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  • The Seminole Baptist Churches of Oklahoma: Maintaining a Traditional Community
  • Luke Eric Lassiter
Jack M. Schultz . The Seminole Baptist Churches of Oklahoma: Maintaining a Traditional Community. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. xii + 260 pp. Illustrations, appendixes, notes, index. Cloth $27.95

In the last few years, anthropologists and other scholars have begun to take a closer,more serious, and more nuanced look at the practice of Christianity in American Indian communities. This book squarely, and powerfully, fits within this emerging stream of literature. As Jack Schultz points out, "Anthropological studies have usually viewed the adoption of Christianity as an element of assimilation, that is, as a step toward the inevitable total immersion into the dominant Anglo world" (ix). In a well-articulated and clearly written ethnography, Schultz sets out to challenge this antiquated but ever present assumption not just in the anthropological literature but in the larger American Indian studies literature as well.

Schultz's study is based on four years of intensive fieldwork in the Seminole community of Oklahoma. The author begins with a brief history of the Seminoles and their encounter with Christianity and then moves to explain how the Seminoles integrated Christianity into their own belief system. For all intents and purposes, the Seminoles made Christianity their very own during a period of rapid change when "Native communities actively respond[ed] to changing external environments and adapt[ed] to them" (7). Schultz argues that, because the Baptists encouraged local congregations to form and shape their own religious agendas, the Seminoles eventually originated a unique kind of Christian expression that is specific to their own community needs. From the layout of church sanctuaries to the structure of the services, which are very Seminole in their approach, the "Seminole Baptists have developed a cultural system that is responsive to their needs for meaning as well as their needs for community organization and maintenance" (161). To illustrate how Christianity emerges in the everyday lives of Seminole people, Schultz offers an intimate look at the social life of one congregation, which, in turn, helps to forcefully illustrate how in practice being a Christian also means being a Seminole. This is important because Seminole identity is today tightly wound with Christian identity in the community, especially with that of the Baptists. Schultz writes that "because it is the widest-reaching of all Seminole social occasions, the Baptists church system serves as the principal vehicle for the integration and maintenance of the larger Seminole community" (217).

Schultz's theoretical approach is perhaps the only complaint I have with this book. He insightfully argues early on that "Seminole Christianity is better explained by the dynamic demands of community organization than by assimilation, acculturation, or culture loss" (16). Yet throughout he nonetheless enters into dialogue with the assimilation model, arguing that the Seminoles are not assimilated because their Baptist churches articulate Seminole identity, not Anglo identity. This being the case, why not just forego the trap of the assimilation model altogether?To argue that the Seminoles are [End Page 318] not assimilated is to suggest that assimilation is a viable possibility and that, in turn, the model itself has validity in the study of culture. The model of assimilation has been almost completely abandoned in anthropology outside of American Indian studies because we recognize that the negotiation of culture and change is much more complicated than what is posed by the assimilation model. (Assimilation models are rarely even mentioned in the anthropological study of African American Christianity, for example.) To be fair, Schultz explicitly points out these limitations several times throughout his discussion, especially in the opening and closing chapters. Yet, because the model is still (and unfortunately) conjured up in the study of Christianity in American Indian studies, it is indeed almost impossible to ignore.

Theoretical complaining aside, this is a fine and important book. It will be of interest to students of culture, religion, and American Indian studies. The price, however, may cause many instructors to shy away from adopting this book. It would be nice if the University of Oklahoma Press followed the lead of other presses that offer these sorts of texts in paperback in their first printing...


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