Throughout history, scholars have been grappling with
the need to understand why early Indians embraced Christianity. As such, it is
a vexing issue for students of history of Religion in American. Providentially,
past literature has helped improve the understanding of the riddle. In the wave
of studies on Indian history, Linford Fisher found himself writing a book how
Indian Americans reacted in the face of pervasive Christianity. This book has
given me solid information how the trend of religious conversions was. The
Indian Great Awakening contributes immensely to the understanding of the
Indians in the southeastern New England and natives and their perception of Christianity.
The book provides a concise account of the engagement with Christianity in the
18th century and early 19th century. This book provides a
gripping of how faiths, beliefs, institutions interacted during a time of
colonialism and the strive for cultural survival.
This book by Linford Fisher gives an account of how
the encounter of New England Natives with Christianity rapidly and completely
changed the religious affiliations of the Indian communities. Notably, religious
conversions are usually very powerful. This book is replete with cases of
intercultural and interreligious interactions which resulted in religious
conversions. The obsession with religious conversion has fueled religions to do
various initiatives with the aim of spreading a meticulous set of practices of
their religion. The aim of spreading religion to new cultures was to exterminate
perceived falsehood, deep rooted heathenry and paganism. The idea of religious
conversion is that it involves the rejection of a particular way of life and
thinking and embracing a new system of beliefs. The two main competing
religions presented by Fisher in the book are Islam known as Medieval
Mediterranean and Chritianity also referred to as Early Modern Americas. The power of religious conversion is too
strong that it tips off indigenous set of beliefs and practices.
Most religious conversions are marked by evident imbalance
of power and most religious decisions are not made transparently. Most of the
religious decisions are multivalent, subjective, dynamic and mostly complex to
interpret. The contents of the book concur with some of the material we covered
in class. For example, there was a video we watched in class entitled “The
Girls’ rite of passage in Apache culture.” This video describes how Apache
girls, a cultural group from Mexico are put through various tests to determine
whether their strength, endurance and character is good enough for life as a
mother and womanhood. Fisher puts a strong emphasis on the resilience of Native
Christians of the time. Historically, these Christians were sensitive to the
threat of their beliefs and used different methods to defend their sovereignty.
Different communities were involved in religious
conversions and demonstrated different rates of awakening. Remarkably, Mohegans
gained haughty notoriety for their interest. The reasons that attracted
individuals to new religions were also different for different communities. One
of the strategies cited was education. Many people embraced Christianity to get
a chance to pursue their education. They were eventually assimilated along the
way. Another reason that attracted communities to religious conversions was
egalitarian ethos which were fueled and sustained by the need for new
testimonies (p. 101). Religious conversions do not involve elements of
totalistic conversions. This is contrary to what is depicted by the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant
Reformation video we studied in class. It is with this precept that Fisher warns us
not to be misled by shallow Christian literature (p. 66). Fisher concludes that
the religious conversions involved fewer natives and occurred quickly (p. 102).
Most natives were glory seeking and joined new religions to be recognized and
given leadership or influential positions. Unfortunately, they ended up feeling
marginalized and hence back out.
Once communities were awakened, they creatively
engaged in Christianity. Some members of the native people who were the
minority learnt Indian Separatism. Consequently they started innovative religious
services which were managed and meant for the Indians (p. 108). Indigenous
communities evolved more distinctively into Christian circles. This occurred
through 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, Indians
communities started their own congregations because they trusted pastors of
their own. Although Indian Christian Separatism is less recognized, Fisher does
a good ob to unearth its importance. Native communities had the freedom to
indigenize their religion after conversion and advance their cultural autonomy
and improve the chances for the survival of their community an identity in the
face of colonialism. The advent of Christianity served as a revitalizing drive
for the natives.
After they were awakened, communities pursued
native-centered programs and institutions. For example, native communities offered
their own educational services to their people. These were undeniably
autonomous developments. Fisher further notes that outsider communities, the
natives, accounted for less than ten percent in of the school going population
in Indian reserves (p. 183).
Eventually, intercultural relations thrived between the
immigrants and the natives. All communities were left helpless in the advent of
interconnectedness and intermarriage. Different communities had to come to
grips with the shocking reality. For example, the Brothertown people were
skeptical and more anxious than the Narragansetts regarding intermarriage (p.
197). I did not see the evolution of views on intermarriage and relations over
generations. The religious conversions shaped the lives of all the communities
This book explores some key points covered in this
course. It explores some of the traditions, practices, cultural movements and
evolution of American religious history in the 18 and 19th
centuries. Some of the trends have been passed from generation to generation to
generation with slight modifications into the present. I think this book is
indispensable in the study of American religion.