The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History, edited by Paul Harvey and Edward J. Blum was recently featured on the podcast, Books and Culture.
The podcast discusses a variety of the essays but on his blog Religion in American History, Paul Harvey points our attention to some of the great essays in the volume not mentioned. One of the essays is Linford Fisher’s “Colonial Encounters.” Harvey quotes from an interview with Fisher in which he discusses the the connection between religion, consumer goods, and Native practices in colonial New England:
In terms of religion, one of the biggest ways we can trace the effects of this influx of consumer goods is through funerary objects in Native graves. One of the most poignant examples of this comes from a late seventeenth century grave at Mashantucket, Connecticut. In a young teenage girl’s grave, amongst the more traditional funerary items such as a pestle and beads archaeologists in 1990 found a medicine bundle that contained fragments of a Bible page and a bear paw. I wrestle with the meaning of this a bit in the introduction to my book, but it seems to me it is a clear example of how the physical presence of the Bible and the teachings contained in it had become part of funerary practices and—perhaps equally as important—one additional potential means for providing in the afterlife or a deceased relative. But even more broadly, the educational and evangelistic efforts made by the colonists in Native communities meant that in churches and schools Natives were presented with an astonishing array of new material goods, such as all kinds of books and primers, inks and quills, eyeglasses (for reading), benches and tables, and European clothing and foods.