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Sinews of the Soul: Comparing Christian Baptism and Indigenous Adoption

Emma Anderson, Pathy Visiting Professor in Canadian Studies

November 29, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · Betts Auditorium, School of Architecture

Fund for Canadian Studies: Humanities Council

Join us for a reception following the lecture.

This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP Here.

For all of the real and important contrasts between them, the Indigenous peoples and French Catholic colonists who encountered one another in seventeenth-century New France were both convinced that spiritual change was possible across cultural, linguistic, and ethnic lines.  Both saw religious belonging and cultural identity as being essentially behavioral – and thus volitional – rather than as an immutable ethnic given.  Both boasted powerful rituals that could effectively transform strangers into kin: positing a kind of symbolic rebirth or soul shift involving the reception of a new name and identity that literally and objectively re-made the individual concerned from “one of them” into “one of us.”  For Indigenous people, this ritual was adoption.  For Catholics, it was baptism.  This presentation will explore the many fascinating parallels between Indigenous adoption and Catholic baptism in seventeenth century New France, and chart how these ceremonies of transformative incorporation were themselves transformed with the imposition of foreign blood quantum measurements as an index of Indigenous identity in the late nineteenth century.

Emma Anderson graduated with a Ph.D. in American Religious History from Harvard University in 2005, and has taught at the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa ever since.  An expert on the religious encounter between Catholic missionaries and Indigenous peoples in colonial North America, she is the author of two award-winning books published by Harvard University Press. Her first book, The Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert explores the momentous transatlantic transformation of an Indigenous boy, Pierre-Antoine Pastedechouan.  Her second work, The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs critically re-examines the lives and deaths of eight slain Jesuits in the 1640s, and probes the ongoing consequences of their veneration for Indigenous peoples.

As Pathy Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies, Prof. Anderson teaches the Program in Humanistic Studies course, Indigenous Peoples and Christianity, and continues to write her current monograph-in-progress, Dawn in the West: How the Thought of Indigenous People Ushered in Modernity, which delineates the seminal impact of Indigenous perspectives upon Enlightenment philosophes. To read more about Anderson’s teaching, publications, and current projects, please visit her website at www.emmajaneanderson.com.

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