This Independent Study assesses the current ethnocentric definitional paradigm of "prophet" used to define eighteenth and nineteenth century Native American religious leaders. This chapter focuses on the academic writings of Max Weber, Emil Durkheim, Dorothy Emmet, William James, Thomas Overholt, Sacvan Bercovitch, Sam Gill, H.G. Barnett, Vittorio Lanternari, and Leslie Spier. All of these scholars define prophet from a Western, Euro-American perspective which limits the effectiveness of this concept in regard to Native American religious leaders. Six indigenous spiritual leaders whose religious activity leads scholars to categorize them as prophets include Neolin (1762), Handsome Lake (1799), Tenskwatawa (1805), John Slocum (1880s), John Wilson (1880s), and Wovoka (1887). I compare the lives of these Native American religious leaders to the scholarly definitions of the prophet type, and found a distinct prejudice in scholar's use of this term in labeling indigenous leaders. The scholarly concepts of "prophet" reveal this ethnocentric bias by asserting that indigenous religious movements stemmed from cultural deprivation caused by white encroachment. The idea of "prophet" from a Western point of view fails to adequately describe Native American prophets because this approach neglects indigenous views and religious perspectives of their own spiritual leaders. More specifically, scholars neglect certain concepts of native culture including the interpretation of the Native American prophet as an empowering force, the belief that prophets function as spiritual and cultural activists, the indigenous concepts of cyclical time, and the common occurrence of visions. I assert in this study that these indigenous concepts must be integrated into the scholarly understanding of Native American prophets to provide a more complete understanding of these religious leaders as well as the indigenous culture they represent.


Duntley, Madeline


Religious Studies

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis

Available for download on Thursday, January 01, 2150

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© Copyright 2002 Betsey A. Watson