Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality

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Overview

In Books Such as Mystics and Messidahs, 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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Once viewed with contempt by white America, Native American spirituality has now been embraced. In this well-researched history, Jenkins (history & religious studies, Pennsylvania State Univ.) explores how this transformation took place and what it signifies. From savages to mystics to eco-warriors, Native Americans have been defined (and often idealized) through a projection and repackaging that has taken on mythic proportions. Their rituals have been commercialized, imitated, and appropriated, raising questions of authenticity. Neo-Indian wannabes borrow freely from various tribes and traditions, often mixing them with other world religions. Jenkins offers both a critique of white America and a defense of the New Age, showing that spiritual seekers raise the important question of whether religion is changeable. This extremely readable and thought-provoking book is recommended for academic and large public libraries and where there is strong interest in contemporary religion and Native Americans. Nancy Almand, Weld Lib. Dist., Greeley, CO Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Magnetically absorbing.... Jenkins fills in the major details of the last two centuries of deep white interest in Native religion with his customary thoroughness, and he scrupulously avoids judgments about the validity as well as the theological truth of the many practices and cults he sketches. He relays fascinating history with scholarly care and in prose as clear as it is precise."--Booklist (starred review)

"With his characteristic eye for nuance and his uncanny ability to master an enormous range of evidence and present it in a clear, compelling, provocative form, Jenkins has written an indispensable book."--Books & Culture

"Jenkins has acquainted himself with the relevant historical materials and also acquainted himself with more New Age manuals, mantras and sales pitches than any human being should have to endure. This allows him to trace a striking shift in white attitudes, an exchange of one kind of willful stupidity for another."--New York Times Book Review

"Anyone wishing to understand the ongoing romanticization of Native American spirituality should read this book.... Although Jenkins is critical of whites' apropriations 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."--Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195189100
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,007,599
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

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Table of Contents

1 Haunting America 1
2 Heathen darkness 20
3 Discovering native religion, 1860-1920 47
4 Pilgrims from the vacuum, 1890-1920 65
5 Crisis in Red Atlantis, 1914-1925 92
6 Brave new worlds, 1925-1950 113
7 Before the new age, 1920-1960 135
8 Vision quests, 1960-1980 154
9 The medicine show 175
10 Thinking tribal thoughts 197
11 Returning the land 223
Conclusion : real religion? 245
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