Purdue University, B.A., Philosophy and Religious Studies, 1994; Union Theological Seminary, M. Div., Ethics, 2002.
American religious history, history of the book/material texts, Native American history
"Holy Waters: Religious Conflicts and Commitments in the Mississippi River Valley, 1780-1830"
Far from Christian institutional centers, and inhabited by a mix of races, nationalities, religious confessions, and language groups, the Mississippi River Valley posed a threat to the United States' self-understanding as a Protestant nation at the turn of the nineteenth century. To claim and control the region, Protestant evangelicals sent missionaries to institute their doctrines and practices among the French, Creole, African, Native American, and Anglo-American populace. But their opponents had a head start. Catholic missionaries had been proselytizing the Mississippi Valley for a century, and at the sign of a Protestant invasion, Catholic leaders injected more material, financial, and human resources into the region. My dissertation recovers the neglected story of this dynamic religious contest in the lives, habits, and practices of the region's inhabitants. Drawing on missionary reports, diaries, letters, emigrant guides, and institutional records, I examine the inhabitants' religious proclivities and choices as they navigated contending efforts to corral them into faithfulness. By highlighting Catholic and animist vitality and exposing the intense and complicated contest for religious dominance in the region, my project challenges the narrative of inevitable Protestant evangelical victory and expands the story of American religious history.