National Parks – ‘America’s Best Idea’ – were from the first seen as sacred sites embodying the God-given specialness of American people and American land, and from the first they were also marked as tourist attractions. The inherent tensions between these two realities ensured the parks would be stages where the country’s conflicting values would be performed and contested. As pilgrimage sites embody the values and beliefs of those who are drawn to them, so Americans could travel to these sacred places to honor, experience, and be restored by the powers that had created the American land and the American enterprise.
This book explores the importance of the discourse of nature in American culture, arguing that the attributes and symbolic power that had first been associated with the ‘new world’ and then the ‘frontier’ were embodied in the National Parks. Author Ross-Bryant focuses on National Parks as pilgrimage sites around which a discourse of nature developed and argues the centrality of religion in understanding the dynamics of both the language and the ritual manifestations related to National Parks. Beyond the specific contribution to a richer analysis of the National Parks and their role in understanding nature and religion in the U.S., this volume contributes to the emerging field of ‘religion and the environment,’ larger issues in the study of religion (e.g. cultural events and the spatial element in meaning-making), and the study of non-institutional religion.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Our National Parks Part I: The New World 1. Yosemite: New World Sublimity 2. The Dream of Yellowstone: Progress in the Pristine Land Part II: See America First 3. Seeing America in Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks 4. The National Park Idea Part III: Wilderness and Beyond 5. Mythic and Scientific America 6. The Wilderness Idea 7. Unbounded Possibilities Epilogue: Pilgrimage and the Future of the National Parks Bibliography Index
Lynn Ross-Bryant is Associate Professor Emerita in the Department of Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder. Recent work has been on American nature writers, including "The Land in American Religious Experience" and on the national parks including "Sacred Sites: Nature and Nation in the National Parks" and "Ken Burns and American Mythology in The National Parks: America’s Best Idea."
"If nature, nation, and God have been three of the most crucial orienting ideas of American history, Lynn Ross-Bryant shows here how this trinity has come together at one of the nation’s distinct forms of sacred space: the national parks. This is a lucid and penetrating analysis of what these places have meant, both for those who have made pigrimages to them over the last century and a half, and for many of those who stayed behind." -- Adrian Ivakhiv, University of Vermont