American Native Religion

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American Native Religion

American Native Religion


In the United States, spiritual and religious expression has historically been highly diverse, and devotion has taken a multiplicity of forms contingent upon individual and group identity, social and cultural milieu, geographic location, and other variables. American men's attempts to locate themselves in relation to the divine have historically constituted a complex set of beliefs and practices determined by these and other factors (Brew, 1979). Some ideological strains and influential constructs have at times contributed to an overarching, frequently hegemonic notion of masculine spirituality, but the spiritual identities of American men have both conditioned, and been conditioned by, the ever increasing pluralism of American religiosity. Racial and ethnic identities have also been interwoven with religious affiliations, enhancing the broad range of masculine spiritual and religious manifestations in the United States. (Clemmer, 1995)

Religion and Spirituality among Native American Men

The vast array of Native American social, cultural, and religious stances have produced myriad notions of masculine spirituality. It is feasible, however, to identify a number of prevalent models. For instance, archetypes such as the aggressive hunter/warrior or the authoritative ritual leader have possessed much vitality within many Native American groups, especially during the pre-Columbian period. For Plains Indians, communal livelihood depended upon successful buffalo hunts, thus making the ability to secure prey a pivotal marker of manliness. In the Southwest, Hopi women were barred from participation in kiva ritual ceremonies, while men directed a variety of rituals meant to link an agricultural people with a deified terrain. Many groups inculcated masculine spirituality through rite-of-passage vision quests or all-male sweat-lodge ceremonies, rituals valorizing manly virtues such as personal fortitude or solitary introspection. At the same time, however, indigenous American religiosity has frequently rejected exclusionary gender dualisms, recognizing a nurturing Mother Earth and wise female healers. Among the Cheyenne, Lakota, and others, for example, this ambivalence about gender dualism has been exemplified by the berdache, a ritual leader and shaman whose transvestism crosses the boundaries of conceptual categories to unleash creative power and mediate between natural and supernatural realms. (Clemmer, 1995)

Beginning in the sixteenth century, new modes of male spirituality emerged as indigenous societies were altered by the encroachments of white settlement. Occasionally, conquest prompted vigorous and defensive religious responses among Native Americans, such as the late-nineteenth-century Ghost Dance, which represented a combination of native apocalypticism and renewed vigilance toward white aggressors. Conversely, the Native American Church, a movement begun among the Kiowa in about 1890 and formally incorporated in 1918, has integrated Christian visions of male spirituality into its beliefs and practices, emphasizing industriousness and restraint while resisting absolute assimilation through the maintenance of pan-native moral principles and the sacramental consumption of peyote.

Religion and Spirituality among Protestant Men

The Puritans of seventeenth-century New England emphasized male governance of the political, familial, and religious realms, and they conceptualized male spirituality in relation to these leadership roles. At the same time, however, their vision of faith as an erotic union of a masculine God and a feminized, submissive believer led them ...
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