“Apocalypse Here; Reading the Natural World in Native American Mormon Visions,” by Associate Professor of Religious Studies Quincy Newell, appears as the lead article in the April issue of American Studies. Research in the article is related to Newell’s next book project, which examines the religious experiences of 19th-century African American and Native American Mormons.
In the article, Newell focuses on two late 19th-century visions, with an eye to how they portrayed the non-human natural world and positioned their own communities’ futures in those environmental contexts. Both visions to Euro-American Mormon missionaries, one narrated by a Goshute Indian and the other by a Hopi Indian, used imagery quite specific to the visionary’s immediate environment.
Newell said that “it is tempting to dismiss Mormons’ reports of these visions as colonialist fantasies that confirmed for their audiences the truth of Mormonism, the success of LDS missionary efforts, and the ultimate triumph of Euro-American society and culture over Native American peoples and their traditions.”
She contends that such interpretation misses a great deal of nuance in the ways these visions were narrated and reported. “Far from illustrating the defeat of Native peoples and traditions,” she said, “these visions demonstrated the cultural resilience of Native people who absorbed elements of Mormonism and narratively grounded them in the deserts and mountains of the Intermountain West.”
Newell said these case studies illustrate that cultural changes such as a conversion to Mormonism may become naturalized by their narrative rooting in local environments, and that Mormonism itself may be adapted through the same process.
“These visions and others like them both affirmed traditional ideas and values and opened the way for Native American peoples to absorb Mormon beliefs and practices into their changing worlds,” Newell said.