Native American Heritage Month Reading

Some Suggested Titles from AAR's Reading Religion

Reading Religion is an open book review website published by the American Academy of Religion. The site provides up-to-date coverage of scholarly publishing in religious studies, reviewed by scholars with special interest and/or expertise in the relevant subfields. Reviews aim to be concise, comprehensive, and timely.

Below, the editors of Reading Religion have selected some books and reviews from the site and have shared some titles available to review. If you’re interested in reviewing books for Reading Religion, take a look at the guidelines. If there are any books missing from the Reading Religion site that you think should be there, email [email protected].

Reviews to Read

Defend the Sacred: Native American Religious Freedom beyond the First Amendment

By Michael D. McNally 

From the review:

“McNally’s scholarship on Native American legal contestations is beneficial to any scholar of religion or law. Indeed, his work is likely the most comprehensive on Native American religions and law to date.” - James W. Waters

Indigenous Theology and the Western Worldview: A Decolonized Approach to Christian Doctrine

By Randy S. Woodley

From the review:

“As a whole, the book is successful in helping unfamiliar readers reflect critically on the foundational values of the Western worldview (mostly shared by American Christianity) while considering the compatibility of Native theology with scriptural truths. Woodley connects numerous historical concepts and ideas and provides practical ways forward for healing and reconciliation . . .” - Seth Whitaker

Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions

By Gregory Shushan 

From the review:

“There is a weighty poignancy to this collection, bearing witness to the value of studying historical records regarding the fundamental question “What happens to us when we die?”. For researchers and graduate students, Shushan does an admirable job explaining the challenges of comparing exceptional experience, and demonstrates subtlety and nuance as he compares and contrasts Indigenous NDE in North America, Africa, and Oceania.” - Mary L. Keller

All My Relatives: Exploring Lakota Ontology, Belief, and Ritual

By David C. Posthumus

From the review:

“Posthumus provides a detailed analysis of the nature of human persons by differentiating among the four different “souls” that the Lakota attribute to humans. This discussion is particularly valuable for the way in which it locates the self in relation to other cosmological phenomena such as ghosts and animating power.” - Fritz Detwiler

Religious Revitalization among the Kiowas: The Ghost Dance, Peyote, and Christianity

By Benjamin R. Kracht

From the review:

“[W]hat marks Kiowa religion is not that it is a specific kind of religion, but rather that it is syncretic and always borrowing from traditions around it. Thus, as an indigenous form of belief, Kiowa Christianity, for example, is informed and influenced by its relationship to the Ghost Dance, peyote ritual, and traditional shamanistic beliefs. In other words, Kiowa religion is influenced by both political and cultural trends but is constantly reinventing itself in the wake of colonization and modernity.” - Angela Tarango 

Available for Review

Cosmology and Moral Community in the Lakota Sun Dance: Reconceptualizing J. R. Walker's Account

By Fritz Detwiler

From the publisher:
“Drawing on Indigenous methodologies, this book uses a close analysis of James R. Walker’s 1917 monograph on the Lakota Sun Dance to explore how the Sun Dance communal ritual complex – the most important Lakota ceremony – creates moral community, providing insights into the cosmology and worldview of Lakota tradition. The book uses Walker’s primary source to conduct a reading of the Sun Dance in its nineteenth-century context through the lenses of Lakota metaphysics, cosmology, ontology, and ethics. The author argues that the Sun Dance constitutes a cosmic ethical drama in which persons of all types – human and nonhuman – come together in reciprocal actions and relationships. Drawing on contemporary animist theory and a perspectivist approach that uses Lakota worldview assumptions as the basis for analysis, the book enables a richer understanding of the Sun Dance and its role in the Lakota moral world."


Cree and Christian: Encounters and Transformations

By Clinton N. Westman

From the publisher:
Cree and Christian develops and applies new ethnographic approaches for understanding the reception and indigenization of Christianity, particularly through an examination of Pentecostalism in northern Alberta. Clinton N. Westman draws on historical records and his own long-term ethnographic research in Cree communities to explore questions of historical change, cultural continuity, linguistic practices in ritual, and the degree to which Indigenous identity is implicated by Pentecostal commitments. Such complexity calls for constant negotiation and improvisation, key elements of Pentecostal worship and speech strategies that have been compared to jazz modes.”

Black Indians and Freedmen: The African Methodist Episcopal Church and Indigenous Americans, 1816-1916

By Christina Dickerson-Cousin

From the publisher:
“Often seen as ethnically monolithic, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in fact successfully pursued evangelism among diverse communities of indigenous peoples and Black Indians. Christina Dickerson-Cousin tells the little-known story of the AME Church’s work in Indian Territory, where African Methodists engaged with people from the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles) and Black Indians with various ethnic backgrounds. These converts proved receptive to the historically black church due to its traditions of self-government and resistance to white hegemony, and its strong support of their interests. The ministers, guided by the vision of a racially and ethnically inclusive Methodist institution, believed their denomination the best option for the marginalized people. Dickerson-Cousin also argues that the religious opportunities opened up by the AME Church throughout the West provided another impetus for black migration.”

The Woman Who Married the Bear: The Spirituality of the Ancient Foremothers

By Barbara Alice Mann and Kaarina Kailo

From the publisher:

“Stories of the primordial woman who married a bear, appear in matriarchal traditions across the global North from Indigenous North America and Scandinavia to Russia and Korea. In The Woman Who Married the Bear, authors Barbara Alice Mann, a scholar of Indigenous American culture, and Kaarina Kailo, who specializes in the cultures of Northern Europe, join forces to examine these Woman-Bear stories, their common elements, and their meanings in the context of matriarchal culture.

The authors reach back 35,000 years to tease out different threads of Indigenous Woman-Bear traditions, using the lens of bear spirituality to uncover the ancient matriarchies found in rock art, caves, ceremonies, rituals, and traditions. Across cultures, in the earliest known traditions, women and bears are shown to collaborate through star configurations and winter cave-dwelling, symbolized by the spring awakening from hibernation followed by the birth of “cubs.” By the Bronze Age, however, the story of the Woman-Bear marriage had changed: it had become a hunting tale, refocused on the male hunter.”