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Relationships Between the European Settlers and the Native Americans

Introduction

Many factors played their role in the growth and development of the Colonial New England. Future America has served as a place where three district human cultures intersected. Relationships between the European settlers, the Native Americans, and the African Americans are intricate, and the groups have had a significant impact on each other in the cultural sphere. Either cooperating or competing in the fields of market, industry, religions, and tradition, the inhabitants of America have given birth to a single culture incorporating the aspects of many. While the influence of European colonizers is undoubtedly the most prominent, the other two groups have played their roles in the creation of America people know today. In some spheres, interactions between these groups have produced negative results, in others – positive. This essay aims to examine the places of worship as a sphere of encounter for Europeans and the Indigenous people of America. The two groups have an unequal but undeniable influence on each other’s approaches and spiritual traditions, and through examining this topic one can find the reasons for many of today’s norms.

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Evaluating Sources

Primary Sources

Chuchiak, J. F. “Spiritual Encounters: Interactions between Christianity and Native Religions in Colonial America.” Ethnohistory 47, no. 3-4 (2000): 806–9. Web.

The text, comprised as a collection of essays, demonstrates how the Christians and the many Native people of Colonial America have interacted. While its findings are not comprehensive, they are overall indicative of how the process of religious interaction and communication proceeds. The author stresses that the notions of Christian “Conversion” are an incomplete way to look at the relationship between the natives and the Europeans and that both parties have had an impact on each other’s customs. While the topic of conversion will be brought up, the other underlying factors in the exchange of religious practices are also important to remember.

Davidson, Edward H., and Claude M. Newlin. “Philosophy and Religion in Colonial America.” American Literature 34, no. 3 (1962): 434. Web.

Discussing both the matters of the Christian religion and the native people’s faith, the source brings up some of the reasons why Europeans sought to convert the Indigenous people to Christianity. In colonial times, many Christians are said to have believed that diseases and natural disasters are a curse to punish non-believers. Because of the misguided desire to stop bad events from happening, Europeans have strived to convert non-Europeans.

Edwards, Jonathan. Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. Project Gutenberg, 2010. 

The source presents a collection of sermons from Jonathan Edwards, a prominent follower of puritanism. The man argued that the belief in Christ is the only right choice for a person and that any non-believers would be condemned to hell. His views were centered on connecting Christianity and its virtues to the correct way of living, making an emphasis on the ethical purity of Christian faith. Jonathan preached that hell is a real, existing place, and sought to convince others to convert to Christianity. Through the works of this man, one can witness the general religious sentiments that drove the Christian colonists. Their view on other religions and morality was heavily influenced by the notions of heaven and hell.

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Littell, Franklin H. (Franklin Hamlin), 1917-2009. “A Historical Profile of Religion in America: From Colonial State Churches to Religious Liberty,” a lecture delivered at the Annual Symposium on Church and State at the University of Portland (1961-04-24). 1961. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America. Web.

The lecture, delivered at the symposium at the University of Portland. The speakers have highlighted a particular discrepancy between the colonizer’s attitudes towards religion in England and in America. The speech draws attention to the fact that British Europeans were in favor of religious tolerance before coming to the colonies. However, their later attitudes, namely the conversion of non-Christians and denial of citizenship based on religion contradict such ideas. This source will also be used to further elaborate on the relationship between the European settler and the native people of colonies.

Secondary Sources

Smith, Timothy Lawrence. Religion and Ethnicity in America. Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1978

The article touches upon New England’s society prior to the separation of church and the state. One of the important points to take from this paper is that the relationship between society and religion was complex, with the former having heavy influence over every person’s life. In many cases, not believing in the specific Christian vision of God was not possible, not only for the non-European population but for anyone.

Heyrman, Christine Leigh. “Native American Religion in Early America.” Native American Religion in Early America, Divining America, TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center. National Humanities Center. Web.

The website details the religious tradition and practices of Native Americans. While the system of belief held by each individual tribe is different and unique, many of them share particular similarities. By the time of the first contact with European colonizers, the majority of tribes have developed complex belief systems with their own cosmology and creation myths. The most important part of the discussion at hand is that most of the Natives believed in an all-powerful, Godlike spiritual entity, similar to how the Christians view their God. They also agreed to the existence of a soul and an afterlife, with both beliefs also shared by the Christian faith. These basic principles of their belief system gave the colonizes and the natives a common middle ground in their beliefs, which could be used in intercultural communication.

Richard W. Pointer, RICHARD A. BAILEY. Race and Redemption in Puritan New England., The American Historical Review, Volume 118, Issue 2, 2013, Pages 509–510, Web.

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The text discusses the racial relations between the European people and the natives of America. The author proposes that the religious puritans of New England held extremely close-minded and conservative views on acceptable religious practices, and often categorized people through the racial lens. Race was used by many as a category of difference, a way to distinguish between people regardless of their individual views or opinions. Pointer states that the puritans had a genuine desire to “save” non-believing native people, but, at the same time, also facilitated the political, religious, and societal practices that subjugated them. Many Christians believed that they should conquer the land of the native people in the name of God, and even thought that the diseases befalling the indigenous people are divine punishment.

“First Encounters: Native Americans and Christians,” 2020, Web.

This source describes the nature of the first encounter between the natives and the European people. The article highlights one of the core vices of the colonizers in regards to approaching the indigenous people of America – ignorance. In their attempt to conquer the new continent, they wrongfully assumed that the tribespeople were uncultured and had no coherent systems of belief. The colonists disregarded the culture and tradition of the native people, forcing them into conformity with Christian ideology. The source highlights one of the issues at the core of cultural understanding between the peoples of America and the European colonizers. In many cases, the ignorance of European missionaries coupled with the crimes and injustices committed against the natives prevented the two groups from establishing mutually beneficial relationships.

“Story Map Journal,” arcgis.com, 2020, Web.

The page describes the basics of the native American’s belief system and the colonist’s interactions with them. It is noted that religious beliefs were diverse, including monotheism, polytheism, henotheism, and animism. Oral tradition was the main source of knowledge, and the myths were passed to each generation by their elders. The Europeans viewed these traditions as uncivilized and inferior, seeking to promote their vision of the enlightenment to the peoples. The mechanisms of enforcement included the use of government legislation, missionary work, and violence that were all used to forcefully suppress and subjugate the native people.

The Main Argument

Interactions between the settles and the native people were of an inherently unfair and discriminatory nature. America’s past is reflected in the present day through the lens of bias, with many individuals still lacking understanding in the complexity of relationships between the indigenous people and the Europeans. The influence of New England colonizers has contributed to the erasure of mostly oral tradition.

Elaboration

The topic of religious practice in regards to Christians and the native people is difficult to discuss, as the issue is multi-faceted and controversial for some. The most important aspect to note in this discussion is the often non-voluntary nature of the interactions between the two parties, and the inability of the colonizers to regard the peoples of America as equals. Coming from Europe, early voyagers thought that they were conquering “uncharted territory”, spreading their knowledge and expertise to the uncivilized continent. That belief, however, was misguided at best, and maliciously ignorant at worst. The land that the New Englanders have “conquered” already had inhabitants with their own unique beliefs and cultural approaches. Traditions that developed apart from Europe and owed their rich complexity to the variety of tribes co-existing on the continent. The European people, however, had no previous knowledge of such traditions and no established way of communication. They desired to spread the ideas of enlightenment and Christianity to “barbaric” tribesmen, and sometimes completely ignored the Century-old traditions of the native land. Colonizers came to America on their own terms, refusing to acknowledge the cultural validity of the indigenous belief, enforcing their Christian outlook.

Due to the inherent power imbalance between the native tribes and the more technologically developed European countries, the invaders had the opportunity to mandate their own laws on the American land. In many cases, the laws they established were discriminatory towards indigenous people, bordering on slavery. Laws and violence were used to separate people from their culture and assimilate them into the “enlightened society”. Many Christians, especially the puritans, that believe in the supremacy of Christianity above all other religious belief, also attempted to convert native people through preaching. Priests, speakers, and missionaries spread the word of Christ in an attempt to offer indigenous people “salvation”. The society of that time was largely theocratic, with most aspects of people’s lives dictated by the Cristian religion. Connection of Christianity with the ideas of universal good and virtuousness further cemented it in the minds of the European people as the only viable option for every person living in America. Before the separation of the church and the state, non-believers from both the Europeans and the native people were discriminated against. Many Europeans did not understand the complexity of the native people’s systems of belief, failing to notice that each tribe had their own myths and values. The unequal power dynamic and the degree of influence the New Englanders had given the natives little opportunity to cultivate their beliefs further.

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Conclusion

Overall, the field of worship and the religious view was one of the most impacted by the colonization of America. The relationship between the two parties was unequal, with the native people having to live with the erasure and disrespect to their established norms. The incompatibility of the Christian belief in a single god and the multiculturalism of the native tribes have created a hostile climate of interaction. The Europeans, in many cases, enforces their perspective on the world through the use of violence, state law, and other practices. Indigenous people were regarded as lesser, and their beliefs were often found irrelevant, nonexistent, or insignificant. Puritan Christians worked to convert the natives to professing Christianity, participating in the destruction of cultural heritage and the oral traditions of many tribes. While some survived, substantial variation in the religions of native people was lost.

Bibliography

Chuchiak, J. F. “Spiritual Encounters: Interactions between Christianity and Native Religions in Colonial America.” Ethnohistory 47, no. 3-4 (2000): 806–9. Web.

Davidson, Edward H., and Claude M. Newlin. “Philosophy and Religion in Colonial America.” American Literature 34, no. 3 (1962): 434. Web.

Edwards, Jonathan. Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. Project Gutenberg, 2010. Web.

Johnson, Bradley. “Maryland Toleration Act of 1649.” Encyclopedia of the First Amendment, n.d. Web.

Littell, Franklin H. (Franklin Hamlin), 1917-2009. “An Historical Profile of Religion in America: From Colonial State Churches to Religious Liberty,” a lecture delivered at the Annual Symposium on Church and State at the University of Portland (1961-04-24). 1961. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, Web.

Smith, Timothy Lawrence. Religion and Ethnicity in America. Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 1978.

Heyrman, Christine Leigh. “Native American Religion in Early America.” Native American Religion in Early America, Divining America, TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center. National Humanities Center. Web.

Richard W. Pointer, RICHARD A. BAILEY. Race and Redemption in Puritan New England., The American Historical Review, Volume 118, Issue 2, 2013, Pages 509–510, Web.

“First Encounters: Native Americans and Christians,” 2020, Web.

“Story Map Journal,” arcgis.com, 2020, Web.

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