Holiday time always seems to be "catch up with my reading" time, a task never completed but always enticing. Lately I've been reading some books on earlier periods of American religious history, including Understanding Jonathan Edwards, as blogged out before. More recently, I've finally had the chance to take up Emma Anderson's Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Native Colonial Convert, winner recently of the AAR Best First Book in the History of Religions award. The book is reminiscent in many ways of Allan Greer's unforgettable work Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits, published a few years ago. Both works are exquisitely sensitive and nuanced portrayals of the French missionary Catholic encounter with natives -- Innu in the first case, Mohawk in the second -- in the early to mid-17th century. Neither invokes a history either of romanticism or of demonization, and each shows how much the Recollets, the Jesuits, and the natives were all undergoing religious transformations in their own worlds that played into their encounter in ways both creative as well as tragic. Both involve young converts, taken from their own world religiously but unable ultimately to live in either world, the French or the native. This was certainly the case with Pierre-Antoine Pastedechouan, the young Innu convert taken to France and later closely observed by the most famous of Jesuit chroniclers, Paul Le Jeune. The Innu, in all likelihood, consented to Pastedechouan's travels in their quest to learn as much as they could, economically and diplomatically, about this European people who served as an ally in their struggles against the Mohawk; the French missionaries, of course, saw the young man as a son of the forest whose personage would be instrumental in their fundraising efforts to extend their missions abroad.
I'm very pleased that the author of this beautiful work, Emma Anderson, will be guest posting for us sometime in the near future. In the meantime, here's a description of the work, and for further reading here's a very provocative interview with the author. Assessing the role of Paul Le Jeune, she says, "Paul Le Jeune is a complex figure whose teenage conversion to Catholicism during the French wars of religion represented the strongest possible repudiation of his Protestant family. Like Pastedechouan, the young Native American who is at the center of my book, Le Jeune had thus experienced dramatic religious transformation which redefined his identity and his relationship to his family and community. I believe that the intensity of the two men’s relationship during the last four years of Pastedechouan’s life was rooted in their shared experience of dramatic conversion. Just as Pastedechouan’s life was arguably transformed by his relationship with the older and irascible Jesuit, so Le Jeune’s experiences in New France were fatefully shaped by his relationship with the younger Pastedechouan, whom he wished both to exploit for his linguistic abilities and whom he longed to bring back into the Catholic fold.
The Betrayal of Faith
The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert
2008 Best First Book in the History of Religions Award, American Academy of Religion
Emma Anderson uses one man's compelling story to explore the collision of Christianity with traditional Native religion in colonial North America.
Pierre-Anthoine Pastedechouan was born into a nomadic indigenous community of Innu living along the St. Lawrence River in present-day Quebec. At age eleven, he was sent to France by Catholic missionaries to be educated for five years, and then brought back to help Christianize his people.
Pastedechouan's youthful encounter with French Catholicism engendered in him a fatal religious ambivalence. Robbed of both his traditional religious identity and critical survival skills, he had difficulty winning the acceptance of his community upon his return. At the same time, his attempts to prove himself to his people led the Jesuits to regard him with increasing suspicion. Suspended between two worlds, Pastedechouan ultimately became estranged--with tragic results--from both his native community and his missionary mentors.
An engaging narrative of cultural negotiation and religious coercion, Betrayal of Faith documents the multiple betrayals of identity and culture caused by one young man's experiences with an inflexible French Catholicism. Pastedechouan's story illuminates key struggles to retain and impose religious identity on both sides of the seventeenth-century Atlantic, even as it has a startling relevance to the contemporary encounter between native and non-native peoples.