Gods of the Mississippi
Publication Year: 2013
From the colonial period to the present, the Mississippi River has impacted religious communities from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Exploring the religious landscape along the 2,530 miles of the largest river system in North America, the essays in Gods of the Mississippi make a compelling case for American religion in motion--not just from east to west, but also from north to south. With discussion of topics such as the religions of the Black Atlantic, religion and empire, antebellum religious movements, the Mormons at Nauvoo, black religion in the delta, Catholicism in the Deep South, and Johnny Cash and religion, this volume contributes to a richer understanding of this diverse, dynamic, and fluid religious world.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Religion in North America
This engaging collection of essays assembled by Michael Pasquier explores and exploits the manifold diverse ways that the Mississippi River and the Mississippi River valley have impacted historical, religious, geographical, social, and cultural realities in mid-America and continue to do so today. After working through these essays, one will never again be inclined to limit the Mississippi to any one single category of experience. These essays collectively...
Those responsible for supporting, organizing, and writing this collection of essays are many. I started soliciting contributors to Gods of the Mississippi in 2007. I was a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Florida State University at the time. John Corrigan, Amanda Porterfield, and Amy Koehlinger were very kind to support my scholarship in Tallahassee. In 2008–2009, with backing from the American Academy of Arts and...
INTRODUCTION: Religious Life on the Mississippi
In 1833, at age thirteen, James Buchanan Eads moved to St. Louis, Missouri, with his family. They arrived by steamboat. Before everyone could disembark, the watercraft exploded, leaving eight people dead and the Eads family alive. As a young man, Eads worked aboard steamboats and started a riverbed salvage business. His fortune made, he spent the Civil War years designing and building ironclad gunboats for the Union. From 1867 to 1874, Eads led...
1 "The Singing of the Mississippi": The River and Religions of the Black Atlantic
In the summer of 1790 a barge carrying a group of enslaved Africans laboriously made its way up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, negotiating three hundred miles of bends before docking at the busy waterfront in Natchez. The captives were led off the barge, put up on the auction block for sale, and dispersed among farms and plantations in the region. Like the great majority of African slaves in early America, most left little trace in the historical...
2 Religion and American Empire in Mississippi, 1790–1833
This essay explains how American Christian foreign missions functioned as a “civilizing” religion of empire in strategic partnership with the War Department to transform the Mississippi Territory (which became the state of Mississippi in 1817) from a land of sovereign Indian nations to an Anglo-American region of white imperial dominion. Our story begins with the religious and political conditions of the late 1700s. I focus on two nations among the Mississippi Indians, the Choctaw and Chickasaw. The United States was a foreign...
3 Movement, Maps, and Wonder: Civil Religious Competition at the Source of the Mississippi River, 1805–1832
In his Memoir of a Map of Hindoostan (1788), British surveyor James Rennell noted that maps of India had placed the source of the Ganges either at the Lake of the Mind near the foot of Mount Kailasa or deep within the Himalayas at the Gangotri glacier. Mapmakers plotting the latter location relied on a local legend that the river originated in an ice cave, which itself resembled the appearance of a cow’s mouth. Rennell agreed that the source was probably...
4 Looking for the New Jerusalem: Antebellum New Religious Movements and the Mississippi River
In 1830, in common with many of his contemporaries, Lyman Beecher was looking to the West. As he described in a letter to his daughter Catherine, what he saw in that direction was of the utmost importance: “The moral destiny of the nation, and all our institutions and hopes, and the world’s hopes, turn on the character of the West.” Beecher himself was about to transplant his family to Cincinnati in order “to spend the remnant of my days in that...
5 "Go Down into Jordan: No, Mississippi": Mormon Nauvoo and the Rhetoric of Landscape
About 490 miles from Minneapolis, there is a small bend in the Mississippi River. On a typical map of the United States, the bend and the space of land it defines are not uniquely prominent—the upper Mississippi makes innumerable curves and cuts. To a person on the ground at this spot, however, the scene defined by the little river bend is quite striking. On the spur of land jutting out into the river, the bluffs that characterize this stretch of the Mississippi’s banks...
6 The Mississippi River and the Transformation of Black Religion in the Delta, 1877–1915
Recently I jumped into my rusty Honda Accord and drove due west from Oxford, Mississippi, toward the River. In this part of the South, you don’t have to explain which river you mean; everyone knows it’s the Mississippi. My goal was to return to the Delta and revisit sleepy towns whose fortunes historically rose and fell with the River. I wanted to see if the region’s dismal economy had improved since my last trip several years ago. It hadn’t. ...
7 The Redemption of Souls and Soils: Religion and the Rural Crisis in the Delta
On a December evening in 1935, Arkansan Lawrence Brooks Hays stood to address a New York City crowd on the theme “Farm Tenancy and the Christian Conscience.” Most Arkansans knew Hays as a twice-failed gubernatorial candidate with a 350-member Sunday school class at Little Rock’s Second Baptist Church. Members of the ecumenical, New York–based Christian Rural Fellowship invited the Arkansas New Dealer to talk about his weekday work...
8 Bonfires on the Levee: Place, Memory, and the Sacred in River Road Catholicism
In June 1988, members of a local historical society in St. James Parish, Louisiana, traveled to Alsace, France, to uncover the roots of the annual Christmas bonfire celebrations atop the Mississippi River levee. For decades, residents of this largely French and German Catholic community along the “River Road” between Baton Rouge and New Orleans embraced the practice even as they held conflicting views about its origin and purpose.1 Some argued that Acadian...
9 "Big River": Johnny Cash and the Currents of History
In the 2003 video for Johnny Cash’s cover of the alternative song “Hurt,” the floodwaters of the Mississippi River raged, seeming to sweep away everything in their wake in a dizzying array of visual imagery. The symbolism was germane: Cash had grown up near the mighty river, in Mississippi County in the Arkansas Delta, lived in Memphis for five years in the mid-1950s (where he began his long career as a singer and performer), and spent much of his adult...
AFTERWORD: "No Home Like a Raft": Repositioning the Narratives of U.S. Religious History
“I never felt easy till the raft was . . . out in the middle of the Mississippi,” the narrator of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn says as he and the escaped slave traveling with him set out on their aquatic journey. After Jim and Huck hung up their “signal lantern” and let the currents carry them, they felt “powerful glad to get away.” “We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery.”1 For those characters...