’ve seen – and as a historian I suppose my take is – it’ll probably come around again. We will see more episodes of liberal . . . . I’m not a whiggish historian, so I don’t believe that we are in some inevitable march towards progress of all sorts, or enlightenment. And therefore it’s hard to predict what the next step would look like.

DG: Absolutely. The thing that’s been weighing on my mind – less so than recent political developments – is population shifts and demographics in the Catholic Church. I mean, certainly, with the rise of birth control – despite what bishops might want to know – the families are smaller now than they were in, say, the 1800s. And certainly, with the rise of secularity, I am curious to see the role of Catholicism in American public life. Dr McGreevy’s book deals with them taking on a larger role and now, I wonder, as the population shrinks, what’s going to happen?

LMK: That’s a great question. We have certainly seen revivals before in this country.

DG: Oh, sure.

LMK: So it’s hard to predict. The demographic shifts are obviously significant, but exactly how they’ll play out, I think, is not easy to prognosticate. Just because there are people in the Southern Hemisphere who are becoming the voice of Christianity, it’s not clear to me what political pay-off that has, or what path that portends. In fact, if you look at something that I know a little more about, in Protestant missionary work, the kinds of Protestantism that are making in-roads in places like Africa and South America are some of the more conservative kinds of Protestantism: Pentecostalism . . .

DG: Which is a counter-narrative to the modern, growing secularism in America.

LMK: And now they’re sending missionaries back to the United States.

DG: Really?

LMK: Yes. There are reverse migratory flows of missionaries. One of the biggest churches in Western Europe right now is a church – and this may be out of date because it’s a few years ago someone told me this: that there’s a huge evangelical church that was founded by a Nigerian pastor that has grown by leaps and bounds in Europe. (20:00) Now who that’s growing among, in Europe, is an interesting question. But, of course, the make-up of Western Europe and the United States is changing, as well. So the demography may just follow back to the Northern Hemisphere.

DG: Sure. Well, this discussion of transnational Catholicism and which particular voice will win out, makes me think of the original intention for why we’re sitting here in Notre Dame. So, for our listeners, this conference was originally meant to be part of a much larger conference on the work of Mark Noll, the historian of American Christianity. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the conference had to be, mostly, scrapped. But I’m curious what you would think of this, to bring in Mr Noll as an evangelical historian and historian of evangelicalism. His recent work has been abandoning America Studies, to some extent, to talk about the world. His book, Clouds of Witnesses is about Africa and Asia. So, the work of Mark Noll: how, if at all, does that influence your research? Do you see his views about pluralism . . . do you think those are going to carry more weight, going forwards, in the academy?

LMK: In certain sections of the academy, absolutely. I mean, Mark has been a pioneer in that sort of field, looking at global Christianity, for a long time. And thinking about, well – he’s a historian with an eye to the future, and where the church is going. And that’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle that I think has trickled back into the academy, in all kinds of ways. So I don’t see that stopping, by any means. But the question of what globalism or increasing globalisation of any of these religious traditions actually means for piety, for spirituality, for institutional life is, I think, the next big question. We know what it means in terms of bodies moving from one place to another, but how that actually, then, plays out – in terms of building institutions and building structures – is anybody’s guess.

DG: Well, and you’ve also mentioned – on sort-of a final note – that you and the other panellists talk about how the Catholics have become, you know, comfortable with their place in American society. Whereas Mark Noll, in his works, is talking about how some evangelicals want to make the country an explicitly evangelical nation – and he rejects that, as an evangelical man. So do you see these fights in the academy at all, over how to define religion? Should there be an exclusively Protestant historical mould, or should we find news ways of thinking and defining religion – ways that aren’t just tied to Christianity?

LMK: So, are you thinking . . . ? Yes – I think the horse is out of barn on that one! I don’t see going back to any kind of narrow focus on either churches, or institutional life or Protestantism. But I think, in some ways, the study of religion in all of its dimensions can only enrich the future study of Protestantism, along with other traditions.

DG: Yes, I think pluralism is here to stay. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supporting, right?

LMK: Yes.

DG: And then, a genuinely final note, I’ll ask: some scholars consider Mormonism a Christian faith; others say it is a Christian inspired faith.Where do you stand on those issues?

LMK: It’s certainly inspired by Protestantism and that’s where, if you look at the first sort of members of the movement, they came by way of other Christian traditions. I don’t . . . . The theological question – of whether it is a Christian tradition – I don’t feel, as a scholar, is mine to answer. I guess, on one level, I take seriously the self-identification of Mormons who see themselves as Christians. I think it’s an interesting question to look at. I think there are other Mormons who don’t see themselves as Christian, so that’s also an interesting question: where are the fault lines, and when and where do these questions matter? As a cultural historian, I think those are the more interesting questions for me. But I am not a theologian and I am not a historian of a particular kind of church tradition, so I’ll leave that to the experts.

DG: Laurie Maffly-Kipp discussing bodies in space: what they think, what they say and what they do. Thank you very much.

LMK: You’re welcome. Thank you.


Citation Info: Maffly-Kipp, Laurie. 2017. “Jesuits, Mormons and American Religion in the World”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 29 May 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 22 May 2017. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/jesuits-mormons-and-american-religion-in-the-world/

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

 

Religion and American Law

In this interview, Professor Eric Mazur discusses a variety of issues relating to religion and law in the USA, such as the evolving state of First Amendment jurisprudence, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, dominant trends in the study of religion and American law, and controversial legislation such as the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Dr. Mazur also discusses his efforts to help cultivate a space at the American Academy of Religion that is explicitly devoted to the study of religion and American law. This interview provides an introduction and summary of this increasingly important field.

Minority Religions and the Law, and our general introduction to Religion and the Law with Winnifred F. Sullivan. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, potpourri, vintage cars, and more.

Religious Demography in the US

In this week’s podcast we focus on religious demography and identification, survey tools used for religious demography in America, differences between religious identities and identifications, Americans’ shifting religious identifications, correlations between religion and social positions such as ethnicity or generational cohort, and correlations with various social and political issues.

Expanding beyond the introduction to quantitative sociology of religion the RSP conducted earlier with David Voas, this conversation with Darren Sherkat covers religious demography in the American context. Unlike in the UK, or elsewhere, the U.S. census does not include questions about religion. U.S. religious demographers rely on privately-funded surveys, such as the General Social Survey (GSS), the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey, Baylor Religion Survey, and Gallup polls, among others, for large-scale nationally representative data on religion. Sherkat evaluates the reliability of various surveys as well as the quality of the data on non-Christian populations in the U.S., given that the vast majority of respondents self-identify as Christians or as “nones.” demography (Ariela Keysar), belief and belonging (Abby Day), and identity and identification (with the Culture on the Edge group). Based on findings explored further in his book, Changing Faith (2014), Sherkat explains how generational cohort, lifecourse position, immigration, ethnicity, and religious switching affect religious identifications in America, as well as correlations between religious identifications and sexuality, among other topics.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, model airplanes, snow globes and more!

Self-immolation as a religious act: The contested martyrdom of Roger Allen LaPorte, Catholic Worker

 

Millions of people, most of them civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War. Almost 58,000 of the war’s victims were American citizens. While most of the physical and technical conflict took place overseas, political and ideological battles were waged within the United States.

Some of these Americans died, as it were, by their own hand. In 1965, Roger Allen LaPorte, a member of the Catholic Worker, self-immolated in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City. While LaPorte himself described his act of protest as a specifically religious act, the validity of this description would soon be—and remain—contested, finding opposition among the Catholic hierarchy. The attention of U.S. media gave the contestation of martyrdom a public arena.

In this interview, postdoctoral researcher of U.S. Catholicism, Francesca Cadeddu, shares some of her reflections on LaPorte, whose contested martyrdom by self-immolation is the topic of her present postdoctoral project.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, pot noodles, very small trains, and more.

Francesca Cadeddu is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Institutional Sciences in Cagliari in Italy. She is also a fellow researcher at the Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, Italy. She wrote her PhD dissertation on the Jesuit priest and theologian John Courtney Murray, an important figure in U.S. Catholicism who featured prominently in the development of the the Second Vatican Council’s draft of Dignitatis Humanae (which the interviewer learned is pronounced “humaneh” rather than “hoomanay” shortly before the interview, hence the interviewer’s hesitation).

Having researched at two of the most prominent institutions for Catholic Studies in the U.S., Georgetown and Notre Dame, Cadeddu visited Notre Dame by means of a research grant from Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame in the spring of 2015.

 

Baby Boomers, Quest Culture, and Spiritual Seeking

Wade Clark Roof is Emeritus Professor of Religion and Society in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the director of the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life. He has published many books and articles on religion in the United States, especially focusing on developments within liberal Protestantism and American mainline congregations, the spiritual journeys of the Baby Boom generation and their effect on the spiritual marketplace, and religious pluralism and civil religion. These investigations have traced the contours of post-WWII American religious and social life, revealing the protean fluidity of “religion” and “spirituality” as scholarly and popular categories.

In this interview with Dusty Hoesly, discussion focuses on Roof’s work on the Baby Boom generation and beyond, particularly as expressed in his books A Generation of Seekers (1993) and Spiritual Marketplace (1999). In these books, Roof combined survey data with panel studies and interviews across a broad spectrum of Americans to describe the “quest culture” and “spiritual seeking” at the heart of America’s changing religious landscape, one which prizes “reflexive spirituality” amidst an increasingly pluralistic and evolving spiritual marketplace.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make – particularly as the season known by many in certain contexts as “Christmas” is just around the corner, and this might have some impact upon the buying habits of visitors to our website in contexts where this term has particular “meaning” invested in it, due to the particular histories and power structures of those contexts.

Studying Vernacular Religion in the US

Vernacular religion is a subject which fascinates us here at the RSP, because in keeping with our critical perspective, it challenges that idea that neat categorical boundaries may be drawn, and reminds us that when attempts are made to draw them, particular interests are being served. David Robertson was given the chance to sit down with Leonard Norman Primiano – one of the pre-eminent scholars of that field – at the BASR 2014 conference in Milton Keynes earlier this month, and we are delighted to bring you the fruits of that meeting today.

The Virgin Mary and Child Jesus with Saints, 1882, Oil on Wood, 13 1/4 x 17 3/4 inchesPrimiano begins by describing how he came to study vernacular religion as a young scholar under Don Yoder, who introduced the ethnographic study of “folk religion” to the US academy. We discuss the relationship between the study of religion and the study of folklore, and he then introduces some of his ongoing research. Particular attention is paid to the case of Father Divine and the Peace Mission movement, an indigenous US communitarian religious movement, now in terminal decline. Of particular interest is Primiano’s emphasis that vernacular religion should not be considered beside mainstream religion; rather, vernacular religion is all religion as it is encountered in the field.

Primiano is Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania. He has published widely – please click his photo in the right-hand column above for details of his recent publications. He is currently curating Graces Received, an exhibition of painted and metal ex votos from Italy at Cabrini College until October 26th, 2014. It will open at Indiana University’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures in January for the Spring semester.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

Back in the SSSR: Reflections on the 2013 SSSR/RRA Conference

SSSR 2013Boston WaterfrontI had the great fortune of attending the 2013 Society for the The Religious Studies Project (RSP).  The 2013 SSSR took place in Boston Massachusetts from November 8th – 10th a few blocks away from the Boston Harbor. Luckily, the overall tone of the conference and the attending scholars, were much warmer than the brisk weather outside the doors of the lovely Westin Waterfront Hotel. This conference report seeks to capture the unadulterated energy and excitement of a young scholar new to the social scientific study of religion and invite more established scholars to reflect on their early days in the field.

Eight AM bright and early the first day of the conference drew my attention to a session on “New Religious Movements” that featured a presentation by a former RSP podcast respondent Dusty Hoesly assessing the possibility of the Universal Life Church (ULC) as a new religious movement. I was surprised to learn that Hoesly’s presentation was, as far as he could tell, one of the first scholarly looks at the ULC group from academia. He provided some interesting data on Kirby J. Hensley, the founder of the ULC. According to Dusty, one of Hensley’s central concerns in founding the ULC was to demonstrate the ‘absurdity’ of governments giving religious organizations tax-exempt status in the United States. Thus by becoming ordained as a ULC Minister, one could start their own ‘church’ from home and at least in theory be tax-exempt. In the latter part of the morning, Dr. Carissa Sharp spoke about ‘the relationship between religious complexity and pro-sociality’. Dr. Sharp sought to challenge current psychological priming methods in examining the prosociality of religion by introducing the concept of integrative complexity (IC) calling for the need of a deeper level of understanding in the connection between religion and prosociality.

The SSSR Presidential Panel: How Religion Works: Disciplinary Perspectives and Bridges was phenomenal!

The SSSR Presidential Panel: How Religion Works: Disciplinary Perspectives and Bridges was phenomenal!

Every seat was full and a row of people stood along the back wall to hear scholars presenting their disciplinary and research perspectives in the social scientific study of religion. Dr. Laurence Iannaccone spoke about looking at religion through an economic lens taking into account the idiosyncrasies that research on religion demands and that economists often ignore arguing for a study of religion and economics in which both contribute to the other. Dr. Gerardo Marti addressed the study of religion from a sociological perspective followed by Dr. Doug Oman (a scholar in the Public Health field) arguing that the boundaries between disciplinary fields are often blurred and can even overlap at times. Dr. Ann Taves was the final panelist. In words that embody her ‘Religious Experience Reconsidered’ approach to religion, she tied together the multiple disciplines represented on the panel and spoke about a careful balancing of what she termed the ‘interdisciplinary hat’, with the ‘discipline hat’ in the study religion from multiple academic perspectives.

Dr. R. Stephen Warner delivered the annual H. Paul Douglass Lecture (sponsored by the RSP podcast by Douglas Pratt that shared a similar ‘tone’. In Warner’s lecture and Pratt’s podcast, both scholars appear to be parsing what can and can not be included in the category of ‘religion’ making them appear as a stable monolith of fixed positive traits, discounting variation among individuals and assigning negative traits to secularity. Warner’s SSSR lecture and Pratt’s podcast problematically essentialise religious identities and appear as a dangerous call for scholars to offer protection for religion in the public sphere instead of simply researching religion (for a further critical response see Beaman, 2013).

Author Meets Critic - Cragun SSSR 2013The second day of the conference it was time to attend my first ‘author meets critics’ with a review of former RSP podcast scholar Dr. Ryan T. Cragun’s What You Don’t Know About Religion (but should). Cragun had pen and paper out taking notes while the invited critics, Dr. Michael Nielsen, Dr. Christopher Chiappari and Dr. Rick Phillips, spoke – as good critics do – with both praise and careful critique. Dr. Cragun announced that a follow up book titled “More Of What You Don’t Know About Religion” is currently in the works and it was refreshing to hear him advocate for conducting science that was not just for other academics in a specific field, but also for the public as a whole. Later that day, I attended an organized panel on the “Biological and Evolutionary Aspects of Religion” that featured an informative talk by Dr. Stewart Guthrie outlining “A Biological, Evolutionary, and Cognitive Approach” to religion. Upon conclusion of the panel, I was fortunate to have Dr. Guthrie spend several minutes that day, at two separate times no less, discussing both the cognitive and psychological study of belief and non-belief with me. Dr. Guthrie clearly understands what it means to a young student such as me when they get to not only ask questions from a top scholar, but also get asked questions back! This teaching style certainly builds bridges and seems to be indicative of the commitment the SSSR has towards fostering relationships between students and scholars. In fact, the theme according to the Dr. Christopher F. Silver, as the Graduate Student Representative for 2014, and RSP podcast interviewee Dr. Ralph W. Hood Jr. as the Program Chair, this theme of mentorship and collaboration seems to be a something that we can expect to continue into the next year.

The final day of the conference I attended a session on teaching psychology of religion titled “Psychological Approaches to Understanding Religion”. One of the panelist, Dr. Kevin Ladd (RSP podcast on the psychology of prayer with Dr. Ladd coming soon), shared a hands on approach he uses to both demonstrate the problems scholars have defining religion, and to give undergraduates practical experience dealing with real problems researchers encounter. He has each student come up with an operational definition of religion to use for research and then to compare with each other student – obviously they can and do vary greatly. This way, students also gain practical experience navigating the discourse in the study of religion as well.

Thomas J. Coleman III with Ann Taves at SSSR 2013

Thomas J. Coleman III with Ann Taves at SSSR 2013

The final session, titled ‘Atheist Worldviews and Communities’ was the culmination of the conference and resulted in dialectic between the scholars and those attending for the final twenty-five minutes. If the seat count on the last day of an academic conference – at the very last panel no less (which people commonly skip out on attempting to get a head start to the airport) – is any indication of the burgeoning interest in a topic then I dare not say what is and there was a quite an audience for this panel! Scholars from sociology, religious studies and psychology brought together multiple perspectives on current atheism research around the United States. An important quote that has guided my studies comes from psychologist of religion Antoine Vergote on the importance of looking at not only studying belief but also un-belief for “one cannot be understood without the other” (1997). What a way to end a conference – with an engaging conversation on the importance of new directions in research!

*The next Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference will be held October 31-November 2, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

References

Vergote, A. (1997). Religion, belief and unbelief: A psychological study (Vol. 5). Leuven     University Press.

Paul Williamson on Serpent Handling

Paul Williamson

Paul Williamson

The use of serpents – more commonly known as ‘venomous snakes’ – within religious practices is by no means a new phenomenon within religious and cultural contexts. Certainly there are plenty of examples of where serpents have been power symbols both in totem and ritualistic traditions.  Moreover, many of the world’s population identify with serpent play as a potentially dangerous exercise. Within this risk potential, the serpent carries a variety of different auspicious meanings related to culture and/or the impermanence of life. The Southeast United States is no exception. The Appalachian Mountain region of the Southeast was geographically isolated in many parts from the rest of the United States until recently. This isolation coupled with the challenges of a rural socio-economic lifestyle created uncertainty within the minds of many inhabitants. Religious beliefs and practices provided meaning and certainty within an uncertain world. Serpent Handling traditions of Appalachia were no exception.

Serpent handling as a religious practice appeared within the first decade of the twentieth century. The practice emerged in east Tennessee and spread to other parts of the Southern Appalachian Mountain region of the United States. While many different groups, both Holiness and Pentecostal, enact the practice, the serpent handling groups themselves have no parent organization that binds them together. What binds the groups together is a sharing in diversity of belief with similar religious practices (Burton, 1993 pg. 20-21). Serpent handling sects are historically and philosophically linked to three forms of American Protestantism: Holiness, fundamentalism, and Pentecostalism, although typically many groups would identify their membership as Holiness (Hood, found in Brown & Mcdonald, 2000). The fundamentalists influence among serpent handlers is in their acceptance of a plain reading of the Bible when it is appropriate (Hood, Hill, & Williamson, 2005).

As handling serpents began spreading throughout the Southern Appalachians, the notoriety of serpent bite deaths increased (Hood & Williamson, 2008). Much of the public fascination with these traditions relates primarily to the dangerous practice of handling of serpents or drinking of poison as part of the religious ritual. Many outsider observers assume that serpent handling traditions are of one religion or of a single theology. Such an assumption cannot be further from the truth. Many of the churches diverge on issues of textual interpretation of the Bible and theology. Their only unifying practice is dictated within Mark 16. For those within these traditions, handling of serpents or drinking of poison is an issue of religious freedom. Most states have enacted laws outlawing the practice of serpent handling. Regardless of the legal discrimination or the physical risk to themselves, the serpent handling sects assume the risk to follow God’s commandment (Hood, 1998).

In this week’s podcast, Chris Silver and Dr Paul Williamson explore Williamson’s research, and by proxy his colleague Ralph W. Hood Jr. (see our podcast from 2 weeks ago) related to documentation of the Serpent Handling Sects of Appalachia. By some accounts these traditions are in decline due to globalization. Williamson has attempted to study these traditions qualitatively and quantitatively to better understand the profound sense of religious commitment and deeper meaning of the theology and practices of the Serpent Handling sects.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

WP WilliamsonW. Paul Williamson is professor of psychology at Henderson State University (USA), although he has not always been in academic research. He was previously a full-time clergy in a Pentecostal denomination for 17 years, but then became more interested in religion from a psychological perspective. This led to his studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology with training in both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. Applying these approaches to the psychology of religion, he has published work in the areas of mysticism, religious fundamentalism, Christian serpent handling, and, most recently, spiritual transformation within the context of substance abuse recovery. He has co-authored The Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism (2005, Guilford Press), with Ralph W. Hood, Jr., and Peter C. Hill; and Them That Believe: The Power and Meaning of the Christian Serpent Handling Tradition (2008; University of California Press), with Ralph W. Hood, Jr. He is a recipient of the Margaret Gorman Early Career Award and the Distinguished Service Award, both from the American Psychological Association, Division 36: Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

According to Williamson, “What so often is missing in research is a balanced approach in the psychological study of religious phenomena. It typically is either from the objective standpoint or from the subjective point of view. What is needed for a more complete understanding of a particular phenomenon is the blending together of both perspectives in the use of quantitative and qualitative methodologies.”

References:

  • Brown, Fred & Mcdonald, Jeanne (2000). The serpent handlers: three families and their faith. Blair publishing: Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
  • Burton, Thomas. (1993). Serpent handling believers. University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Hood, R. W., Jr., (1998).  “When the spirit maims and kills: social psychological considerations of the history of serpent handling sects and the narrative of handlers. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 8, 71-96.
  • Hood, R. W., Jr., Hill, P.C., & Williamson, W. P. (2005). The psychology of religious fundamentalism.  New York: Guilford.
  • Hood, R. W., Jr. & Williamson, W. P. (2008).  The power and meaning of the Christian serpent- handling tradition.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press.

Religion and the Law

Within modern American society the meme of a separation of Church and State exists without a doubt; however, there is very little evidence to actually prove that this separation exists, functions as such, or indeed that it ever existed. In the textbooks, popular news outlets and in the political arena religion is supposed to be wholly withheld-expelled in favor of majority rule. However, when we turn our attention to state-managed organizations such as the federal prisons or state forest services or support for military veterans, we find that the lines are blurred.

With an eye to this seemingly ironic phenomenon Winnifred F. Sullivan presented a lecture entitled “Ministries of Presence: Chaplains as Priests of the Secular” at Arizona State University as part of the ASU Center for Religion and Conflict’s lecture series. Excerpted from her upcoming book of the same title, Sullivan considers the oversight, regulation and licensure of religious chaplains within the American Veterans’ Administration, as well several other governmental and on-governmental institutions. In this interview with Chris Duncan (Arizona State University), the discussion centers predominantly on the world in which many chaplains come to find themselves due to a “new kind of religious universalism”; from having to be prepared to minister across the borders of their own religious traditions, as in the case of a Catholic chaplain being required to assist Jewish or otherwise non-Catholic practitioners in a federal prison or a chaplain working with the state of Maine Warden Service. Sullivan asks whether we really have a separation of the Church and the State, how do we insure that everyone’s religious needs are being met within secular institutions like the Veterans’ Administration, and how does the State license and approve of applicants to the chaplaincy- how does, should, could an ostensibly secular federal organization approve or disapprove of religious ministers within its ranks.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

Sullivan is the Department Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington as well as Affiliate Professor of Law in the Maurer School of Law at the same institution. She holds both a J.D. and a PhD. from the University of Chicago and is the author of  Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States (Harvard 1994), The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton 2005), and Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton 2009).