January 15, 2015

Call for Papers: What should a book on religions in California contain? for CASA 2015 Annual Meeting

Call for Papers: What should a book on religions in California contain? for the 2015 Annual Meeting of the California American Studies Association, held April 24-25 on the campus of California State University, Fullerton.

It goes without saying that religions play a dynamic role in the drama that is the story of California from the beginning through the present. Yet, no one volume yet exists to tell this story in the twenty-first century. Perhaps now, the time is right to for this new project.

What should a book on religion in California contain? What should be its scope, its loci and its foci? What should be its structure? Who should be its author(s)? Three to four presentations are invited to provide a roundtable conversation to explore this topic.

Presentations need not be lengthy (no more than fifteen minutes maximum) nor conclusive (as they are meant to initiate conversation). This detail is important so as not to tax the efforts of any wishing to contribute their proposal to this exploration.

In fact, a quick reply will be sufficient. By January 14 (so that the January 15 deadline can be met), please e-mail a 250 word abstract and a brief (one to two page) c.v. to the panel organizer at ray.kibler.iii@ecunet.org. Questions in advance are welcomed.

January 13, 2015

Western History Association Awards - Accepting Submissions

Award submission information for 2015 is now available online. Click here to view, or visit www.westernhistoryassociation.wildapricot.org and select the "Awards" tab. The deadline for awards submissions is April 1, 2015. Awards will be announced in October at the 55th Annual WHA Conference in Portland, Oregon.

If you have any questions, please email Matt Robinson at whagradstudent1@gmail.com or call the WHA office at (907)474-6509.

January 12, 2015

OAH Workshop: Diversity in the American West

January 5 - February 27, 2015

Glendale, California
July 17 - July 19, 2015

The Organization of American Historians is pleased to announce a Call for Proposals for its new Summer 2015 Regional Workshop.

The 3-day workshop, titled Diversity in the American West, will be held on the campus of Glendale Community College, located ten miles north of downtown Los Angeles, from Friday, July 17 through Sunday, July 19, 2015.

The Program Committee invites proposals from college faculty (from both two-year and four-year institutions); high school faculty, including AP History instructors; historical researchers and writers; librarians: museum curators; public historians; advanced graduate students; and other educational professionals.

The purpose of this workshop is to offer history educators a meaningful opportunity to learn more about the diverse people, places, and historical themes of the American West. Some questions to consider include the following: What are the major trends in contemporary research and historiography of the American West, particularly as they relate to the theme of diversity? What strategies can be used to engage students and the general public in the history of the American West? How might instructors build and enhance their teaching of American History survey courses to include the history of the American West?

Submissions will be accepted between January 5, 2015 and February 27, 2015.

For further information and submission instructions please click here.

November 5, 2014

The Papers Are Now Available!

The Religion in the American West Group will be kicking off its first AAR (American Academy of Religion) meeting as an official, permanent program unit with a selection of excellent papers by Rebecca Tatum, Sarah Koenig, Brennan Keegan, and Jason Allen Redden.

The theme for our session, which meets Sunday, November 23, from 9:00 to 11:30am, is “Western Borderlands: Families and Congregations.”

The session’s description is:

In the North American West, there are numerous sites of contact at geopolitical borders as well as at boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, gender, and religion. This session’s papers examine these points of contact and negotiation from two broad vantage points. The first has to do with the birth and care of children and religious understandings of bodies; papers consider the role of Native American wet nurses and New Mexican midwives. The second has to do with the spread of evangelical Christianity in unique Western settings; papers explore missions to indigenous groups in British Columbia and to mining towns in Montana. These papers show that domestic, commercial, and Christian spaces have intersected in the North American West in complex and creative ways.

Following our tradition, the papers are pre-circulated and are available now for you to read carefully. Presenters will give only short introductions to their papers so as to leave ample time for comment and discussion. The official respondent this time around is Professor Colleen McDannell of the University of Utah.

To access the papers, follow these steps:

1.      Join the AAR if you have not done so already. Access to the papers is limited to AAR members.
2.      Go to this website: https://www.aarweb.org/aar-full-paper-submission-pilot-program and scroll done to our session.
3.      Click on the paper titles to read the papers.
4.      Come on Sunday, November 23, with your questions and comments!

We look forward to seeing everyone in San Diego!

October 23, 2014

Book of the Month: Review of David Silverman's Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America

Review by Matthew W. Dougherty

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

David J. Silverman’s Red Brethren follows two multi-tribal American Indian communities—the Brothertowns and the Stockbridges— whose westward migrations reveal new facets of religion and race in early America. Silverman argues that these communities used Protestant categories and concepts both to make sense of the racial identity assigned to them in early America and to propel themselves from New England to New York to Wisconsin. Like white Americans, they migrated for complex reasons: Federal pressure to sell their land and encroaching white settlement contributed, but so did their desire to form autonomous Christian communities and missionize “heathen” American Indians. Silverman thus contributes to the story of the west by showing that white Americans were not the only ones who migrated because of a belief in their particular divine mission. Although his view of the churches at the hearts of these communities grows fuzzier along the journey west, his tightly-focused narrative retains its power throughout the book.

The shared history of the Brothertowns and Stockbridges began in the 1770s and 1780s when Christian Indians from a number of northeastern tribes settled in two new communities—Brothertown and New Stockbridge—in Oneida territory. The move west was made in the hope that the new towns would be stable bases for cultural survival and missions to their “red brethren” in non-Christian tribes. Silverman argues that the Brothertowns’ and Stockbridges’ belief that they had something basic in common with non-Christian Iroquois indicates that they accepted the racial designation of “Indian,” yet attached their own meanings to it. They believed, for example, that the racial oppression they suffered resulted from of God’s curse for their ancestors’ disobedience of the commandments, and would end when divine justice was satisfied. But their acceptance and modification of the prevailing racial category of “Indian” was not without cost: Stockbridges and Brothertowns who married African-Americans were often excluded from the tribe and claims on tribal land. That internal division grew stronger as the communities moved farther west in the 1820s. Hoping that another move would provide more security from white settlers and another chance at evangelism, the Brothertowns and Stockbridges negotiated a treaty with the Menominee to allow them to settle along the Fox River in Wisconsin. In 1831, however, pressure from the U.S. government and tensions with the Menominee forced them to move yet again, this time to the shore of Lake Winnebago. Fearing that further land cessions would be forced on them unless they made a radical change, the Brothertown voted to abandon tribal status and become U.S. Citizens in 1839. The Stockbridge followed suit in 1843, but “gave back” their citizenship and resumed tribal governance only three years later. Silverman argues that disputes over citizenship in these communities were also disputes about race. Both those opposed to the idea and those in favor of it referred to taking citizenship as “becoming white” and saw it as an abandonment of legal Indian identity, for better or worse. These issues still haunt the Brothertowns, whose petition for federal recognition was denied by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2012 on the basis that their acceptance of citizenship in 1839 had put an end to their tribal identity.
Silverman is fortunate in that the Brothertowns and Stockbridges created an unusually large paper trail. In addition to missionary and government sources, he can draw on the writings of prominent leaders from both communities and on tribal government documents. For the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the copious writings of Brothertown’s founder, Samson Occum, are his main source. After Occum’s death, the paper trail goes on but its character changes: As he follows the story of the Brothertowns and Stockbridges to Wisconsin, Silverman relies more and more frequently on the records of both the tribal and U.S. governments, and has fewer first-person accounts. His choice to focus throughout on the religious and racial self-awareness of community leaders minimizes the shock of the transition, but the loss of Occum as a voluminous, reflective writer and vivid witness does make the latter part of the narrative less immediate and clear-cut.

Silverman’s narrative relies on the category of “Christian Indians” to designate the various Native groups that define themselves at least partly through Christianity in his story. That category fails him, however, in the final chapters of the book. So long as he focuses on New England, the dominance of independent, “New Light” Congregational churches in Christian Native communities ensures that the category “Christian Indian” designates a related set of approaches to religion and community life. As Silverman and other scholars such as Joanna Brooks, Rachel Wheeler, and Linford Fisher have shown, Native-led Congregational churches in New England were in contact with one another, circulated ideas and people, and had distinctive approaches to preserving Native traditions through Christian practice. After the Brothertowns and Stockbridges moved to Wisconsin, however, Baptist and Methodist churches began appearing in their communities, presumably undermining any sense of a unified Christian Indian identity. Silverman’s portrays the development of these separate churches as another sad sign of factionalism (200-202), but doesn’t address how changes in church fellowship and theology might have affected what it meant to be a Christian Indian. For example, did membership in the strongly hierarchical Methodist church constrain Native autonomy more than membership churches governed at the level of the congregation? Did the racial theory of the “curse of God” survive in congregations that moved away from the Reformed theology and Providential view of history underwriting it?  

The fact that we can now ask these questions these about independent Native churches in the west, however, is entirely thanks to Silverman’s groundbreaking work. With careful scholarship and a strong ear for narrative, he has brought to life a story that not only casts light on two remarkable groups whose history challenges many widely-held ideas about American Indian identity, but also persistently and clearly exposes the fault-lines in racial thinking in early America. The re-casting of our stories from the west has brought home the importance of empire, land, and migration as themes in American religious history. Silverman’s book provides a new way of thinking about these themes with a clear, affecting narrative suitable for advanced undergraduates as well as graduate students.