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Walking to Magdalena

Personhood and Place in Tohono O'odham Songs, Sticks, and Stories

Seth Schermerhorn

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 04/2019
Pages: 264
Subject: Social Science
eBook ISBN: 9781496213891


In Walking to Magdalena, Seth Schermerhorn explores a question that is central to the interface of religious studies and Native American and indigenous studies: What have Native peoples made of Christianity? By focusing on the annual pilgrimage of the Tohono O'odham to Magdalena in Sonora, Mexico, Schermerhorn examines how these indigenous people of southern Arizona have made Christianity their own. This walk serves as the entry point for larger questions about what the Tohono O'odham have made of Christianity. With scholarly rigor and passionate empathy, Schermerhorn offers a deep understanding of Tohono O'odham Christian traditions as practiced in everyday life and in the words of the O'odham themselves. The author's rich ethnographic description and analyses are also drawn from his experiences accompanying a group of O'odham walkers on their pilgrimage to Saint Francis in Magdalena. For many years scholars have agreed that the journey to Magdalena is the largest and most significant event in the annual cycle of Tohono O'odham Christianity. Never before, however, has it been the subject of sustained scholarly inquiry.Walking to Magdalena offers insight into religious life and expressive culture, relying on extensive field study, videotaped and transcribed oral histories of the O'odham, and archival research. The book illuminates indigenous theories of personhood and place in the everyday life, narratives, songs, and material culture of the Tohono O'odham.  


Seth Schermerhorn is an assistant professor of religious studies at Hamilton College.  


"In the tradition of Keith Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places, Seth Schermerhorn's Walking to Magdalena grounds the study of Native American religion, and in this case Tohono O'odham Catholicism, in a profoundly sophisticated sense of place and deliberate movement across ancestral landscapes. Theoretically informed and tangibly grounded in respectful relationships with Tohono O'odham elders, Walking to Magdalena is as humble a book as it is game-changing. We come to think differently about pilgrimage, the indigenization of Christianity, and what it might mean to become fully human."—Michael D. McNally, John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religion at Carleton College  

"Walking to Magdalena makes important contributions to the field of indigenous religious studies. The work will also be of interest to those doing fieldwork with Native communities, regardless of the specific field of research. . . . The writing is some of the clearest academic writing I've read. The author has a unique gift for writing direct, simple sentences, yet within an insightful, engaging narrative."—David Delgado Shorter, professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at the University of California, Los Angeles

"Seth Schermerhorn's insightful work, Walking to Magdalena, is a wonderful piece of ethnographic research offering a poignant window on O'odham Catholic beliefs and practices. He was fortunate to become a friend and walking companion to the O'odham."—Ofelia Zepeda, author of Where Clouds are Formed