After Eden: Religion and Labor in the American West, 1868-1914
Variously romanticized as the repository of American Protestantism, free market capitalism, and self-sufficient individualism, or defined by material actions of conquest and colonization, the history of the Rocky Mountain West is a complicated constellation of myth and reality. This dissertation evaluates the efforts of three religious communities to negotiate a place within that constellation. Northern Arapaho wage laborers in central Wyoming, Mormon merchants in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Roman Catholic hard-rock miners in Butte, Montana, leveraged their religious and ethnic identities to negotiate places of sovereignty in the western landscape. While each case study presents a distinct relationship between religion and labor, each is grounded in the materiality of exchange and economics in order to show the inseparability of religion from the economic practices that enabled the creation and endurance of nineteenth-century Western communities. Despite the concealing mechanisms of a single, idealized trajectory of American nationhood, the narration of national space was haunted and disrupted by the persistence of alternate, but interconnected, religious geographies, which re-scripted hegemonic narratives of American religious and economic exceptionalism. Using the tools of archival research and the collection of oral histories, this dissertation explores the tension of the familiar and the unfamiliar in the pastoral heartland of the American myth.
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