Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
This project traces the rise and fall from 1790-1850 of the idea, once popular in the United States, that Native Americans were descended from Ancient Israelites. White evangelicals, Native Americans, American Jews, and early Mormons all told “Israelite Indian stories” to intervene in the contest over land in North America. Their stories staked divinely-backed claims on “promised lands” in North America. In the process, they re-drew or disrupted racial boundaries by suggesting unlikely bonds of kinship among Native Americans, white Protestants, and Jews. In aggregate, these stories show that a broad swath of Americans, not just white proponents of the nation’s “manifest destiny” to rule the continent, used Christian motifs to understand and debate the future of this expansive empire. This project, therefore, clarifies the links between religion and empire in the early United States. In contrast to studies focusing on the religious and political theories of white elites alone, it demonstrates that a broad range of Americans of multiple races, classes, and confessions used religious narratives and Christian theology understand life in a colonial society. For those who told them, Israelite Indian narratives forged new political alliances and dramatized the crises brought about by white Americans’ appropriation of American Indian land.