About the Seminar: The Seminar
on Religion in the American West at the American
Academy of Religion aims to facilitate new scholarship and
teaching on the historical and contemporary dynamics of religion
in the western half of the United States.
About this website: The Seminar has created
this website to encourage and support scholars in teaching the
religious history of the American West. The site also reports
on current research by Seminar participants and serves as a communication
portal for the Seminar.
Why study religion in the American West?
Although it is often neglected by both western historians and
religious historians, the study of religion in the U.S. West can
challenge standard historiographical narratives, provide new insights
for the study of American religion more broadly, and reshape the
cultural history of the region.
Where is "the West"? The meaning
and boundaries of the American West are notoriously difficult
to define. Where earlier scholarship was dominated by the notion
of a "shifting western frontier," in more recent decades
historians have advocated histories of geographical regions that
emphasize place rather than process. Our approach to this question,
informed by an emphasis on cultural and religious history, attends
both to place-based histories and to the multi-directional human
migrations and encounters that have been so central to the region.
Thus, for our purposes, the boundaries of the “American West”
are intentionally fluid, and are meant to include questions about
the shape-shifting nature of the concept and the region. When,
and for whom, are certain regions included in “the West,” and
what significance does the concept of “the West” have for national
and regional identities?