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The Mohegan-Brothertown minister Samson Occom (1723–1792) was a prominent political and religious leader of the Indigenous peoples of present-day New York and New England, among whom he is still revered today. An international celebrity in his day, Occom rose to fame as the first Native person to be ordained a minister in the New England colonies. In the 1770s, he helped found the nation of Brothertown, where Coastal Algonquian families seeking respite from colonialism built a new life on land given to them by the Oneida Nation. Occom was a highly productive author, probably the most prolific Native American writer prior to the late nineteenth century. Most of Occom’s writings, however, have been overlooked, partly because many of them are about Christian themes that seem unrelated to Native life.
In this groundbreaking book, Ryan Carr argues that Occom’s writings were deeply rooted in Indigenous traditions of hospitality, diplomacy, and openness to strangers. From Occom’s point of view, evangelical Christianity was not a foreign culture; it was a new opportunity to practice his people’s ancestral customs. Carr demonstrates Occom’s originality as a religious thinker, showing how his commitment to Native sovereignty shaped his reading of the Bible. By emphasizing the Native sources of Occom’s evangelicalism, this book offers new ways to understand the relations of Northeast Native traditions to Christianity, colonialism, and Indigenous self-determination.
About the Author
Ryan Carr is a lecturer in English and comparative literature, American studies, and the Core Curriculum at Columbia University. He works at the intersection of Indigenous Studies and early American studies. Trained as a scholar of the nineteenth century, his more recent work goes further back in time, exploring overlooked connections between literary and religious cultures in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
About the Speakers
Amy Besaw Medford (Brothertown) is a Research Affiliate of the Harvard Project on Indigenous Governance and Development at the Harvard Kennedy School, an Analyst for the Taylor Policy Group, and an Associate of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona. Amy researches, programs, reviews, and designs analytical reports regarding Native self-government. She co-founded and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Calumet and Cross Heritage Society. Previously, Amy was the Director of Honoring Nations at the Harvard Project and the Manager of Program Development at the Native Nations Institute.
Matthew Engelke is a Professor of Religion and Director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life. At Columbia, he is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. Trained as an anthropologist, Professor Engelke’s main research interests are on Christianity, secular humanism, media theory, materiality, and semiotics. He has conducted fieldwork in Zimbabwe and in Britain.
Dustin Stewart is an Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature. He specializes in the literature and culture of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with broader interests in poetics and theology. He has taught courses at Columbia on British poetry from John Milton to Romanticism, the prehistory of the Gothic, religion and the English novel, mobility and emotion in the Enlightenment, and the literature of the nonhuman (from angels to AI). His first book, titled Futures of Enlightenment Poetry, won the Louis Gottschalk Prize for the year’s best academic book on an eighteenth-century topic.
Hilary Wyss comes to Trinity’s English Department after nearly twenty years at Auburn University, where she taught courses on early American women writers, transatlantic eighteenth-century writing, Native American literature, and early American life-writing. She is the author of over a dozen articles and book chapters as well as three books on Native American literacy practices in early America. She has served on the editorial board of the journals Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture and Early American Literature, and as President of the Society of Early Americanists. She has won teaching awards at Auburn University as well as national research grants to support her work.
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