We Have a Religion, But We Don't Have Religious Freedom

Paul Harvey

Another triumph for one of the prolific authors in my "class" of the Young Scholars in American Religion program: in the next couple of months, Tisa Wenger's work We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom will be available, hardback and paper, from University of North Carolina Press. The work covers one of the more fascinating episodes of how American culture has defined and delimited the term "religion," thus defining and delimiting who has religious freedom, and who doesn't. More on the book below from the work's webpage.

We Have a Religion
The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom

By Tisa Wenger

For Native Americans, religious freedom has been an elusive goal. From nineteenth-century bans on indigenous ceremonial practices to twenty-first-century legal battles over sacred lands, peyote use, and hunting practices, the U.S. government has often acted as if Indian traditions were somehow not truly religious and therefore not eligible for the constitutional protections of the First Amendment. In this book, Tisa Wenger shows that cultural notions about what constitutes "religion" are crucial to public debates over religious freedom.

In the 1920s, Pueblo Indian leaders in New Mexico and a sympathetic coalition of non-Indian reformers successfully challenged government and missionary attempts to suppress Indian dances by convincing a skeptical public that these ceremonies counted as religion. This struggle for religious freedom forced the Pueblos to employ Euro-American notions of religion, a conceptual shift with complex consequences within Pueblo life. Long after the dance controversy, Wenger demonstrates, dominant concepts of religion and religious freedom have continued to marginalize indigenous traditions within the United States.

About the Author
Tisa Wenger is assistant professor of religious studies at Arizona State University in Tempe.

"Although the debate is not well remembered today, the Pueblo Dances affair is one of the most important legal and political conflicts over religious freedom in American history. In this well-researched study, Tisa Wenger does a fine job of describing the affair and vividly highlights the cast of activists on both sides."--Philip Jenkins, author of Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality

"Wenger's book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the strange career of 'religion' by doing a superb and unmatchable job of recovering the full complexity of how that idea related to the Puebloan dance controversy."--Joel Martin, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Kathryn Lofton said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Lofton said…
As this wonderful blog demonstrates daily, there are way too many great books to read, and not nearly enough time to do so. This is a book to make time to read. Having had the privilege of reading quite a bit of WE HAVE A RELIGION, I already know it will be henceforth on every graduate syllabus on U.S. religion that I will teach, as it does precisely the kind of cultural history on the category of religion that has been assigned (yet rarely taken up with any grace or critical historicism) by theorists like Talal Asad and Jonathan Smith. A must for your 2009 wish lists! Congratulations, Tisa!
Anonymous said…
Very much looking forward to reading this!
Anonymous said…
way to go Tisa!!! Hooray!!!

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