Hoklotubbe embarks on research to explore Native American interpretations of the Bible
Cornell College Assistant Professor of Religion Chris Hoklotubbe (Choctaw) will spend portions of the next three years interviewing tribal leaders and writing about North American Indigenous interpretations of the Bible, all while continuing to teach his classes each block.
This comes after receiving a $30,000 grant from the Louisville Institute to conduct research with a colleague from Canada’s Acadia Divinity College, Danny Zacharias (Métis). This team will be looking at the text of the Bible through an Indigenous lens and exploring how First Nation people can see themselves and their culture reflected in biblical stories.
The ultimate goal of the research is to produce a book that Indigenous Christians will use as they read and explore the Bible in day-to-day life.
Hoklotubbe also says the research will inform his own teaching at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, where he teaches a course on Indigenous religious traditions and ethnic interpretations of the Bible. Through the connections he makes during this research, he’s planning to create an off-campus course where he takes students to reservations across the Southwest in the near future.
He says Christianity has never been in a cultural vacuum, and that interpretations that are claimed to be the “plain sense” of the Bible often reflect contemporary Eurocentric cultural assumptions and values. Christian Scriptures are filled with stories that can be understood and applied differently to many cultures.
“There are multiple stories and multiple voices in this text,” Hoklotubbe said. “Some have yet to be really appreciated and many paths have not been taken. We hope to shift readers’ attention to characters, religious practices, and theological themes within Christian Scripture that resonate with Indigenous wisdom and ways of life.”
Hoklotubbe is a member of the Choctaw Nation and says his grandfather moved away from a reservation in Oklahoma to Southern California, where Hoklotubbe grew up.
The religion professor knows this will be a tough project with the complicated legacy of Christianity’s cultural genocide of Indigenous people, but he says he feels called to contribute to something bigger than himself.
“This project wouldn’t just be about how an Indigenous person reads the Bible, but about what kinds of stories and experiences they bring to the Bible that are important to share with people who have not had these experiences or struggles,” he said. “We should all know something about this to really know our neighbor better.”
Hoklotubbe plans to travel the country and connect with tribal leaders through an organization that he’s a member of, the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), working with the Indigenous people as collaborators in the research.
The Cornell professor says this is research that hasn’t been done before and that he and Zacharias are two of the very few New Testament scholars with doctoral degrees in Biblical studies who have Native American ancestors.
“Our Indigenous heritage allows us to see the text in a fresh way, guiding us to appreciate the resonances of the Bible with Indigenous history, values, ceremonial practices, and social conventions that were not previously appreciated because the Bible has been traditionally interpreted through a Eurocentric lens that lacked self-reflection,” he said. “We are always bringing ourselves and our stories into any text we read.”
He hopes the book will empower Indigenous people to find their own voice when reading, teaching, and preaching from the Bible.
“I hope they recognize that they can hold up their ancestral traditions, productively and powerfully as they interpret and think about what the Bible means for their lives,” Hoklotubbe said.
During Block 3, Hoklotubbe will present a short paper at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature that compares the apocalyptic beliefs and practices promoted by the Apostle Paul in his correspondence with the Thessalonians with that of the 1890’s Ghost Dance movement.
Hoklotubbe has taught at Cornell College since 2017 and teaches courses on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality in the Christian Tradition, the New Testament, Roman Religion, Native American Spiritualities, World Religions, and Religion and American Politics. He also co-leads interdisciplinary off-campus courses that explore the theme of pilgrimage along “El Camino de Santiago” in Northern Spain, the topics of ancient philosophy, religion, politics, and archaeology in Greece and Turkey, and the history, art, and culture of North American Indigenous tribes.