Monday, November 26, 2012

Lord of the dance

In Theorizing Religion today we read part of Tisa Wenger's fascinating book We Have A Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian  Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom. I seeded discussion with two letters to the New York Times from December 1923, articulating two sides of the controversy. One (YWCA Board Member Edith Dabb, Dec 2nd), representing the old regime of Protestant missionaries acting as agents of government-promoted civilization, deplored the alleged debauching of young girls in secret ceremonies. The other (the Museum of the American Indian's F. W. Hodge, above, Dec 20th), articulated the emerging understanding of Indian dances as not only morally innocuous but religious in the purest way. Other views discussed by Wenger celebrate the dances precisely for a non-puritan sensuality - it is the 1920s, after all! Native American voices are more circumspect. It all proved a good way into a discussion of the dilemmas of indigenous peoples in modern settler colonial states, their cultures saved but also trivialized as tourist destinations by the secular-Protestant category of religion as essentially private.

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