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American Christianity’s Obsession with Native American Salvation

By CHAR ADAMS

Christian evangelical movements shaped American identity from the nation’s earliest days — even down to the art. A new book by Queensborough Community College Professor Hayes P. Mauro critically examines Christianity’s early obsession with Native American salvation and the artwork that resulted.

In Messianic Fulfillments: Staging Indigenous Salvation in America, Mauro chronicles Christianity’s effort to transform the “deviant” “Indian” to a “normal” Anglo-American from the colonial era through the 19th century.

“With Native Americans, the belief was that one could, through reeducation, transform the unevolved and destructive ‘blanket Indian’ into a civilized American whose speech, behaviors, appearances, and ideological beliefs mimicked those of an ahistorical, idealized middle-class Anglo-American,” Mauro writes.

Mauro used artwork and photographs by evangelically inspired Anglo-American artists to tell the stories of Native American boarding schools and the supposed “social and racial transformation” of Native Americans. The images, he noted, often affirmed racist conceptions of what it meant to be American.

Puritans, Quakers, Mormons, and other groups set out to “Christianize” Native Americans, believing that changing the “childlike, primitive” people into the “ideal American” would make them look good in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

The book is filled with images as Mauro critically examines the visual mediums used throughout the centuries as evangelical groups worked to Christianize (Americanize) Native peoples.