The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies

Book, 2014, 182 pp
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Indigenous societies around the world have been historically disparaged by European explorers, colonial officials and Christian missionaries. Nowhere was this more evident than in early descriptions of indigenous religions as savage, primitive, superstitious and fetishistic. Later, both indigenous and colonial liberal intellectuals argued that, before indigenous peoples ever encountered Europeans, they all believed in a Supreme Being.

The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies refutes both approaches. Examining a range of indigenous religions from North America, Africa and Australasia - the Shona of Zimbabwe, the "Rainbow Spirit Theology" in Australia, the Yupiit of Alaska, and the Māori of New Zealand – the book argues that the interests of indigenous societies are best served by carefully describing their religious beliefs and practices using historical and phenomenological methods – just as would be done in the study of any world religion.

"Historically, Christian Settlers have taken two dominant postures towards Indigenous religion. One is what I (Steve) call the "Elijah vs. Baal" approach: Indigenous religion is idolatrous and primitive; strike it down. The other is the "Bruchko" approach: all Indigenous peoples believe in some Supreme Being, even a Christ figure, so let's "fulfill" that religion. Cox pushes against both these postures, asserting that the religions of Indigenous peoples "should be studied as traditions in their own right." Using case studies, he warns us not to assert the superiority of our beliefs by framing the other "as a preparation for Chrisitanity."

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