After Eden: Religion and Labor in the American West, 1868-1914

My dissertation, "After Eden: Religion and Labor in the American West, 1868-1914," is composed of three case studies situated in the Rocky Mountain West: a Roman Catholic community in Montana, the Northern Arapaho on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ in Salt Lake City, Utah. A region defined by the material actions of conquest and colonization, histories of the American West continue to focus on Protestant and pastoral narratives. Meanwhile, the majority populations of the nineteenth-century West, namely Catholics, Native Americans, and Mormons, continue to be underrepresented and marginalized in American religious history. My dissertation complicates this narrative by investigating how three non-Protestant western communities understood their relationship to religion, community, and the environment, and how these cosmologies subverted normative ideologies of the frontier thesis and Manifest Destiny. Nineteenth-century American religious and economic exceptionalism favored individualism and free market capitalism, yet, I argue communities in the American West relied on doctrines of cooperation and solidarity to build and adapt to the harsh western landscape. I show how participation in systems of labor and the material items and structures of economic exchange marked insiders within the community, but also demarcated difference on the national scene. Central to this exclusion were the racial politics by which each community was defined and wrestled with. By looking to the voices often forgotten in religious history and marginalized in American history, my dissertation highlights the manifold ways in which religion, labor, and the environment came together to create the living western landscape. As such, my project informs important and ongoing scholarly debates about religion, nationalism, and the natural world in American history. I defended my dissertation March 30, 2018 and will work to craft a book proposal by the following spring.

Dissertation Committee: 

  • David Morgan (Chair) - Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University
  • Kate Bowler - Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Duke Divinity School
  • Joseph Winters - Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University 
  • Elizabeth Olson - Associate Professor of Geography, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Robert Orsi - Professor of Religious Studies, Northwestern University