Throughout history, scholars have been grappling withthe need to understand why early Indians embraced Christianity. As such, it isa vexing issue for students of history of Religion in American. Providentially,past literature has helped improve the understanding of the riddle. In the waveof studies on Indian history, Linford Fisher found himself writing a book howIndian Americans reacted in the face of pervasive Christianity. This book hasgiven me solid information how the trend of religious conversions was.
TheIndian Great Awakening contributes immensely to the understanding of theIndians in the southeastern New England and natives and their perception of Christianity.The book provides a concise account of the engagement with Christianity in the18th century and early 19th century. This book provides agripping of how faiths, beliefs, institutions interacted during a time ofcolonialism and the strive for cultural survival.
This book by Linford Fisher gives an account of howthe encounter of New England Natives with Christianity rapidly and completelychanged the religious affiliations of the Indian communities. Notably, religiousconversions are usually very powerful. This book is replete with cases ofintercultural and interreligious interactions which resulted in religiousconversions.
The obsession with religious conversion has fueled religions to dovarious initiatives with the aim of spreading a meticulous set of practices oftheir religion. The aim of spreading religion to new cultures was to exterminateperceived falsehood, deep rooted heathenry and paganism. The idea of religiousconversion is that it involves the rejection of a particular way of life andthinking and embracing a new system of beliefs. The two main competingreligions presented by Fisher in the book are Islam known as MedievalMediterranean and Chritianity also referred to as Early Modern Americas. The power of religious conversion is toostrong that it tips off indigenous set of beliefs and practices. Most religious conversions are marked by evident imbalanceof power and most religious decisions are not made transparently. Most of thereligious decisions are multivalent, subjective, dynamic and mostly complex tointerpret. The contents of the book concur with some of the material we coveredin class.
For example, there was a video we watched in class entitled “TheGirls’ rite of passage in Apache culture.” This video describes how Apachegirls, a cultural group from Mexico are put through various tests to determinewhether their strength, endurance and character is good enough for life as amother and womanhood. Fisher puts a strong emphasis on the resilience of NativeChristians of the time. Historically, these Christians were sensitive to thethreat of their beliefs and used different methods to defend their sovereignty.Different communities were involved in religiousconversions and demonstrated different rates of awakening.
Remarkably, Mohegansgained haughty notoriety for their interest. The reasons that attractedindividuals to new religions were also different for different communities. Oneof the strategies cited was education. Many people embraced Christianity to geta chance to pursue their education. They were eventually assimilated along theway.
Another reason that attracted communities to religious conversions wasegalitarian ethos which were fueled and sustained by the need for newtestimonies (p. 101). Religious conversions do not involve elements oftotalistic conversions. This is contrary to what is depicted by the 500th Anniversary of the ProtestantReformation video we studied in class. It is with this precept that Fisher warns usnot to be misled by shallow Christian literature (p. 66). Fisher concludes thatthe religious conversions involved fewer natives and occurred quickly (p. 102).
Most natives were glory seeking and joined new religions to be recognized andgiven leadership or influential positions. Unfortunately, they ended up feelingmarginalized and hence back out.Once communities were awakened, they creativelyengaged in Christianity. Some members of the native people who were theminority learnt Indian Separatism. Consequently they started innovative religiousservices which were managed and meant for the Indians (p. 108). Indigenouscommunities evolved more distinctively into Christian circles. This occurredthrough what Fisher refers to as affiliation with white Christian congregations.
The relationship between natives and immigrants was dynamic and cautious in nature.Instead of remaining attached to the white Christian churches, Indianscommunities started their own congregations because they trusted pastors oftheir own. Although Indian Christian Separatism is less recognized, Fisher doesa good ob to unearth its importance. Native communities had the freedom toindigenize their religion after conversion and advance their cultural autonomyand improve the chances for the survival of their community an identity in theface of colonialism. The advent of Christianity served as a revitalizing drivefor the natives.After they were awakened, communities pursuednative-centered programs and institutions. For example, native communities offeredtheir own educational services to their people. These were undeniablyautonomous developments.
Fisher further notes that outsider communities, thenatives, accounted for less than ten percent in of the school going populationin Indian reserves (p. 183).Eventually, intercultural relations thrived between theimmigrants and the natives. All communities were left helpless in the advent ofinterconnectedness and intermarriage. Different communities had to come togrips with the shocking reality.
For example, the Brothertown people wereskeptical and more anxious than the Narragansetts regarding intermarriage (p.197). I did not see the evolution of views on intermarriage and relations overgenerations. The religious conversions shaped the lives of all the communitiesinvolved. This book explores some key points covered in thiscourse. It explores some of the traditions, practices, cultural movements andevolution of American religious history in the 18 and 19thcenturies. Some of the trends have been passed from generation to generation togeneration with slight modifications into the present.
I think this book isindispensable in the study of American religion.