cover image Dreamcatchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality

Dreamcatchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality

Philip Jenkins, . . Oxford, $28 (306pp) ISBN 978-0-19-516115-1

Jenkins (The Next Christendom; Mystics and Messiahs ), a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, here trains his keen eye on the appropriation of Native American spirituality by those in the white mainstream. What do liberal white Protestants gain from sitting in sweat lodges, visiting shamans and taking pilgrimages to New Age "hot spots" like Sedona, Ariz.? Plenty, says Jenkins, who posits that interest in Native spirituality peaks when white Americans are dissatisfied with one or more elements of mainstream society. Refreshingly, he doesn't just trace this disenchantment to the 1960s—that easy target of a decade isn't even addressed until 150 pages into the book—but offers a sweeping overview of American religious history to prove his point. In particular, Jenkins sees the early 20th century as a crucial period of transformation; whereas Victorians were likely to dismiss Native American belief and ritual as godless superstition, the interwar years saw more Americans turning toward indigenous practices and products, with the rise of "native tourism" and the proliferation of crafts (such as the jewelry worn by Grace Coolidge at her husband's 1925 presidential inauguration). Although Jenkins is critical of whites' appropriations of Native American culture and belief, and particularly of their tendency to repackage New Age ideas with a veneer of indigenous authority, his tone is never unfair; he does a masterful job of setting such uses-cum-exploitations in historical context. Anyone wishing to understand the ongoing romanticization of Native American spirituality should read this book. (Sept.)