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.
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 Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects (Bard Graduate Center - Cultural Histories of the Material World)
In The Art of the Jewish Family, I examine five objects owned by a diverse group of Jewish women who all lived in New York in the years between 1750 and 1850: a letter from impoverished Hannah Louzada seeking assistance; a set of silver cups owned by Reyna Levy Moses; an ivory miniature owned by Sarah Brandon Moses, who was born enslaved and became one of the wealthiest Jewish women in New York; a book created by Sarah Ann Hays Mordecai; and a family silhouette owned by Rebbetzin Jane Symons Isaacs. These objects offer intimate and tangible views into the lives of Jewish American women from a range of statuses, beliefs, and lifestyles—both rich and poor, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, slaves and slaveowners. Available on Amazon and from U Chicago Press.