Documenting Culture Through Literature: Native American Folklore Studies

    ACS conducted an extensive study of Native American folklore for faculty members of Connecticut College who were preparing a treatise regarding multi-cultural religious perspectives. While this study did confirm the presence of common themes in Native American folklore which are found in some of the more global religions, it was equally clear that there were some important differences rooted in the variability of the broader cultural adaptations to which religious forms are integrally bound.


Example of a mnemonic glyph used to complement orally transmitted stories told by the Delware Indians of New Jersey, regarding the creation of the earth and all the elements of the landscape by the "Great Spirit".


    A cross-cultural study of Native American religious perspectives reveals that they are strongly linked to the cultural mapping of the landscape. Spirituality is not merely limited to humans or "higher powers", but is rather present in all living things and the earth itself. This link is commonly found in hunting and gathering contexts where cultural adaptations require an extensive knowledge and understanding of a great variety of natural resources. In cases where there is a more specialized reliance upon intensive food production (i.e. agriculture), and more particularly in cases of industrialization and the mechanized processing of resources which separates most individuals from the means of production, there is commonly a separation of spirituality and the physical dimensions of life.


    ACS takes pride in presenting itself as a multi-disciplinary entity. The power of interpreting cultural resources becomes greater when multiple lines of evidence are available. In the Northeast United States, for instance, there is a wealth of historic accounts of early 17th Century explorers regarding Native American life which has been used to help interpret prehistoric archaeological sites. By tapping into both ethnohistoric literature and the symbolic structures of folklore, more complete reconstructions of the past can be realized.


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