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: 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.

August 14, 2014

“Religion and Empire” Revisited

by John-Charles Duffy

Several months ago, I blogged here about an introductory American religions course I was preparing around the theme “religion and empire.” I’ve completed the syllabus (view it here). While I’m dissatisfied with it in many ways (this is a first run), I am pleased by how the “religion and empire” theme has helped to integrate the American west more firmly into my course’s grand narrative of religion in the United States.

Some West-related highlights:

* “The west” preoccupied Anglo-Americans from the colonial period on, but of course “the west” with which they were preoccupied kept shifting farther west. My students will learn to speak of a “trans-Appalachian” west (Sept. 25) and a “trans-Mississippi” west (Oct. 16).

* In past iterations of this American religions course, I’ve used Samuel Morse’s Imminent Dangers to exemplify antebellum anti-Catholic nativism. This semester I’m using Lyman Beecher’s A Plea for the West (Sept. 23).

* As in past semesters, I spotlight Protestant bids for cultural dominance. In the past, Prohibition has been a central example; also, Protestant reformers’ campaign against Mormon polygamy. The Mormons are still in this semester’s syllabus, but Prohibition got the axe. Instead, I’m spotlighting Protestantism’s role in the subordination of Hawaiians, Mexicans, Native Alaskans, Asian immigrants, and Filipinos (Oct. 2, 14, 23, 30).

* The “new immigration” (1880s-1920s) enters my empire-themed narrative as a look at U.S. religious minorities’ relations with empires abroad. An autobiography of a Jewish emigrant from the Russian Empire is balanced, geographically, by the autobiography of a Japanese Buddhist missionary whose husband was interned during World War II (Nov. 4).

* Our readings on the post-WWII anti-colonialist struggles of Mexican Americans and Native Americans tend to be situated in the trans-Mississippi west (Nov. 11, 13).

* My discussion of religion in the Cold War includes a special focus on the Vietnam War, which in turn includes a Vietnamese Buddhist nun’s account of her trans-Pacific migration to the U.S. as a refugee (Nov. 18).

June 16, 2014

Better Know an Archive: UCSB’s American Religions Collection

by Dusty Hoesly

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). It is one of the oldest such departments at a secular university in the United States, established one year after the Supreme Court’s Abington v. Schempp decision allowed teaching about religion (but not proselytizing) in public schools, and it has been a leader in the field ever since. Well-known faculty specializing in American religions have included Robert Michaelsen, Thomas O’Dea, Phillip Hammond, Ines Talamantez, Catherine Albanese, Wade Clark Roof, Charles Long, Rudy Busto, Ann Taves, and Kathleen M. Moore.

UCSB also maintains one of the finest collections in the world of archival and documentary materials on new religious movements and “alternative” religions. The cornerstone of the library’s Department of Special Collections is the American Religions Collection (ARC), mainly comprised of materials assembled by J. Gordon Melton for his Encyclopedia of American Religions, first published in 1978 and now in its 8th edition. The ARC contains thousands of books and serials, and almost 1,000 linear feet of manuscripts relating to 20th century sects and newer religions, such as Hare Krishnas, the Unification Church, Scientology, the Church of God, New Age groups, Asian religions in the U.S., and mail-order religions. Melton’s manuscript files, containing correspondence, newsletters, flyers, articles, clippings, and ephemera relating to hundreds of such groups, make up the bulk of the collection. Like his Encyclopedia, materials are organized by “families” of religious traditions.

In addition to the ARC manuscript files, some of the other holdings within the ARC include:
·         Bromley Papers: legal case files compiled by scholar David Bromley relating to est, ISKCON, Unification Church, and The Way International, among others.
·         Burnell Collection: materials by Los Angeles-area New Thought leaders George and Mary Burnell.
·         Chicagoland Psychic Archives (1964-1985): materials relating to practitioners of paranormal phenomena in the Chicago area, such as psychics, astrologers, mediums, ghosthunters, and devotees of the occult, UFOs, and parapsychology.
·         Clifton Collection: files about pagan, witchcraft, and occult subjects.
·         Cult Awareness Network (CAN) Collection: files on hundreds of religious groups, as well as internal administrative files of the former cult watchdog group.
·         Hadden Papers: files collected by scholar Jeffrey K. Hadden about evangelical groups and leaders such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Jim Bakker.
·         Russell Chandler Collection: files from the 1960s-1980s collected when Chandler was a religion writer for the Los Angeles Times.
·         Santa Barbara Parapsychology Collection: materials related to parapsychology groups in central coastal and southern California.
Other sub-collections include materials about Ramtha, Estreletta, Worldwide Church of God, World Prophetic Ministry, Children of God, Old Catholics, Krishnamurti, ISKCON, Unification Church, Soka Gakkai International, Goddians, Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity, Swedenborgianism, Foundation for Christian Living, Brotherhood of the White Temple, Process Church of the Final Judgment, and Christian anti-Communism.

If you are looking for a complete run of FATE magazine or a complete set of Jack Chick books, the ARC has them both. Metaphysical serials include Hypnosis Quarterly, Health Alternatives Newsletter, Parapsychology Bulletin, Pagan Dawn, Eck News, and Astrologers’ Almanac, to name just a few. Aside from non-traditional religions and spiritualities, there are periodicals and other materials on a range of Christian sectarian groups, including Pentecostalism, Adventism, and various stripes of Evangelicalism, as well as Asian, African, and Native American religions, plus many more.

Beyond the ARC, the Special Collections department contains other resources useful for studying religion in the American West. For example, the Humanistic Psychology Archives encompasses manuscripts about “spiritual psychology” and related topics, and the J. F. Rowny Press Records collection contains materials from the Santa Barbara-based J. F. Rowny Press, which published metaphysical works. The Ricardo Cruz Catolicos por la Raza Papers (1967-1993) includes correspondence, legal documents, transcripts, and ephemera of Cruz, a Chicano rights attorney and founder of the controversial Católicos por la Raza, which demonstrated against the Catholic Church for its neglect of the Latino community.

Best of all, the library staff is always helpful and courteous, making research in the Special Collections a joy. Curator and archivist David Gartrell, in particular, can locate anything you are looking for quickly, typically offering relevant suggestions about other files which may aid in your research. In my experience, he will even sit with you and comb through manuscripts or serials looking for that one piece you are searching for. One time, he spent twenty minutes with me flipping through the classified ads in the back pages of FATE magazine for a particular advertisement.

In this brief and rather arbitrary look at the ARC and the UCSB Special Collections department’s holdings, I have focused more on the “alternative” and “new” religious movements which gained steam in the 1960s rather than “traditional” or “establishment” religions. I do this primarily because it reflects much of J. Gordon Melton’s collection as well as his scholarship, both of which are the core of the ARC. However, California should not only be seen as a place for “weird” religions, immigrant religions, and religious innovation. It is also a place of mainstream religions, nativism, and religious conservatism. Happily, the ARC contains materials on all of the above and more besides. Next time you’re visiting the American Riviera, stop by, introduce yourself, and surf through UCSB’s Special Collections and especially the American Religions Collection. Scholarly—or other—enlightenment awaits.

June 6, 2014

The West as a de-centering strategy for American religious history

by Thomas S. Bremer

The particular research methods and theoretical perspectives employed in the study of religions in the American west suggest the kinds of questions we ask and the insights we might gain from our scholarly inquiries. But we can also think about the west itself as a particular methodological strategy and theoretical perspective. Used this way, the west introduces a destabilizing element into resilient historiographical paradigms of Christian triumphalism that have burdened the more general field of American religious history. This is an approach I found useful in my recent work writing a textbook on the religious history of America.
The text I have written covers nearly six centuries of religion in America, presented chronologically, while questioning students’ assumptions about both “religion” and “America.” The goal, and the authorial challenge, was to present a “de-centered” narrative that allows students to consider the various ways that people on the North American continent have regarded themselves as religious and as American. One key intention of this textbook is to guide students through the various issues at stake in how people have imagined “religion” and have regarded “America” in ways that have produced normative views of both.

The challenge in avoiding paradigms that imagine religion in decidedly Protestant terms and that present America as the focus of a Christian tale of triumphal destiny is to resist allowing the historical reality of Protestant dominance to overwhelm the narrative by relying exclusively on Christian categories and perspectives for telling the story. The tale I want to present to students needs de-centering strategies that allow for a critical distance on the narration of American religious history. One useful tactic for achieving this is to bring attention early and often to the American west. This approach highlights the multidirectional nature of contact, conquest, and settlement of the continent while mitigating the teleological tendencies of a story that moves inevitably westward toward a conclusion at the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. In short, my attempt to produce a different sort of story relies to some extent on utilizing the American west as a deliberate strategy for resituating the historical narrative.

The story of the English in America can be an instructive example of how a western orientation can shift the emphasis of the historical narrative. In fact, English claims in North America did not begin in Virginia; before Jamestown, even before Roanoke, the English laid claim to California when Francis Drake spent a month there in 1579. He was attempting to preempt the claims of the Spaniards, the great Catholic nemesis of the Protestant Englishman. Drake’s activities along the Pacific coast of North America draw attention to how English interests were situated in the international politics of religious conflicts; this suggests a different, more expansive context for English colonization. From this standpoint, the internal theological differences within the Church of England that brought Puritan settlers to New England become a secondary, less consequential justification for a Protestant presence in America.

On the other hand, undue emphasis on the west can distort the historical narrative. Yes, the English claimed California before they sent colonists to Virginia, but it remained an empty claim, impossible to enforce and impractical to develop. In contrast, English Protestants who settled in Virginia, New England, and the other colonies established an enduring presence; just as importantly, they introduced religious narratives of providential exceptionalism that have served well the consequent course of nation building in America, with all of its questionable implications and often disastrous consequences.

That traditional tale, with its origins in the Calvinist proclivities of early Puritan colonists, became the conventional historiographical narrative of American religious history, one that has proven remarkably durable. It utilizes the figure of the west most often as the frontier of Christiandom, marking a boundary to be crossed and subjugated. But a different story that reconfigures the role of the western half of North America offers alternative narrative opportunities. The west can serve as an effective strategy for de-centering the tale of American religious history, not as the privileged space for a counter-narrative, but as another point of departure for gaining multiple perspectives on a religious history that cannot be reduced to any particular group or place. 

May 30, 2014

Tucson’s Shrine to “El Tiradito”

by Brett Hendrickson

On both sides of the international border with Mexico, devotions to so-called folk saints flourish. Some of the major figures include Jesús Malverde, the Niño Fidencio, and—of late (pun intended)—Santa Muerte. Often unorthodox, these figures once operated on the institutional edges of Catholicism, but nowadays, they often extend their power and care over devotees with multiple religious backgrounds and histories. Unlikely ever to gain official canonization, borderlands folk saints nevertheless remain the focus of a great deal of material religious activity. 

It is no mystery why they are so popular. In his book on several of these figures, folklorist and historian James S. Griffith writes:

...these ánimas or folk saints, whatever they should be called, produce results. Many people pray to them or go to séances in which they are channeled because they have “come through” for friends or relatives....[Folk saints] seem to supply hope if not help to many who stand in most need of those commodities (152).

One of the less well-known of these folk saints is El Tiradito, “the little one who was thrown away” in Tucson, Arizona. His current shrine has been operational since the 1920s, but the devotion to him is older than that. Accounts vary as to El Tiradito’s origin, but many mention a man who was killed fighting over a woman he loved.

Last fall, when I attended the Western History Association in Tucson, I made my way to the shrine to explore this living example of folk devotion and negotiation between heaven and earth.

A historical plaque introduces the site and names it “the wishing shrine.”

The shrine itself resembles an open-air adobe side chapel, replete with candle stands and other evidence of use:

The back wall of El Tiradito functions like Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall in that petitioners insert their prayers and desires on little pieces of paper into crevices.

Another visitor had left something for a specific individual, hoping that “a message in a bottle” might do the trick.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of my visit to El Tiradito had to do with one unique group of objects. Near the base of the candles, someone had a left a metal sculpture of a cat’s face. At first I thought this must be the whimsical offering of an artistic cat lover. But then I noticed a red velvet bag near the metal cat. Nudging it open with my foot, I was startled by the mummified remains of a cat. I can only speculate that after someone’s beloved pet died, it was left for El Tiradito as a final act of devotion to both the saint and the kitty.

Like Griffith, I would suggest that special petitions can happen at the shrines of folk saints because the saints themselves in their lives knew the messy passions of love, grief, and longing. As long as these passions persist, places like El Tiradito shrine will thrive as sites of transaction and catharsis. 

April 7, 2014

Bringing Social Gospel Back

Today's post comes to us from Paul Putz, a PhD student at Baylor University. (You can find him on Twitter by tweeting @p_emory or on through his page here.)  Paul's post is part of a series of posts at Religion in the American West. We're inviting scholars to write about their research as it intersects with or is shaped by religion in the American West. For more details or to suggest a post, please contact us at: relamwest[at]gmail[dot]com. 

by Paul Putz

The social gospel is back. It never really went away of course, but the notoriously nebulous historical subject is set to be prominent once again in scholarly discussion of American religious history. One reason for this is Heath Carter, a professor at Valparaiso who has a book under contract with Oxford that argues for a “social Christianity” from below, a working-class gospel that developed in Chicago (and other industrial cities) in the mid-to-late nineteenth century and influenced what later became known as the social gospel.

But Carter is not the only one thinking about the subject. At the American Society of Church History’s spring 2014 meeting, Ralph E. Luker, Amanda Porterfield, Wendy Deichmann, Chris Evans, and Rima Lunin Schultz joined Carter to discuss the social gospel; their comments will be published in a forthcoming issue of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture. Others, including Janine Giordano Drake, also have projects related to the topic currently underway.

Reading Carter’s work on the social gospel has caused me to consider how a view from the American West would change our understanding of the social gospel. At the Religion in American History blog, I recently discussed the intersection of the social gospel with the American West, including ground that has already been trod and five possible themes (three of which were inspired by Ferenc Morton Szacz’s work) for future research:

1) Continuity between the social gospel and the clergy’s role in helping to develop postbellum western “instant cities.”

2) Multiculturalism, or moving beyond the black/white racial binary.  Joshua Paddison’s American Heathens, although not about the social gospel, is an excellent example of how a western setting changes how we view race and religion.

3) Ecumenical social work. Did the diverse religious landscape in the West help to foster a more ecumenical spirit?

4) The West was more conducive to women's suffrage than any other region in the U.S. Perhaps the increased political freedom afforded to women in the West shaped the forms that the social gospel took, or led to increased female leadership in social gospel activity.

5) Populism. It was, after all, a former Populist from Nebraska named George Howard Gibson who helped to popularize the term “social gospel” in the first place.

Of course, as a religious “movement” (if we can give it that much coherence), the social gospel has generally been closely associated with the urban Northeast – this despite the fact that early leaders like George Herron and Charles Sheldon operated in the Midwest. But its current historiographical northeastern orientation makes an American West lens all the more important. Work by scholars like Darren Dochuk (From Bible Belt to Sunbelt) and Matthew Avery Sutton (Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America) are good examples of the usefulness of looking at a well-known religious subject from a western setting. Both challenged the dominant grand narrative of American evangelicalism, which for years depicted conservative evangelicals (or fundamentalists) retreating to the cultural margins in the time in between the Scopes Trial and World War II. Using California as a primary setting in their stories, Sutton and Dochuk demonstrated in their own ways that 1930s conservative evangelicalism was much more vibrant than historians focused on the East have imagined.  

There are challenges with any attempt to view the emergence of the social gospel from an American West perspective, not least of which is the problem of defining the very terms “social gospel” and “American West.” But even though a homogenous American West social gospel surely did not exist, the multiple regions and cultures that make up the West can provide new questions and new answers to our understanding of the early twentieth century social gospel. I know of at least one other person who would agree with me (and she’s kind of a big deal at this blog).

On a related and self-interested note, if you are currently working on a project dealing with the social gospel, or if you know of anyone who is, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to email me at paul [underscore] putz [at] baylor [dot] edu.

March 20, 2014

Orientations and Memory

by Brandi Denison

We will never cease our critique of those persons who distort the past, rewrite it, falsify it, who exaggerate the importance of one event and fail to mention some other; such a critique is proper (it cannot fail to be), but it doesn't count for much unless a more basic critique precedes it: a critique of human memory as such. For after all, what can memory actually do, the poor thing? It is only capable of retaining a paltry little scrap of the past, and no one knows why just this scrap and not some other one, since in each of us the choice occurs mysteriously, outside our will or our interests. We won't understand a thing about human life if we persist in avoiding the most obvious fact: that a reality no longer is what it was when it was; it cannot be reconstructed.” Milan Kundera, Ignorance

Growing up in western Colorado, my life was oriented around a variety of mountains. When I was in town, I only needed to head towards the Grand Mesa, a large, purple flattop mountain, in order to go home. At home, in order to go to school, I headed towards the sandstone rock formations that make up the Colorado National Monument.  In order to visit my grandparents, I headed towards a series of hills that formed the foothills of the Uncompahgre Plateau.  To go to the post office, I  turned towards the Bookcliffs. Growing up in a place with very little entertainment for young people, we found amusement along the river, in ditches, and in the surrounding mountains and desert. Even as I escaped what I felt at the time to be a provincial life through books, I often made my escape outside.

Now, my orientation is in relationship to the Atlantic Ocean, a powerful and massive landmark that is invisible even 50 feet from it. It has taken some time for me to get used to such a powerful, yet invisible landmark. I spend too much time inside: writing; prepping for classes; and escaping the heat. However, in my writing, I am never far from persistent orientation of the American West’s mountains.

What does an orientation towards the American West illuminate? The thing about religion in the American West is that it is not somehow specific or even unique to that place. After all, there are landscapes that are similar to the American West throughout the world. Mongolia has expansive deserts and Nepal even more impressive mountains than the American West. Other places have as much religious diversity and a similar history of colonialization. One thing that an orientation to the West does is disrupt the grade school narrative of American Religious history.  It also calls attention to other issues and frameworks that can prove useful in other settings outside of the American West. It’s not just about Indians, Catholics, and Mormons, but also about city-building, utopian dreams, court battles defining religion, the desire to find freedom, cultural reappropriation, land, both as sacred place and ownership over, difference, diversity, and identity crises.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about the study of religion in the American West as an act of memory. For many of us, novelist Milan Kundera’s words will be eternally true: “we will never cease our critique of those persons who distort the past. . . who exaggerate the importance of one event and fail to mention some other.” We, in this imagined community of scholars, bloggers, and readers, stand united against narratives of American religion that start with the Puritans arriving on the shores of the East Coast, insisting instead that maybe the narrative starts with the arrival of the Spanish, or that it starts with the indigenous peoples who were here long before any European.

The American West was constituted in part by both cultural memories of it (through Buffalo Bill shows, early Westerns, and reenactments of epic battles) and through academic scholarship. For instance, through his Frontier Thesis, Fredrick Turner created the definitional boundaries of what that actually was.  Scholars of religion in the American West have inherited these orientations, both in the constant struggle to assert that religion is important in the West and also that the West continues to be relevant past Turner’s artificial closing. Even as this work is rooted in evidence through academic methodologies, it is engaging memory.

But, how might an orientation toward the American West allow scholars of religion to account for what memory, Kundera’s poor thing, can actually do? Individual memories are fragmented, partial, and incomplete. Cultural memories are even more incomplete and partial, even as those memories are spun to hide holes or lapses. An orientation towards memory in the American West, then, reveals that the components of human identity—region, race, ethnicity, religion—are fundamentally fluid, porous, and uncertain even as acts of cultural memory attempt to make these identity boundaries certain.

Orientation to religion in the American West is a commitment to address impartial memories, through an inherently unstable category, and within an indefinable space. Even as the landmarks of that space overwhelm and frame day-to-day movements, our commitment as scholars of the American West is to recognize that orientations are fundamentally relational. In the words of Jonathan Boyarin, in his The UnconvertedSelf, my hope with orientating my scholarship in the American West is to “keep . . .the past open, or reopen. . . a chink in the past” (118).

March 5, 2014

“Religion and Empire” as a Theme for Teaching American Religions

by John-Charles Duffy

I’m in the process of reframing my “intro to American religions” course for this coming fall. I teach this course as a historical survey. For the past couple of years, the course’s organizing narrative has had two strands, intertwined like DNA: one story about the consolidation and erosion of Protestant dominance in American society, and another story about the expansion of religious diversity in the U.S. through immigration.

This fall, I’ll be attempting a single organizing narrative, unified by the theme “religion and empire.” By “empire” I have in mind American territorial expansion and the United States’ rise to political and economic superpower status. This experiment grows out of a conversation I had at the AAR this past November with Brandi Denison. By reframing American history as a history of empire—from the Mississippians and the Aztecs to U.S. neocolonialism and globalization—I hope to give the course a stronger transnational orientation, with attention not only to the flow of religions into U.S. borders but also to the flow of American religions and their influence out across the globe.

One side effect of this focus on empire is a shifting of the story’s center of gravity westward, away from the eastern seaboard. I already make a point, as I suspect all of us do by now, of starting the story of European contact with the Spanish and the French rather than the English. The theme of empire reinforces that move, plus now I’ll be including Russian colonization in Alaska and California. Manifest Destiny will loom large in the new course, which will ensure that Native Americans recur in the historical narrative rather than fading into obscurity after the initial European contacts. Manifest Destiny will also bring Hispanic Americans into the course earlier—in the course as I’ve been teaching it up to now, they don’t appear until the unit on post-1960s pluralism. Mormons will figure in the new course as an obstacle to American empire in the trans-Mississippi west; Confucians, Buddhists, and Sikhs help build that empire’s infrastructure and economy. I’ll be adding to the course a focus on Christian civilization-building in the United States’ Pacific possessions. Our readings will likely include McKinley’s account of how God inspired him to take charge of the Philippines.

Some topics that are typical fare in “intro to American religions” courses will probably drop out of my new course because they don’t tie in well to the theme of empire. The First Great Awakening will definitely go. The Second Great Awakening might survive the cut because of its connection to American expansion west across the Appalachians, but at that point in the historical narrative I’ll be more interested in Native American revitalization movements. The fundamentalist-modernist controversy is out, though we’ll discuss the conservative-liberal split within Protestantism in connection with colonialism, missions, and interreligious dialogue. The day I currently spend on JFK’s speech in Houston will need to go—the speech is an important turning point in a story about eroding Protestant dominance, but it isn’t pertinent to a story about imperialism. (If JFK gets mentioned in the new narrative, it will be for his contributions to the Cold War.) The black civil rights movement will still appear in the new syllabus, to follow up on the legal and social status of America’s former slaves. I currently do a day on American Muslims negotiating life in the U.S.; in the new course, I need to do more on Islamism as a reaction to American neocolonialism.

Again, in choosing “religion and empire” as the course’s guiding theme, my pedagogical aims are broader than highlighting religion in the American west—but I’m pleased that the theme facilitates that focus as well. 

March 1, 2014

AAR program units that may be of interest to the RAW community

There are a number of sections, seminars, and groups at the AAR this year that may be of interest to folks doing research on the American West (including our own!). We have surely overlooked many, but here are short descriptions and links to more detailed CFPs of a few that may be of interest to some of you (deadline for submissions is Monday, March 3):

African Diaspora Religions Group
This Group endorses the study of African diaspora religions beyond its traditional parameters to include broader geographies, histories, and cultures of people of African descent and the way they shaped the religious landscape, not only in the Caribbean and the Americas, but also in Europe and Asia. This study defines “diaspora” as the spread and dispersal of people of African descent — both forced and voluntary — through the slave trade, imperial and colonial displacements, and postcolonial migrations. This Group emphasizes the importance of an interdisciplinary approach and is central to its vision. The aim is to engage a wide range of disciplines and a variety of scholars who work on different aspects of African diaspora religions. It considers the linguistic and cultural complexities of the African diaspora, the importance of African traditional religions, Afro-Christianity, Afro-Islam, and Afro-Judaism, the way they have and continue to inform an understanding of Africa, and also the way they have and continue to shape the religious landscape of the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Group
This Group (hereafter referred to as ANARCS) is one of the primary vehicles for the advancement of the study of the religions and practices of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States and Canada. As an integral player in the development of the emerging field of Asian-American religious studies, ANARCS has cultivated the work of junior and senior scholars from an impressive array of disciplines, including the history of religion, sociology, theology, philosophy, ethics, anthropology, psychology, education, and American and ethnic studies. ANARCS encourages new perspectives on Asian North American religious practices and faith communities, as well as innovative theoretical work that extends the concepts of empires, diaspora, transnationalism, globalization, im/migration, orientalism, adaptation, acculturation, race, ethnicity, marginalization, oppression, and resistance. In addition to this list of concepts, ANARCS will explore theoretical, philosophical, and theological concepts, such as aesthetics, beauty, and love. ANARCS seeks to foster and mentor scholars (junior, senior, and nontraditional) through preconference sessions, gathering for meals, and maintaining a robust listserv.

Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Group, Law, Religion, and Culture Group, Religion and Migration Group, and Religion in Latin America and the Caribbean Group
We invite proposals on the theme of Borderlands, Gatekeepers, and Exclusions. Proposals may consider any aspect of the interface between religion, law, and the borderlands; we are especially interested in those foregrounding Asian American, Latin American, and Caribbean experiences and perspectives.

Gay Men and Religion Group and Law, Religion, and Culture Group
We invite papers that explore how religious and legal ideas and practices work together to advance or resist the regulation of (homo)sexuality. The session will be comparative in nature, so preference will be given to projects that explore geographical contexts outside the United States, especially in the Pacific Basin.

Indigenous Religious Traditions Group
This Group focuses on theoretical, methodological, and conceptual issues in the study of indigenous religious traditions the world over. Though particularly interested in interdisciplinary approaches to the study of indigenous religions, we are primarily grounded in the “history of religions” approach as it concerns the analysis of indigenous traditions. The Group is also concerned with the interface of indigenous religious traditions and modernity, colonial and postcolonial conditions, and local and global forces that shape the practice of indigenous traditions and their categorizations.

Latina/o Critical and Comparative Studies Group
This Group, founded in 2009, fosters interdisciplinary and theoretically innovative analyses of Latina/o religiosities and spiritualities in the Americas. Our goal is to advance knowledge and ways of knowing that expand traditional areas of religious studies with respect to Latina/o communities, mindful of transnational and global realities. Thus, we encourage studies that explore non-Western beliefs and practices, including the indigenous, the African diasporic, Buddhist, and Islamic, as well as those that advance more complex understanding of culturally hybrid Christianities. We wish to foster dialogue that is respectful of the culturally different theological understandings of the sacred within different traditional or emerging spiritualities. We encourage feminist- and queer-centered perspectives as well as thought rooted in community experience.
Located at the intersection of the United States and Mexico, the San Diego setting for the AAR occasions a multiplicity of topics on the borderlands. 

Mormon Studies Group
This Group will examine the range of topics, disciplines, and methodologies that can be brought into dialogue with Mormonism as studied in an academic environment. It is interested in exploring strategies for teaching about Mormonism, both as the main focus of a class or as a unit within a survey course. It seeks to identify the best resources available for teaching and understanding the tradition and provide encouragement for scholars to fill gaps in what is currently available. The Group encourages significant comparative studies and interdisciplinary cross-fertilization and hopes to explore intersections between Mormonism and ethics, theology, philosophy, ecclesiology, missiology, spirituality, arts and literature, sociology, scripture, and liberation studies.

Native Traditions in the Americas Group
This Group sees its mission as the promotion of the study of Native American religious traditions and thereby the enrichment of the academic study of religion generally, by engaging in discourse about culturally-centered theories and encouraging multiple dialogues at the margins of Western and non-Western cultures and scholarship. The Group is committed to fostering dialogue involving Native and non-Native voices in the study of North, Central, and South American Native religious traditions and to engaging religious studies scholarship in robust conversation with scholarship on other facets of Native cultures and societies.

Native Traditions in the Americas Group and Religion and Ecology Group
We welcome submissions that focus on native traditional knowledge and the environment, including climate change.

New Religious Movements Group
This Group supports and encourages research on all aspects of the study of New Religious Movements. Presenters in our sessions study new and alternative religions, past and present, from a variety of methodological and disciplinary perspectives. Our sessions and additional meetings are intended to create opportunities for dialogue among academics who share a passion for understanding NRMs, and to make known to a broader audience the importance of such movements for understanding issues of religious tolerance, community building and maintenance, ritual and doctrinal innovation, and other aspects of religious life.

North American Hinduism Group
This Group was established in 2006 for the purpose of drawing greater scholarly attention to Hinduisms outside of South Asia. Though it will focus on North America, the Group also welcomes relevant research on Hinduisms in other non-Indian contexts. The Group has three main goals:
To study and describe Hinduisms in North America and related diaspora contexts
To develop a more sophisticated understanding of what distinguishes these Hinduisms from those in South Asia
To nurture thoughtful debate on the methodologies unique to and appropriate for their study
This Group seeks paper and panel submissions that advance the study of Hinduisms in North America and related diaspora contexts, develop a more sophisticated understanding of what distinguishes these Hinduisms from those in South Asia, and nurture thoughtful debate on the methodologies unique to and appropriate for their study. We welcome any paper or panel submissions that might fulfill these goals.

North American Religions Section

Pentecostal–Charismatic Movements Group
This Group provides a forum for scholarly consideration of global phenomena associated with Pentecostalism and Charismatic movements. This Group provides an arena for a wide array of scholars, disciplinary orientations, and methodological approaches bringing together those working constructively from within these traditions with scholars considering the phenomena from historical, sociological, ethnographic, theological, and other perspectives. The Group intentionally seeks to encourage a global and pluralist perspective.

Religion and Cities Group
The Religion and Cities Group invites papers that explore the multilayered intersections of religion, ethnicity, gender, and global migration within the world’s urban contexts. The realities of the city of San Diego, situated on territory that once belonged to the Spanish empire and now lies in close proximity to one of the world’s busiest land borders, calls us to an exploration of religions as they are being lived out within the varied urban contexts being reshaped by global migration. We are interested in the consequences of migration on new forms of urban religious hybridity, activism, as well as increased religious pluralism. We seek papers that explore how urban border spaces are disrupting traditional religious identities, leading to new religious configurations globally, and also how migrant religions are simultaneously reshaping cities globally. We invite submissions that are grounded in empirical research suggestive of fresh theoretical paradigms for interpreting these urban dynamics.

Religion and Ecology Group
This Group critically and constructively explores how human–Earth relations are shaped by religions, cultures, and understandings of nature and the environment. We are self-consciously inter- and multi-disciplinary and include methods such as those found in the work of theologians, philosophers, religionists, ethicists, scientists, and anthropologists, among others.

Religion and Ecology Group and Scriptural/Contextual Ethics Group
This session seeks submissions on the ethics of land and landedness, particularly as these themes intersect with ecological questions. This theme is designed to echo the 2014 AAR annual meeting theme of Climate Change.

Religion and Migration Group
This Group is a forum in which scholars working on religion and migration from multiple perspectives can interact across methodologies, religious traditions, and regions. We solicit papers addressing the religious practices, experiences, needs, and beliefs of migrating peoples who adapt to new environments and impact their societies of origin and destination. We understand religion and migration broadly, from the religious communities of rural migrants in regional cities to the new understandings of religion that second-generation children construct in order to make sense of their ethnic identities or ethical responses of receiving communities. If you are interested in subscribing to our listserv, please contact Alison R. Marshall, Brandon University, .

Religion and Politics Section
This Section provides a forum for scholars and professionals interested in the relationships between religion, the state, and political life, both in the United States and around the world. Our members focus on the interaction between religious and political values, movements, and commitments, and the role of religious individuals and communities in bodies politic. This focus includes attention to the ways in which religion and religious actors participate in public discourse, contribute to debates over public values and social policy, and affect — and are affected by — activity in the political sphere. We welcome members doing both normative and descriptive work from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, including religious studies, political science, philosophy, social ethics, law (including church–state studies), history (as it relates to contemporary understandings), and theology. We seek to advance scholarly inquiry on religion and politics and we seek also to speak to broad and diverse publics about areas falling under the Section’s purview.

Religion and US Empire Seminar
This seminar supports a critical examination of the complex relationship between religion and US empire from the formal inception of the US as a nation-state to the present. The seminar will encourage attention to fundamental theoretical issues relating to religion and US expansionism, including but not limited to the following: the co-constitution of race, religion, and nation; the political and institutional mechanics of empire; the role of civic, ethnic, and religious nationalisms in supporting and critiquing empire; the value of transnational and national approaches to understanding US religious history; and the implications of reconceiving the standard periodization of US history to depart from standard state-building categories. The specific research projects of the collaborators attend to such issues as militarism and the materiality of religion and empire; the influence of empire on rituals, practices, and beliefs of US public religion; and the linkages between colonial administrators, missionaries, and the scientific study of religion.

Religion in the American West Group
The Religion in the American West Group is a forum for graduate students, independent scholars, and faculty who situate their work regionally in the North American West, broadly conceived. The study of religion in this region allows scholars to use a broad array of methodologies (historical, anthropological, literary, sociological, and others) to explore the most pressing questions in the field of American religion and in Religious Studies more generally. These include, but are not limited to: the history of empire and colonialism; the connections between religion and violence; the construction and deployment of racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities; transnational movement of people and ideas; religion and the natural and built environments; myth-making and its role in the construction and critique of nationalist ideologies; and the development of the category of religion. The purpose of this subfield is not to remain in the American West, to define the West, or to argue that religion in the West is unique. Instead, by situating scholarship regionally, scholars of the American West are able to develop theories and methods that can be useful interpretive lenses for other regions defined by land, transnationalism, migrations, diversity, and colonialism. Moreover, the Group supports the development of a rigorous intellectual community by pre-circulating papers in advance of the national meeting and maintaining a blog.

Religions, Social Conflict, and Peace Group
Relationships between religions and the causes and resolution of social conflict are complex. On the one hand, religion is a major source of discord in our world, but on the other, religious agents have often played a central role in developing and encouraging nonviolent means of conflict resolution and sustainable peace. While religion as a factor in conflicts is often misunderstood by military and political leaders, it is also the case that the popular call for an end to injustice is quite often a religious voice. We seek to add a critical dimension to the understanding of how religion influences and resolves social conflict. We want to develop and expand the traditional categories of moral reflection and response to war and also to investigate kindred conflicts — terrorism, humanitarian armed intervention, cultural and governmental repression, ecological degradation, and all of the factors that inhibit human flourishing. We also hope to encourage theoretical and practical reflection on religious peace-building by examining the discourses, practices, and community and institutional structures that promote just peace. Through our work, we hope to promote understanding of the relationships between social conflict and religions in ways that are theoretically sophisticated and practically applicable in diverse cultural contexts.

Space, Place, and Religion Group
This Group is a forum for exploring religious sites and the spatial dimensions of religions. We feature ethnographically-informed studies of living sites, historically-informed studies of texts and artifacts, and analyses of architecture and landscape. Our work seeks to shed light on the role of space and place in religious traditions and communities or to examine religious activity (performance, ritual, and practice) in spatial contexts.

And here is a link to the entire list of program units:

Hope to see you in San Diego!

February 19, 2014

CALL FOR PAPERS: Religion and the American West Group at the American Academy of Religion (AAR)

AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 22-25, 2014

Religion in the American West Group

Statement of Purpose:

The Religion in the American West Group is a forum for graduate students, independent scholars, and faculty who situate their work regionally in the North American West, broadly conceived. The study of religion in this region allows scholars to use a broad array of methodologies (historical, anthropological, literary, sociological, and others) to explore the most pressing questions in the field of American religion and in Religious Studies more generally. These include, but are not limited to: the history of empire and colonialism; the connections between religion and violence; the construction and deployment of racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities; transnational movement of people and ideas; religion and the natural and built environments; myth-making and its role in the construction and critique of nationalist ideologies; and the development of the category of religion. The purpose of this subfield is not to remain in the American West, to define the West, or to argue that religion in the West is unique. Instead, by situating scholarship regionally, scholars of the American West are able to develop theories and methods that can be useful interpretive lenses for other regions defined by land, transnationalism, migrations, diversity, and colonialism. Moreover, the Group supports the development of a rigorous intellectual community by pre-circulating papers in advance of the national meeting and maintaining a blog.

Call for Papers:
Proposals for individual papers or a full session are solicited on the following topics:

• Drawing on the meeting’s location in San Diego, we invite proposals that touch on the the notion of boundaries in the North American West. In addition to considerations of the U.S.-Mexico border, we encourage submissions that highlight how religion in the region has facilitated and/or constrained crossing boundaries of ethnicity, race, socioeconomic class, language, gender, sexual orientation, aesthetics, and other constructions of difference.

• Religion and natural resources. We solicit proposals that examine how religion influences and is influenced by the intersection of environmental resources and limitations and human needs in the American West. Possible themes include but are not limited to water usage, urbanization, local environments, agriculture, land ownership, and tourism.

The deadline for proposal submission is
Monday, March 3, 5:00 PM EST

Method: PAPERS

Process: Proposals are anonymous to chairs and steering committee members until after final acceptance/rejection


Brandi Denison,
Brett Hendrickson,

Steering Committee
John-Charles Duffy,
Kathleen Holscher,
Sarah M. Pike,
Thomas Bremer,

link to CFP at AAR site:

February 14, 2014

The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Announces 2014 Awards

The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies is pleased to announce multiple awards for 2014 that are available for scholars conducting research related to Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or/and Wyoming. Please see the descriptions below. Follow the link to for further information and application instructions. Applications for 2014 are due by 11:59 p.m. MST on March 15.

The Redd Center offers the following awards:

Faculty Research Awards provide up to $3,000 to faculty members at any academic institution to conduct research on any topic related to Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming.  Research may be conducted at any location.

Independent Research and Creative Awards provide up to $1,500 to researchers who are not connected to an academic institution for studying Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming.  Research may be conducted at any location.

Summer Awards for Upper Division and Graduate Students at any academic institution provide up to $1,500 for research support for any topic related to Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming.  Research may be conducted at any location.

The Annaley Naegle Redd Student Award in Women's History provides up to $1,500 for research support concerning any aspect of women's history in the American West (not limited to the Intermountain West).  Applications not receiving the Redd Award but dealing with Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming will be considered for the Summer Awards for Upper Division and Graduate Student Awards, Research may be conducted at any location.

Public Programming Awards provide up to $3,000 to any organization planning a conference, museum exhibit or lecture series on a topic related to Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming.

Fellowship Awards in Western American History provide up to $3,500 in research support for scholars who travel to BYU to use the L. Tom Perry Special Collections in the Harold B. Lee Library.

Clarence Dixon Taylor Historical Research Awards provides up to $2,500 for completed works from researched based upon Utah, Carbon, and Wasatch Counties. Nominations can include theses, books, papers, monographs, articles, symposiums, dramatic presentations, lectures, etc. Students and faculty of Brigham Young University or other institutions or other recognized scholars are eligible.

Visiting Scholar Program enable university faculty of all ranks, independent scholars, freelance authors and other public intellectuals to visit and conduct research at BYU. It provides a stipend of $2,500 per month for 2-4 months, office facilities, a networked computer, a research assistant, a limited photocopying budget, and campus library and activity privileges.  Visiting Scholars participate in Center activities and deliver public and classroom presentations on their work.

Publications Grants to Presses provide up to $3,000 to assist in the publication of scholarly studies on Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming . The grants will be given to academic publishers to help offset the costs of publishing books and to lower the books’ selling price. The book should already have been accepted for publication by the press and be ready for publication. The Redd Center may honor authors whose books receive a publication grant with a public lecture and book signing at Brigham Young University. The Center will defray the author's travel and lodging expenses.

To apply for an award, visit the Redd Center website (, and click on “Apply for an Award” on the right hand side of the homepage. You will then be taken to our awards application page. After you have completed your application, you will receive a message indicating that your application has been successfully submitted. In addition, you will receive an email confirmation at the email address you list on your application. If you have any questions about the application process or about submitting your application, please contact Amy Carlin at 801-422-4048 or If you have questions about the substance of your application, please contact Brian Q. Cannon, Redd Center, director,

This announcement was originally emailed across the H-Amrel listserv on January 31. 

February 10, 2014

Considering and Re-Considering "the West"

By Cara L. Burnidge

Recently High Country News, and its wonderfully titled"The Goat Blog," (with "News and Views From High Country News Writers and Editors), considered and re-considered an issue that is familiar to readers of this blog: What is meant by "American West"?

In her post "What the West would look like with state boundaries drawn by culture, population, or watersheds," Jodi Peterson noted that "our definition of the West has morphed over the years." She writes that they "cover the 11 Western states, and for us, one of the key characteristics of those states is their high proportion of public land."
You can see their map of the West here, which leaves out Texas, because of its few public lands, but also leaves out Alaska, despite its allotment of public land, as shown on the right.

This working definition, of course, hasn't stopped High Country News from considering other states and regions in its discussions about the West. Peterson draws attention to Colin Woodard's American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America , a national map drawn according to watershed boundaries, and other possibilities of reconsidering regional identity in the West and the U.S. more broadly.

Peterson didn't include it in her piece, but I'm reminded of this map included in Max Fischer's "40 More Maps that Explain the World."
 "North American languages, before colonialism" highlights the diversity, but perhaps more importantly, the presence of languages and cultures prior to colonialism. It also brings attention to "America," "the West," and "the American West' beyond its current U.S.-state borders, an endeavor that I imagine Petersen and  RelAmWest readers agree on.

After their discussions, Peterson notes, High Country News decided to stick with their slogan “for people who care about the American West.”    Even though the conceptions and representations change, depending on one's orientation, she says, "our mission"--and therefore the name--"stays the same."

While our name--Religion in the American West--has stayed the same and our interest in "the West" continues, I am not satisfied in the same way Peterson is with the essence of "the West," as geographic space or place, as scholarly subject, or as subfield. I'm looking forward to the coming weeks on the blog, where we will highlight our contributor's interests in and approaches to "the West." Perhaps it won't be the essence alone, but the questions at hand that will gain interest as well.