The Catholic Calumet
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The Catholic Calumet
Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America

Tracy Neal Leavelle

264 pages | 6 x 9 | 5 illus
Cloth 2011 | ISBN 978-0-8122-4377-2 | $39.95s | £26.00 | Add to cart
Paper 2014 | ISBN 978-0-8122-2321-7 | $22.50s | £15.00 | Add to cart
Ebook 2011 | ISBN 978-0-8122-0704-0 | $22.50s | £15.00 | About | Add to cart
A volume in the Early American Studies series
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"Compelling, well written, and evocative of an important time and place in colonial North America—where the sharing of spiritual concerns could result in new meanings, new understandings, and new relationships (both ambiguous and fraught)—Leavelle's scholarship opens new windows of interpretation that demand scholarly attention."—Journal of American History

"A thorough study of Jesuit influence in the Great Lakes, and the author shows how, where, and why Christianity appealed to Indian communities."—American Historical Review

"Leavelle pays balanced attention to the French and indigenous peoples, and complicates ideas about Catholicism and expressions of Indian culture and tradition. He considers how Catholicism was, for many Indians, an authentic expression of their lives. This results in a rich and engaging story about the expanding, retracting, and ever-evolving relationships between the missionaries and various Algonquian-speaking nations of the Upper Great Lakes and Illinois country."—Catholic Historical Review

"An extended and elegant essay on the meanings and nuances of religious conversions. . . . In addition to its sophisticated and nuanced analysis of these religious and cultural exchanges, this book contains moments of exceptional insight."—Church History

"With great detail and imagination, Leavelle brings a nuanced approach to conversion as cross-cultural practice, paying balanced attention to missionaries and Indians, analyzing behavior and action, song and speech, rituals and relationships, and considering plural conversions in the context of a volatile colonial world. One of the best studies I have read on the subject."—Colin G. Calloway, Dartmouth College

In 1730 a delegation of Illinois Indians arrived in the French colonial capital of New Orleans. An Illinois leader presented two ceremonial pipes, or calumets, to the governor. One calumet represented the diplomatic alliance between the two men and the other symbolized their shared attachment to Catholicism. The priest who documented this exchange also reported with excitement how the Illinois recited prayers and sang hymns in their Native language, a display that astonished the residents of New Orleans. The "Catholic" calumet and the Native-language prayers and hymns were the product of long encounters between the Illinois and Jesuit missionaries, men who were themselves transformed by these sometimes intense spiritual experiences. The conversions of people, communities, and cultural practices that led to this dramatic episode all occurred in a rapidly evolving and always contested colonial context.

In The Catholic Calumet, historian Tracy Neal Leavelle examines interactions between Jesuits and Algonquian-speaking peoples of the upper Great Lakes and Illinois country, including the Illinois and Ottawas, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Leavelle abandons singular definitions of conversion that depend on the idealized elevation of colonial subjects from "savages" to "Christians" for more dynamic concepts that explain the changes that all participants experienced. A series of thematic chapters on topics such as myth and historical memory, understandings of human nature, the creation of colonial landscapes, translation of religious texts into Native languages, and the influence of gender and generational differences demonstrates that these encounters resulted in the emergence of complicated and unstable cross-cultural religious practices that opened new spaces for cultural creativity and mutual adaptation.

Tracy Neal Leavelle is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History and Director of the Digital History Initiative at Creighton University.

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