chapter  7
18 Pages

Respecting relations

Columbus and his collaborators and successors in the European imperial conquest of the Americas frequently declared that they could nd nothing like religion, or nothing like Christianity, among indigenous peoples. Given the charter documents of their project – in which the conquest, enslavement and despoiling of “discovered” peoples is predicated on their failing to have a “Christian prince” (see Newcomb 2008) – this was perhaps a fortunate failing. It seems unlikely that people who were busy resisting, surviving or succumbing to the European onslaught would have much time or interest in inviting Columbus and company to many of the myriad ceremonial complexes of the continent. Mostly, however, the cry “no religion” seems disingenuous. At another extreme, more recent interpreters have claimed to nd that beliefs in supernatural and/or transcendent entities are widespread among Native Americans. Here, the eect of adopting a theological approach to religion seems evident. Neither view is particularly helpful in understanding either Native American religions nor in dening “religion” for academic purposes.