Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans in the New World had no knowledge of Christianity, just as Europeans had no knowledge of Native American religions. To what extent did contrasting...

Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans in the New World had no knowledge of Christianity, just as Europeans had no knowledge of Native American religions. To what extent did contrasting religious beliefs and assumptions influence relations among Europeans and Native Americans in the New World in the sixteenth century?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Contrasting religious beliefs and the mutual misunderstanding of each others' religions affected the relationship between Native Americans and Europeans in the 16th century and beyond. For example, English colonists (who came to the New World in the late 16th century and afterward) thought of the Native Americans they encountered as satanic and as deserving of displacement from their ancestral lands. In Jamestown, for example, the Powhatan followed a polytheistic religion with many spirits to whom they made scarifies. The English settlers, rather than seeking to truly understand the Powhatan religion, tried to displace the Native Americans from their lands. Later, the English settlers attempt to convert the Native Americans. There was no attempt at syncretism, or combining the two religious traditions. In addition, the English misunderstood a great deal of the Powhatans' religious practice; for example, they thought that the male initiation ceremony involved sacrifice, which it likely did not.

The Spaniards sought to convert the Native Americans they encountered to Catholicism. They also sought to use Native American labor on their plantations, called encomiendas, and, in return for the labor, the Spaniards promised to save the Native Americans' souls. The Native Americans often believed in communal land ownership, and they did not always understand the Europeans' practice of private land ownership at first; the Natives were often displaced because of the Europeans' desire for land.