Religion has always been the way for people to answer the “BIG” questions in their lives. These questions have been appearing since the beginning of mankind. Questions like, where does this fire come from? Or what does it mean when the rains come? Or why is God sending us here? … By far the most fascinating cultures to study when discussing early American spiritual autobiography are the Native American tribes, the Catholic conquistadores, and the Puritans from England coming to the “New World”. Each one of these religions has shaped and molded the people that followed them so intensely. Their religious beliefs have given them their identities that we read and study about today. Throughout each one of these religious groups their religion and also their unique experiences that they went through identified who they were. Smith and Watson discuss this in our “Reading Autobiography” book in chapter two. Smith and Watson say that “Memory, Experience, Identity, Space, Embodiment, and Agency” all uniquely and charismatically define who we are and that can be said for what defined these early American spiritualists as well.
Memory played a giant role in the Native Americans spiritual life for it provided them with the ability to pass down important creation stories to younger generations through the act of Oral tradition. These creation stories were a way to identify their own specific tribes and even themselves on a personal level after a private vision one could have. These visions would also be shared with the tribe and passed down through oral tradition. This type of Memory can be sub classified by Smith and Watson as “Collective Remembering.” This “Collective Remembering” would be used by a collective group or community or in the Native Americans case their own tribes.
Experience. “We have it .It is ours. The intimacy and immediacy and palpability of our memories tell us so….Meditated through memory and language, “experience” is already an interpretation of the past and of our place in a culturally and historically specific present…” Here Smith and Watson show how culturally important experiences are to ones culture and community. These experiences could be argues to be equally important for each of the early American spiritual groups. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the early Spanish Conquistadors, like Cabeza de Vaca, whom was sent to find new lands for Spain and also to spread the religion of Christianity and more specifically the denomination of Catholism to the Native peoples. The experience for him was life changing as we previously read, but just to think back to how Cabeza de Vaca must have felt when first learning of his expedition. He must have been over whelmed and elated. The thought of getting to be a famous explorer and spreading your religious beliefs must have been more then he ever dreamed. When Cabeza de Vaca returned however we see that his journey did transform him and his experiences helped him to evolve as a man and as a Catholic.
Identity. “Autobiographical acts involve narrators in “identifying” themselves to the reader.” Identity plays a huge role for these religious groups as well because religion is what mainly defined themselves. The puritans were all about being identified as followers of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. As we saw plainly laid out for us in “God’s Plot” the Sheperd family (the men specifically speaking) were very adamant about following God’s word specifically and being defined by their Puritan values and beliefs.
Space. Space is hard to describe, but for these early American religious groups space could be said to be defined as where these groups were located and that would be North America. North America is what each of these groups had in common as far as where they were all located is concerned.
Embodiment. “Life narrative inextricably links memory, subjectivity, and the materiality of the body….The ability to recover memories, in fact, depends on the material body. There must be a somatic body that perceives and internalizes the images, sensations, and experiences of the external world.” Embodiment of ones religion really applies to all of the early American religious groups because each individual within their group embodies their religion and its core values.
Agency. “Discursive regimes determine who can tell their stories, what kinds of stories they can tell, and the forms those stories will take. People tell stories of their lives through the cultural scripts available to them, and they are governed by cultural strictures about self-presentation in public.” Agency just seems to scream out to me CABEZA DE VACA! This is because to me his whole story seemed to almost be a script of sorts. This “script” was written to the Catholic King of Spain at the time and was full of religion and how it saved him and how it really identified and created him. When studying the early American religious groups and their autobiographies it is extremely important to look into Smith and Watson and see the six important characteristics of the autobiographical subjects.