In the spring of 2016, descendants from some of the oldest religions in America met with a class of Denison students for a “fireside chat.” Professor Richard D. Shiels, a historian of American religion, hosted Cheryl Cash (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma), Marti Chaatsmith (Comanche Nation) and John Low (Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi) to speak with students enrolled in Religion 204 “Religious Pluralism and American Identity.”
Shiels, a visiting professor at Denison and the founding director of the Newark Earthworks Center at the Ohio State University, works with American Indians to interpret ancient earthworks built across Ohio and other states long before Europeans arrived. These earthworks were built by ancestors of today’s American Indians and it is very likely their spirituality that inspired them to do so.
“Our guests that evening talked about their own families and about how American Indian spirituality has been affected by the larger American culture,” Shiels said. “The course is really all about how the American environment shapes multiple religious groups.”
“For many of my students that was a very powerful evening,” Shiels added.