Indigeneity and secularity

Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016 | Image via Flickr user Leslie PetersonClaims to indigeneity are often linked with a commitment to the sacrality of place. This can range from Native American land rights claims to contestation over “homeland” in Israeli/Palestine, but also to European and American white nationalist movements and perhaps even to environmental justice movements.

How is indigeneity articulated within the political and legal language of secularism? Does secularism make certain claims to indigeneity illegible? What might this illegibility suggest about the close linkages between secularism, settler colonialism, and Protestant Christianity? Does the assertion of indigenous identity, of whatever kind, necessarily push against secularism’s “immanent frame,” or are there ways that indigenous identity—and perhaps even the category of indigeneity itself—is a product of secularity? How might these questions be approached differently when we shift from the register of rhetoric to the register of affect, probing what it means to feel “native.” And what is the relationship between this form of affect and what might be called religiosity?

This forum brings together scholars from a variety of fields (religious studies, anthropology, law, literature, cultural studies) to address these questions, creating a space to explore how scholarly discussions of settler colonialism, nationalism, race, and secularity might productively inform each other.

This forum was co-curated by editorial board members Mayanthi Fernando and Vincent Lloyd.

June 23rd, 2017

Sacrality, secularity, and contested indigeneity

posted by J. Kehaulani Kauanui

Indigenous peoples articulate their indigeneity within the political and legal language of secularism, even as it renders certain claims to indigeneity illegible. In this short essay, J. Kehaulani Kauanui examines the close linkages between secularism, settler colonialism, and Protestant Christianity in three interconnected issues in the United States context: sacred sites, temporality, and divine right.

This is the fourth essay in the series on Indigineity and secularity.

Read Sacrality, secularity, and contested indigeneity.
June 14th, 2017

The river is not a person: Indigeneity and the sacred in Aotearoa New Zealand

posted by Miranda Johnson

Whanganui River (Image via Wikimedia Commons, photographer James Shook)Earlier this year, the New Zealand Parliament passed a remarkable piece of legislation declaring the Whanganui River to be a legal person. This was quickly taken up by global media: “New Zealand declares a river a person,” read the headline in the Economist, in an article that revealed uncertainty about what such legal recognition meant. Was it another quirky example from Downunder or a radical and effective form of environmental protection? The legislation was almost immediately taken up by Indian jurists as a precedent for making a similar declaration in respect of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Yet the story of the statute’s making is a very local one, in which legal recognition of the river’s personhood is deemed to be a postcolonial incorporation of Indigenous concepts of ecological spirituality and interdependency with nature. Both the local historical context for its making and the tensions that the statute manifests need careful unpacking.

In this essay, I question the assumption that the legal fiction of personality is an accurate translation into law of what Whanganui people believe and practice.

Read The river is not a person: Indigeneity and the sacred in Aotearoa New Zealand.
June 6th, 2017

Secular Christian power and the spiritual invention of nations

posted by Pamela Klassen

Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016 | Image via Flickr user Leslie PetersonIn the Americas, missionary colonialism prospered on the sharp edge of secular Christian power. Cutting up land with a blade that reflected Christian glory on one side and secular state governance on the other, the new nations of the Americas were made through a process of violent spiritual-political invention. New Christian-infused forms of spiritual jurisdiction—royal proclamations and constitutions—were written on top of already-existing Indigenous laws and alliances also rooted in spiritual claims. Indigenous scholars such as John Borrows and Audra Simpson have made clear that for scholars to understand ongoing Indigenous sovereignty requires attention to history, to protocol, and to how Indigenous stories are both told and withheld.

I would add that thinking about Indigeneity in North America—or Turtle Island—requires careful attention to how ceremony, protocol, and invocations of the spirit have shaped all claims to sovereignty on this land, including those of settler-colonial nations.

Read Secular Christian power and the spiritual invention of nations.
June 1st, 2017

Is the “native” secular?

posted by Vincent Lloyd

Stand With Standing Rock Nov 11-15 2016 | Image via Flickr user Leslie PetersonHeadlines scream of burgeoning populism around the world, but the shift in politics today could also be described as a return of nativism, and perhaps even of a certain indigeneity. Politicians speak of a people at home in a land, rooted in that land. They evoke the threats posed by those perceived to lack such roots: immigrants, racial minorities, and global elites.

There is a romance to the land, from rural farms and mines, to the provincial village, to the post-industrial city—sites  of lost dreams, of vanishing greatness. The specifics of place are joined together under the heading of “nation,” but nation alone is cold and abstract; it must be joined with the warmth of nativeness—indigeneity—to capture the imagination. Of course there are agents involved: politicians conjuring the images and feelings of nativeness, and the powers that be—whiteness, patriarchy, neoliberalism—whom those politicians serve, wittingly or unwittingly.

Read Is the “native” secular?.