American Heathens: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California
Written by: Joshua Paddison
Category: Western History
Release Date: 2012-06-01
About this Book
In the 19th-century debate over whether the United States should be an explicitly Christian nation, California emerged as a central battleground. Racial groups that were perceived as godless and uncivilized were excluded from suffrage, and evangelism among Indians and the Chinese was seen as a politically incendiary act. Joshua Paddison sheds light on Reconstruction’s impact on Indians and Asian Americans by illustrating how marginalized groups fought for a political voice, refuting racist assumptions with their lives, words, and faith. Reconstruction, he argues, was not merely a remaking of the South, but rather a multiracial and multiregional process of reimagining the nation.
About the Author
Joshua Paddison is an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow in the American Studies Program and the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University.
“A fresh analysis of something that we have never properly understood: California’s critical place in the national struggle to define citizenship during the Reconstruction era. Paddison resurrects the forgotten campaigns of Protestant reformers to bring Indians and Chinese into the tent of American citizenship, campaigns which boldly asserted the value of human universalism over the doctrine of Christian white male supremacy. California was worse for their failure, and so—Paddison suggests—was the nation. A superbly researched and wonderfully written study.”
—Josh Sides, Whitsett Professor of California History, California State University, Northridge
“Joshua Paddison ‘went West’ and struck gold. American Heathens is a must read not just for historians of race, religion, and Reconstruction, but also for anyone interested in the religious politics of multiculturalism. Widely and meticulously researched, Paddison’s study helps demolish the assumption that Reconstruction was solely an East Coast, white-black affair. American Heathens is a triumph of insight.
—Edward J. Blum, San Diego State University; author of Jesus in Red, White, and Black: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America
“Joshua Paddison’s American Heathens tells us much about race and religion in California. More significantly, it places California and religion at the center of the national histories of Reconstruction and citizenship in the United States. It illustrates how competing visions of Christianity shaped formulations of race, and how religion influenced federal Indian policy. Its exploration of Chinese Christians and clergy is especially significant to Asian American history. Ultimately, American Heathens demonstrates American Christianity’s ‘potential to both fight and justify racism.’”
—Lawrence Culver, Utah State University; author of The Frontier of Leisure: Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America
“American Heathens is a groundbreaking book. Comfortably using the new methodological synthesis of social, cultural, and political history, Paddison sets out to reframe the standard narrative of Reconstruction, focusing our attention on California, where the on-the-ground details were fascinatingly distinctive. There, the racial dynamic included Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans. The solutions forged in local public policy were, he contends, powerfully revealing of an emerging national consensus on immigration, citizenship, and race; they were also deeply structured by religion, and by the great divide between Christian and non-Christian populations within the continental territories and states. This messy, coastal frontier was every bit as important as the deep South in defining the terms of post–Civil War America. In stressing these two contributions—the centrality of religion, and the need to re-read Reconstruction through the West—American Heathens is a powerful, impactful, re-orienting book. But beyond these major contributions, it is also just a great local history, consistently ribboned with quirky California details, and brought to life by a series of fascinating preachers, sojourners, and rabble-rousers.”
—Matthew Pratt Guterl, Rudy Professor of American Studies and History and Chair, American Studies, Indiana University