Alaska Native (iÑupiaq) Translations and Transformation of Protestant Beliefs and Practices: A Case Study of How Religions Interact

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This work presents an initial conversation regarding how Iñupiaq culture affected or worked with the introduction of the Protestant faith. This fresh perspective provides a compelling metaphorical view of the process, not just as an assimilation of the other’s spiritual belief system, but views it as a “Gift exchange” between equally competent and equally important actors in an historically significant religious interaction.


“Among the most pressing issues of our time is understanding the complex relationship between human cultures and religious traditions. Scholarly study of religion has taught us that all religious traditions are culturally embedded and embodied… the well-researched study by Professor Kristin Helweg Hanson contributes an important new chapter to the current ethnographic and theological scholarship… Hanson’s methodology offers readers a strong model for listening closely to how a particular spiritual culture is altered and embodied in the language of ordinary church members.”
-Dr. Don E. Saliers,
William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship,
Emory University

“The book is well written, accessible, and entertaining. It is clearly based on professional long-term field research and conceived by a seasoned cultural anthropologist with a genuine interest in people’s lives, ways of thinking, and experiences…
Life, faith, living faith, and faithful living are phrases that seem to indicate one specific thing, something that may present itself in form of a summary: this is what life is, this is what faith means … Hansen’s study of Inupiat church life provides a beautiful, well-researched, and challenging reminder that all of the above are constantly experienced, searches for meaning, given new shape, negotiated, viewed from changing, practical, confused, or emerging perspectives. In other words, life, faith, living faith, and faithful living are lived discourses that take place in a multitude of simultaneous contexts,, such as cultural identifications, urban or rural living, the presence of “the other,” they are shaped by age, gender and other social biases; they are driven by participation and life events, by the researcher’s presence, by the situation of the conversation etc. And, at the same time life, faith, living faith, and faithful living are defined to give shape and meaning to live experiences, cultural values, historic events, a changing world Etc. Hanson’s excellent study provides both the space for these discourses to surface and clarity that helps the reader to navigate through and gain a deepened understanding of those discourse in the ethnographic contexts studied.”
-Rev. Dr. Anja Nicole Stuckenberger,
External Research Fellow,
Institute of Arctic Studies,
Dartmouth College

“An honest interpretation of the reality, warts and all, of what the missionary encounter resulted in; a major contribution to the sociology of an underrepresented and under-researched geographical area; a solid analysis of the theological particularity of a Protestant denomination, and what this meant in shaping the Christian imagination of a group of people; An analysis of liturgical realities, where it is acknowledged that worship patterns shape and re-shape the world view of those who move to a new religious affiliation.”
-Rev. Dr. J. Jayakiran Sebastian,
Dean and H. George Anderson Professor of Misison and Cultures,
Director, Multicultural Mission Resource Center,
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

Table of Contents

Foreword by Don E. Saliers, Ph.D
Chapter 1: Introduction
Study Prompt
Brief Study Design Overview
Brief overview of Alaska Milieu
Protected Identities
Terms and Other Helps for the Reader
“Gift Exchange” as Guiding Metaphor
Section I: Iñupiaq Spirituality-Culture Encounters Protestant (Lutheran and Covenant) Christianity
Chapter 2: Missionaries of the Contact Period

Missionary Visions or Agenda
Sheldon Jackson – Ecclesiastical and Federal Employee
Jackson Appointees Including Lopp
Jackson, Reindeer, and Lutherans
Covenant presence in Norton Sound
Reindeer and Related Controversy
Gold Rush and Aftermath
Chapter 3: Continuity
Traditional Spirituality-Culture
Agential Pragmatism
Protean Iñupiaq Spirituality – Culture and Protestantism
Continuity through the Creator
Shared Practices and Values
Continuity through Prophecy
Scholars and the Continuity Position
Chapter 4: Disjunction and Shamans
General Characterizations of Shamanism
Shamans: Power and Dance
An Unexpected Trajectory
Other Spirits in the Traditional and Modern World
Disease and the Break in Tradition
Discontinuity in Gender Roles
Moving On
Chapter 5: Life-Shaping Missionaries
Ruth Ost
Covenant High School
Helen Frost
Chapter 6: Remembered Childhoods
Idyllic Narratives
Community Values
Protestant Practices and Family Life
The Village Church
Non-clergy Actors and the Imposition of English
Section II: Iñupiaq in the Urban Anchorage Environment
Chapter 7: Transitions from Village to City

Narratives of Change
Life in Anchorage
Concerns for the Village
Village and Urban Tragedies
Linking City and Village
Chapter 8: Race and Identity in Urban Life
Racism and Violence
Race and Intimate Relationships
Racism in the Workplace
Daily Racism
Identifying as Native: Ethnicity as Choice
Iñupiat as Dominant Identity
Chapter 9: Urban and Iñupiaq: Negotiating Identity
Subsistence as Marker Practice
Dance as Marker Practice
Clothing as Ethnic Marker
Adoption and Naming
Enactment of Traditional Values as Identity
Traditional value: Care for Elders
Traditional Value” Deference
Traditional Value” Concern for the Collective
Spirituality as Iñupiaq Identity
Section III: Iñupiaq Spirituality-Culture in Anchorage Churches

The Following Chapters do not contain full content information due to data limits of page:
Chapter 10: Linking Threads: Camp and Celebration
Chapter 11: Shared Identity: The Assimilation Model
Chapter 12: Incarnation and Preservation Chapter 13: Race and Church
Chapter 14: Same and Different: Variation Related to Denominations
Chapter 15: Shared and Different Variation Related to Denominations Church Allegiance and the Comfort Criterion
Section IV: Additional “Gifts” Iñupiaq Spirituality-Cultural Offers Protestant (Lutheran) Constructions
Chapter 16: “Re-souled” Practices
Chapter 17: Theological Enrichment: Iñupiaq Spiritual-Cultural Constructs and Baptism
Chapter 18: Theological Innovation

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