My scholarship in early America focuses on how the different voices within underrepresented religious communities challenge the way we understand religious change. While my dissertation and first book focused on Native American Christianity in colonial New England, both my second and current book project are on early American Judaism, particularly the messianic and mystical traditions of the Caribbean. See my CV for complete publications (pdf).
My early work was indebted to my training in Native American oral traditions and culture with scholars in the UCLA Indian Studies program, particularly my work with Paula Gunn Allen and Greg Sarris. My first book, Indian Converts (2008) explores the biographies of four-generations of Native American men, women, and children from the British colonial era and argues for a more syncretic understanding of Native American Christianity.
Messianism, Secrecy & Mysticism
My second book, Messianism, Secrecy, & Mystictism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life (2012) focuses on the objects of everyday life used and created by Jews, such as ritual baths, food, gravestones, portraits, furniture, as well as the synagogue. By uncovering these objects and exposing the common culture of the Jewish Atlantic world, the book provides a fresh understanding of a crucial era in Jewish and American history. Through these objects I expose how the Judaism of the Diaspora was one enacted by and through the bodies and spaces of children, women and Judeo-Africans, as much as through the elite bodies, practices and writings of men. Jonathan Sarna has called this book, “The most innovative, ambitious and important study of Early American Jewry to appear in the last forty years” and it recently won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Jewish American Studies and the 2012 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in Cultural Studies and Media Studies. Click here for more information.
The Material of Race: How Emancipation Transformed American Jews
My current book project looks more closely at the intersection of race and gender during the emancipation era (1790s-1840s) for Jews in North American and the Caribbean. In it, I argue that the racializing of Jews happens earlier in the Americas than most other historians have suggested. I use community responses to mixed-race Jewish families and individuals to argue that we should consider how Jews were active participants in race making, rather than always thinking about race as something done to Jews vis-à-vis anti-semitism. In my discussion of early mixed race marriages I demonstrate how gender and race are intertwined, and the way that individual Jews constructed their ethnic and racial identities was tied to their gender. Click here for a table of contents.