This seminar will survey American Indian cultural traditions, both in terms of national specificity and in terms of general themes that appear in many national traditions, in order to help students differentiate the worldview of Native American Peoples from the pervasive eurochristian worldview that has come to dominate this continent and much of the modern, post-colonial world. We will be analyzing many of those traditions that are typically called religious in eurochristian discourses.
Nature of the Course:
"American Indian Cultures and Worldview" will follow a seminar style format, with as much time given to class discussion of prepared materials as to lectures delivered by the instructor. Our attempt will be to get at a beginning understanding of a variety of American Indian cultures and their traditions. We will also generate the beginnings of a model for trans-cultural understandings in general. In particular, we will try to identify the larger worldview foundation shared by the variety of Indian cultures. At the same time, we will rigorously differentiate the worldviews of the colonizer and the colonized.
As a result, this course does not intend to be merely classificatory or analytical in its learning style. Beyond the analytical, it will underscore the experiential aspect of learning, even (especially) with respect to the assigned texts—even as we studiously avoid New Age misappropriation of Native traditions as a wholly different sort of the experiential.
Moreover, it needs to be said from the outset that this is not merely a history course intended to reconstruct the "way it was" for Indian peoples in the past. We will emphasize an understanding of the values, beliefs and cultural traditions of Indian peoples in the present -- even when we are reading or discussing historical materials. An understanding of the past will thus form a foundation for understanding the present.
This seminar will survey Native American cultural traditions from a selection of different national community contexts, using primarily materials written by members of those communities – in the form of ethnographies, critical essays, poetry, and fiction.
Students in this seminar will:
• Learn to differentiate at the level of worldview, especially differentiating the euro-christian worldview of the colonialist Self from the Native worldview of the Other.
• Learn some familiarity with a variety of Native American cultural structures – at both micro and macro levels.
• Examine the differentiation of traditions from a variety of indigenous national communities.
• Trace the similarities of relatively universal traditions that are shared in some form by many national Native communities.
• Engage Native American writers who deal with Native American cultural and religious traditions as insiders and practitioners and learn to make analytical comparisons between these interpretations and the “objective, scientific” observations of outsider experts.
• Develop a deeper understanding of the particularities with regard to the social, political and historical context of American Indian peoples and their cultural traditions.
• Come to a deeper understanding of the ongoing effects of colonialism and conquest on contemporary American Indian societies and the practice of their ceremonial traditions. These will be most acutely noticed in the structures imposed by the dominant society on indigenous peoples: the legal codes, political pressures, economic pressures, and social dysfunctionalities.
• Gain an appreciation of the particular strengths of American Indian cultures and their so-called religious traditions and the constructive affects from these that could positively impact the greater society of North America.
Reading Assignments :
The readings are an integral part of our mutual preparation for class discussion each week. The reading list emphasizes Native American writers rather than the usual eurochristian academic experts from the fields of anthropology or history of religions. Our attempt will be to get inside of American Indian cultures through the participants themselves instead of through "trained" outside observers of the cultures. The required readings for the quarter are listed below. There is a book list at the top; then the articles and chapters (including several manuscripts) are posted in the syllabus. These can be found on our canvas site in pdf or MSWord format. Please have the readings completed for each class so that our discussions will be informed and helpful for all.
There are several short essay assignments built into the syllabus throughout the quarter and a longer essay due at the end of the quarter. The short essays assigned for particular dates are to be turned in at the beginning of the class session on that date. They are intended to help you prepare for class discussion; hence they are of significantly less value if turned in late and must be graded down accordingly. The parameters for the final essay will be more fully described in class as the quarter proceeds.
It is important to remember that we are a master’s level / doctoral level seminar and that all our writing is, accordingly, to be an exercise in “ critical thought .” It is expected that essays will be clearly focused and tightly argued. For each essay build your argument around one, clearly stated thesis . Demonstrate the validity of your thesis with plenty of evidence, examples, supporting arguments, and other warrants. To this end, I strongly encourage you to annotate your essays wherever appropriate. Moreover, I suggest that you not write for me, but focus on a reasonably intelligent audience who may or may not know much about the topic you address. When you make an assertion, even if I happen to agree with it, I will look for substantiation for the assertion and will critique you if it is lacking.
The final assignment is described at the bottom of the course outline on page 5.
In addition to the written assignments, the final grade in the seminar will reflect class participation -- both in attendance and in active and informed participation in discussions. With respect to the former, the quarter is only ten weeks long. Thus, each class session missed represents ten percent of the total class. The essays will count for about 70% and participation for 30% in the final grade composition. Each missed class must affect the final grade (by 5 %); and if you sit without sharing through a class discussion, that must also affect the participation grade. You are master’s and doctoral students; thus, you are expected to engage in verbal critical analysis of the literatures from week to week.