Books & Culture's Book of the Week: Encounters of the Gods

Christianity and Native American religion in early America.

Gods of War, Gods of Peace: How the Meeting of Native and Colonial Religions Shaped Early America
by Russell Bourne
Harcourt
425 pp.; $28

Once our Native American and European forebears began discovering one another half a millennium ago, little stayed the same.  Their separate pre-contact worlds gradually gave way to a host of new realities.  Trade networks, political alliances, disease environments, agricultural techniques, and cultural identities all were transformed in the centuries after Columbus.

Did this refashioning of old worlds include the sacred realm? A widening stream of recent books and articles would have us think so.  Upon encountering new places, products, and peoples, Europeans and Euro-Americans took stock of what the new discoveries meant for them and their faiths.  Their growing consciousness of the Indian "Other" influenced how they made sense of the world.  Meanwhile, the religious worldviews of Native Americans felt the jarring effects of the European presence.  Over time, peoples on both sides of the cultural divide reconstructed religious outlooks in the wake of meeting one another.

Russell Bourne's Gods of War, Gods of Peace gives bold expression to that thesis and links it to nothing less than the formation of a distinct American civilization.  Targeted for a general readership and written in a sweeping narrative style with no footnotes, the book asserts that the collective encounter of Indians and Europeans in North America is best understood as "a confrontation of two historic and still evolving religious systems, with immense consequences for the different cultures."  Far from playing the peripheral role often assigned to it, religion was central to the interactions of Europeans and Native Americans ...

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September
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