Thursday, February 12, 2009

Indian Missions: A Critical Bibliography

The big problem with James Ronda and James Axtell's Indian Missions: A Critical Bibliography (published by Indiana University Press) is that it came out in 1978. If you can get past the fact that the book misses everything that historians have done in the last 30 years, you're sure to get something out of it.

On pages 40-47, the authors outline the various responses American Indians have had to missions. They are:

1. Conversion. This category includes both genuine converts and "loaves and fishes" Christian Indians.

2. Theological criticism.
The authors say this was often expressed as "You have your religion, I have mine."

3. Syncretism:
"Faced with the physical and political demands of an increasingly Euro-American world, substantial numbers of Indians mixed indigenous theologies and Christian symbols to create the religious experience anthroplogists call syncretism"(page 45).

4. Revitalization: On the surface, this one is similar to syncretism. As old ways were dying out and Christianity and other white ways were introduced, revitalization religions emerged. They were attempts to preserve Native religion, but usually contained Christian elements. Handsome Lake (a Seneca) was one charismatic prophet who "combined traditional Iroquois values with those learned from Quaker mission workers to compose an ethical code" that brought about "a renaissance of nineteenth-century Iroquois culture"(page 46).


5. Armed Resistance. In extreme cases, the Indians felt threatened by missionaries. For an example of this, the authors recommend Henry Warner Bowden's "Spanish Missions, Cultural Conflict and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680," in Church History (volume 44, 1975, pages 217-228).

Although Algonkian Church History is mainly about genuine Christian converts and their Christian descendants, in upcoming posts we'll see examples of other categories. Also, I'll illustrate one category not outlined in Ronda and Axtell's book. By the 1800's the Stockbridge Mohicans knew the Bible very well and would sometimes quote Bible passages to support arguments they had with their missionary. This new category might be called "Theological resistance from a Christian perspective."

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