Some of us may not think of it much today, but there was a time when religion was pervasive in society. It was one the the primary factors which aided the spread of colonialism. Conversion and missionary work were either important to the colonizers, or were used as an excuse to continue the atrocities they committed. Religious values are still used as a vice against indigenous peoples today.

Another factor to take into account is the religion of those colonized, and what they may have felt toward their new "helpers" at times. Early explorers were sometimes seen as gods by the people they met. Even today, we try to "help" natives unlearn their traditions and values in exchange for our way of thinking.



In Morning Girl, there is an excerpt from The Journal of Christopher Columbus. In it he states, "I recognized that they would be better freed [from error] and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force" (Dorris, 95). The expansions of the Christian faith goes back to Roman times when the faith was first started and it expanded with the Roman Empire across Europe. One might say that this expansion went into latency during the medieval period, but as the Renaissance began, and explorers went forth across the globe, Christian missionaries went with them.

The theme of Christian conversion is prominent in many novels with a colonial or postcolonial basis. Olaudah Equiano endeavors to become a better Christian and more civilized. One thing that must be considered in his novel, though, is the audience. Equiano was writing a novel to be seen by the members of parliament so that they might abolish slavery. He would want to impress them in any way possible.

One interesting fact is that even when the colonizers are trying to convert the indigenous people of a land, it's to make them servants and not equals. Through his work, Equiano gains the respect of others, but he never quite ranks with any of the whites in the story. Another example of this is in Robinson Crusoe as Robinson is trying to teach Friday the Bible. In the process he still thinks of Friday as a savage and is only educating him so he can be a better servant.


The religion of those colonized sometimes can not even be called a religion in European terms because their beliefs are so pervasive throughout their lives. Ceremony would be in the simple gathering of food, the naming of a person, or the celebration of a passing of a storm. (See once again Morning Girl) The Europeans would view religion as grandiose ceramony or going to a church rather than performing what could seem to them to be simple tradition. Chrisopher Columbus also wrote, "I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion" (Journal of Columbus).

***Teaching Native American Religions An on line article, that would be an excellent resource for any teacher. Many of the concepts can be applied to any religion touched on in the texts.

***The Effects of Colonialism on Yoruba Religion Another essay on religion, this time directly addressing the effects of colonialism.

**Bibliography on African Traditional Religion A bibliography of books on African traditional religion. Also includes links on places to buy them.

*Native American Religion in Early America An essay on early Native American Religion told from a historical point of view.

* I have been looking for a site that explores religious motivations for colonization. Unfortunately I have not found one yet. I will be adding more links as I turn up new sites.

One must fist be careful in teaching this as religion is a touchy subject in many schools. One way to approach it from the colonizer and those colonized aspect could be as history. One can also approach the subject in some books as more of a cultural study.

Dorris, Michael. Morning Girl. New York, United States: Hyperion, 1999.

Columbus, Chrisopher. Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus (online version). The University of Chicago, 2000%

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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