Roundtable Why Study Religion in the American West?

AHA Session 218
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 311 (Hynes Convention Center)
Tisa J. Wenger, Yale University
A Western Theme to American Religious History?
David W. Wills, Amherst College
Taking the West Seriously in American Religious History
Quincy D. Newell, University of Wyoming
Borderlands Religion and the American West
Roberto Lint Sagarena, Middlebury College

Session Abstract

This panel asks how sustained attention to religion might help reshape historiographical narratives of the U.S. West and of American religion, and is aimed at scholars working in both fields. What have been the roles of religious identities, missions, and communities in perpetuating and/or challenging the racialized power relations of the West; and in the region's ongoing struggles over land, water, and other resources? How has religious practice and belief in the West reflected, contradicted, and modified understandings of religion, orthodoxy, and religious identity in the nation as a whole? What part have religious boundaries—between religious communities, between “good religion” and “bad religion,” or between “religious” and “secular” identities—played in establishing the multiple hierarchies of power and privilege in the region? The touted irreligion of the U.S. West only begs questions about why some Westerners have come to define themselves in opposition to religion; and about the times and places that various individuals or communities have found it beneficial to assert religious or secular identities. How do the region's multiple religious centers and identities (Mormon, New Age, Native American, Catholic, Pentecostal, fundamentalist) change the way we think about the cultural and political dynamics of the region in its national, hemispheric, and transnational contexts; and about the roles Westerners play in the stories we tell of American religion? How might religion help historians move beyond the limits of regional and national histories, and to think about the border-crossing and globalized networks in which religious actors have long participated? Finally, how might a greater awareness of this region help historians of American religion reconceptualize the stories they tell of religion in other regions, and of religion in the United States as a whole?

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