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Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality Paperback – December 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195189108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195189100
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 0.8 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The prolific Jenkins follows the attention-grabbing, cogent prognostication of The Next Christendom (2001) and the careful though controversial analysis of The New Anti-Catholicism [BKL Ap 1 03] with a third magnetically absorbing book, a historical overview of white American attitudes toward Native American religions. Early white conceptions of Native religion generally ranged from devil worship to mere paganism, from which Indians had to be won to Christ, but by the time white military victory was nearly complete, new respect for Native religion had arisen among white intellectuals, especially those also attracted to Buddhism and Hinduism. The sacred dances and ancient structures of the tribes of the Southwest inspired the first great wave of white enthusiasm for native religion, to be largely supplanted by the practices of Plains Indians during later, twentieth-century surges of interest. Since the 1980s, those Indians newly empowered by legal changes in status and by wealth from the development of Indian-owned gambling businesses have reacted against white entrepreneurial expropriation of Indian religions. Jenkins fills in the major details of the last two centuries of deep white interest in Native religion with his customary thoroughness, and he scrupulously avoids judgments about the validity as well as the theological truth of the many practices and cults he sketches. He relays fascinating history with scholarly care and in prose as clear as it is precise. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Philip Jenkins is the author of The Lost History of Christianity and has a joint appointment as the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities in history and religious studies at Penn State University and as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe and has been a guest on top national radio shows across the country.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is one fascinating book. Every now and again I run across a book that takes me off in a direction I had not even suspected would be worth examining. Heck, this is a book I could not have even imagined. It is such a treat to be surprised and delighted.

In "Dream Catchers", Philip Jenkins guides us through the story of how the Native American (Indian?) culture has been variously (mis)interpreted, (mis)used, and (mis)adapted over the centuries. It is essential to remember that this is NOT a book about the religion or spiritual beliefs of Native Americans.

In some ways this seems strange because as I read it I had to keep reorienting myself to this fact. As I read about how White Culture found new ways to use Native American symbols as a label for issues in its own culture, I wanted to learn more about what the actual beliefs of the various North American Native cultures were. This is a topic for study in many other books (it would require a whole library of books and a lifetime of study to really grasp them in a meaningful way, I suppose).

Mr. Jenkins takes us on a lively tour through time and through changing culture and purpose. While I cannot do an adequate job of summarizing the book here, and I really want you to enjoy the surprising ride on your own, I can say that there really are three broad periods: 1) Rejection: The Indian as pagan, lost, benighted and in great need of Christianization, 2) Tolerance and Transition: the Period after the Indian Wars and particularly after WWI when Christianity and Western Culture had a great crisis of meaning. There was a huge turning to Indian culture as if it were a monolithic thing.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Stephen C. Getman on November 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
Jenkins book is a journalistic-style account of the history of a particular type of cultural appropriation: the importation of American Indian spirituality, either in large chunks or tiny fragments, into mainstream white spiritual practices. The first part of the book is devoted to the background history of Euro-American attitudes toward Native spirituality, from the 16th through the 20th centuries. There are many "aha!" moments here, as Jenkins skillfully connects the many fascinating facts and stories from these centuries into a remarkably coherent narrative. The latter part of the book explores late-20th/early 21st century white beliefs and practices that incorporate Native symbols and ideas. It also details the industry that has grown up to feed the hunger for "authentic" spiritual products and experiences with a Native inflection.

Jenkins is clear that his book is about the images of Native Americans and their religions as imagined by the white mainstream. You will find very few Indian voices in this account and even fewer references to actual religious beliefs and practices of Indian people. There are good books by anthropologists and others that fill that niche. What Jenkins provides is something rather new -- a history and analysis of a colonial and post-colonial cultural appropriation that seems actually to be sincerely meaningful to the appropriators. Jenkins doesn't hide his discomfort with these uses and misuses of "stolen" spirituality, and he debunks a few cherished new-age myths along the way, but he ultimately presents a balanced and subtle account of a complex phenomenon.
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3 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Simkins on July 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was very disappointed with this book. I expected better as I had greatly enjoyed Jenkins' book The Lost History of Christianity. This previous work documented the depressing story of the extermination of Eastern Christianity, primarily by Moslems, but it presented a history of which I was mostly unaware and found quite interesting. At least this earlier book was sympathetic to Christianity.

Dreamcatchers covers a more recent history and one closer to home. It divides American history into two periods: Prior to 1890 when white settlers were bent on eradicating the Native American population along with their pagan religious practices and after 1890 when whites felt sufficiently secure to study, preserve and appreciate the religious practices of Native Americans. Jenkins creates a caricature of the former period, pretty much ignoring the friendships established by the Quakers, Moravians and others with the native population and their sensitive documentation of Indian life and sincere attempts to accommodate their culture into the more highly structured European Christian culture. In the latter period, Jenkins goes beyond the valuable efforts to document and preserve the memory of the Native American culture and fawns over the high value of these practices. Jenkins seems to repeat these two themes repeatedly like a mantra until after 78 pages, I wearied of continuing and set the book down. I gave up hope of finding something helpful to me.

I give the book 2 stars instead of 1 because it does present a point of view that I had not previously considered, yet I cannot give it 3 stars because he fails to convince me of the validity of this point of view.
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