In books such as Mystics and Messiahs, Hidden Gospels, and The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins has established himself as a leading commentator on religion and society. Now, in Dream Catchers, Jenkins offers a brilliant account of the changing mainstream attitudes towards Native American spirituality, once seen as degraded spectacle, now hailed as New Age salvation.
While early Americans had nothing but contempt for Indian religions, deploring them as loathsome devil worship and snake dancing, white Americans today respect and admire Native spirituality. In this book, Jenkins charts this remarkable change, highlighting the complex history of white American attitudes towards Native religions from colonial times to the present. Jenkins ranges widely, considering everything from the 19th-century American obsession with "Hebrew Indians" and Lost Tribes, to the early 20th-century cult of the Maya as bearers of the wisdom of ancient Atlantis, to films like Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves. He looks at the popularity of the Carlos Castaneda books, the writings of Lynn Andrews, and the influential works of Frank Waters, and he explores the New Age paraphernalia found in places like Sedona, Arizona, including dream-catchers, crystals, medicine bags, and Native-themed Tarot cards. Jenkins examines the controversial New Age appropriation of Native sacred places; notes that many "white Indians" see mainstream society as religiously empty; and asks why a government founded on religious freedom tried to eradicate native religions in the last century--and what this says about how we define religion.
An engrossing account of our changing attitudes towards Native spirituality, Dream Catchers offers a fascinating introduction to one of the more interesting aspects of contemporary American religion.
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From Publishers Weekly:
Philip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He has published widely on contemporary religious themes, including New Age and esoteric movements, and is the author most recently of The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice and the highly acclaimed The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.
Jenkins (The Next Christendom; Mystics and Messiahs), a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, here trains his keen eye on the appropriation of Native American spirituality by those in the white mainstream. What do liberal white Protestants gain from sitting in sweat lodges, visiting shamans and taking pilgrimages to New Age "hot spots" like Sedona, Ariz.? Plenty, says Jenkins, who posits that interest in Native spirituality peaks when white Americans are dissatisfied with one or more elements of mainstream society. Refreshingly, he doesn't just trace this disenchantment to the 1960s—that easy target of a decade isn't even addressed until 150 pages into the book—but offers a sweeping overview of American religious history to prove his point. In particular, Jenkins sees the early 20th century as a crucial period of transformation; whereas Victorians were likely to dismiss Native American belief and ritual as godless superstition, the interwar years saw more Americans turning toward indigenous practices and products, with the rise of "native tourism" and the proliferation of crafts (such as the jewelry worn by Grace Coolidge at her husband's 1925 presidential inauguration). Although Jenkins is critical of whites' appropriations of Native American culture and belief, and particularly of their tendency to repackage New Age ideas with a veneer of indigenous authority, his tone is never unfair; he does a masterful job of setting such uses-cum-exploitations in historical context. Anyone wishing to understand the ongoing romanticization of Native American spirituality should read this book.
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