Encounters of the Spirit

Encounters of the Spirit

Native Americans and European Colonial Religion
Richard W. Pointer
Distribution: World
Publication date: 9/5/2007
ISBN: 978-0-253-11689-5
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Historians have long been aware that the encounter with Europeans affected all aspects of Native American life. But were Indians the only ones changed by these cross-cultural meetings? Might the newcomers' ways, including their religious beliefs and practices, have also been altered amid their myriad contacts with native peoples? In Encounters of the Spirit, Richard W. Pointer takes up these intriguing questions in an innovative study of the religious encounter between Indians and Euro-Americans in early America. Exploring a series of episodes across the three centuries of the colonial era and stretching from New Spain to New France and the English settlements, he finds that the flow of cultural influence was more often reciprocal than unidirectional.

Author Bio

Richard W. Pointer is Professor of History and Fletcher Jones Chair in Social Science at Westmont College. He is author of Protestant Pluralism and the New York Experience: A Study of Eighteenth-Century Religious Diversity (IUP, 1988).


". . . Recommended." —Choice

"In my view, [t]his book . . . has the potential to spark extensive reevaluation of a subject that (particularly in the case of the English colonies) remains curiously taboo even among scholars committed to exploring the mutual impact of Indian and European peoples in the Americas. Scholars in the fields of ethnohistory, religious studies, literary studies, and other disciplines will all benefit from discussion and debate of Pointer's valuable work." —Joshua David Bellin, La Roche College, American Historical Review , V.113.5 Dec. 2008

"In recent years, historical investigations have emphasized not only the European impact on American Indians (e.g., their religions), but also the agency of Indians in resisting and redefining European paradigms. In order to demonstrate the efficacy of Indian agency, some historians have heralded the influence of Indians on Euro-American ideas, institutions, and behaviors. In this spirit, historian Pointer (Westmont College) aims to show 'how contact with Indians shaped and reshaped European colonial religion.' Acknowledging that 'most colonists seem to offer little or no evidence of having had their faiths changed by Native Americans,' he argues that religion was at the crux of Indian- European relations, and from their reciprocity emerged new patterns of Euro-American religiousness. Most of Pointer's examples come from the Eastern Woodlands of the 17th and 18th centuries; however, one chapter treats the musical interaction between Franciscans and Nahuas in 16th-century Mexico. . . Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —Choice" —C. T. Vecsey, Colgate University , August 1, 2008

". . . an engaging work. 'Encounters of the Spirit' is an interesting, intriguing read.

. . . provide[s] an excellent starting point for anyone interested in topics related to colonial missionary activities in particular and questions of culture contact and exchange in general. This is thanks to the obviously extensive research done by Pointer in preparing the book. His investigations extend not only to the work of fellow historians, but also, for example, to that of anthropologists, colonial chroniclers and diary writers, and to the writings of various Christian missionaries. Owing to this foundation of wide-ranging scholarship, including primary and secondary sources, and to the excellent notes and extensive bibliography, 'Encounters of the Spirit' furnishes an entry into a dimension of New World history that warrants further attention and beckons to future scholars. In this respect it occupies a niche that so far it seems to have to itself, there being no other work quite like it. It is, in short, a valuable addition to the realms of colonial studies, 'Religion in North America' (the name of the series to which it belongs), the American past, and New World history in general." —John K. Donaldson, George Washington University,
American Indian Culture and Research , Vol.33.1 2009

"Pointer offers a judicious and wide-ranging series of case studies, showing—as many other scholars are now doing-that the encounter with Native Americans was far richer and more nuanced than we've been taught to believe. This is a story full of the ever—surprising twists and turns of history, in which tragedy and hopefulness are mingled." —
Christianity Today "Bookmarks" , March 2008

". . . an important, erudite study that deserves a wide audience. Historians of Indian-colonial relations looking for opportunities of study will want to ponder this work closely." —David J. Silverman, George Washington University,

Washington, D.C.,
JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY , Vol. 96.2 September 2009

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Table of Contents


1. The Sounds of Worship
2. A Language of Imitation
3. A Scene of New Ideas
4. "Poor Indians" and the "Poor in Spirit"
5. Martyrs, Healers, and Statesmen
6. Encountering Death