The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies  book cover
1st Edition

The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies

ISBN 9781844657551
Published September 18, 2014 by Routledge
192 Pages

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Book Description

Indigenous societies around the world have been historically disparaged by European explorers, colonial officials and Christian missionaries. Nowhere was this more evident than in early descriptions of indigenous religions as savage, primitive, superstitious and fetishistic.

Liberal intellectuals, both indigenous and colonial, reacted to this by claiming that, before indigenous peoples ever encountered Europeans, they all believed in a Supreme Being. The Invention of God in Indigenous Societies argues that, by alleging that God can be located at the core of pre-Christian cultures, this claim effectively invents a tradition which only makes sense theologically if God has never left himself without a witness.

Examining a range of indigenous religions from North America, Africa and Australasia - the Shona of Zimbabwe, the "Rainbow Spirit Theology" in Australia, the Yupiit of Alaska, and the Māori of New Zealand – the book argues that the interests of indigenous societies are best served by carefully describing their religious beliefs and practices using historical and phenomenological methods – just as would be done in the study of any world religion.

Table of Contents

1. The ‘God’ Controversy in Pre-Christian Indigenous Religions
2. Making Mwari Christian: The Shona of Zimbabwe
3. How God Became Australian: Transforming the Rainbow Serpent into the Rainbow Spirit
4. The Alaskan Exception: The ‘Person of the Universe’ and Christian Neglect
5. The Debate over Io as the Pre-Christian Māori Supreme Being
6. Indigenising God: The Conflict between Fact and Value

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James L. Cox is Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies in the University of Edinburgh. His most recent books include An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion, From Primitive to Indigenous: The Academic Study of Indigenous Religions and A Guide to the Phenomenology of Religion.


"Cox's insightful study of the concept of the 'high god' in four indigenous cultures, and its complex relationship with Christian missionary preaching of the Biblical God, is a major scholarly achievement." – Carole M. Cusack, University of Sydney

"This book is an excellent argument for the need to study indigenous religions as the beliefs and practices of indigenous peoples, as traditions in their own rights." – Bettina E. Schmidt, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

"Cox is clear that 'invention', adoption and adaptation are common and everyday occurrences in all cultures and religions. He challenges the ideological motivations of theological and (still) colonial pursuits and proposes that scholars should seek to understand indigenous religious, even as they evolve, rather than use them to bolster polemical agendas and comparisons." – Graham Harvey, Open University