49th Annual Dakota Conference

Mathó Pahá [Bear Butte], Courtesy South Dakota Tourism

Mathó Pahá [Bear Butte], Courtesy South Dakota Tourism

Held every April, the Dakota Conference on the Northern Plains examines issues of contemporary significance to the region in their historical and cultural contexts. Recent topics of interest have included western highways, regional identity, World Wars I and II, Wounded Knee 1973, and Spanish exploration of and Hispanic/Latino immigration to the region. Register today

49th Annual Dakota Conference

religion and spirituality in the northern plains: observing the 500th anniversary of the reformation

The conference will be held April 21-22, 2017, in the CWS Fantle Building on the Augustana campus.

Conference Theme: The 49th annual Dakota Conference on the Northern Plains will examine the variety of religious expression in the region, both historical and contemporary.

Religious practices evolve over time, but Native Americans have had to struggle to maintain their spiritual traditions since early contact. Yet today the vision quest, pipe ceremony, sweat lodge, and peyotism continue to be practiced by Plains Indians. The conference seeks to explore ways in which religious practice among Plains Indians has persisted and changed.

Great Plains historian Douglas Hurt observes that religious preferences among Euroamericans in the Plains were formed as much by ethnicity as by theology: "Theologically, the Great Plains men and women lived in an Old Testament world where reality was often harsh and unforgiving, but they prayed with hope and expectation to a New Testament God" ("The Big Empty").

Immigrant settlement brought such mainline religions as Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism. The Mormon Pioneer Trail passed directly through Nebraska, and Mormonism is practiced throughout the Plains. German-American communal people known as Hutterites maintain several colonies in the region. Varying degrees of spiritual emphasis, such as fundamentalism, evangelicalism, utopianism, pietism, and dispensationalism, have further molded the cultural life of the Plains.

In "The End of White Christian America," Robert P. Jones observes that America is no longer a majority white Christian nation. Using polling data gathered over the past forty years, Jones reveals that the number of white Protestant Christians has steadily declined across both mainline and evangelical branches, while the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans has increased. These trends are visible in the Plains, as is the growth of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. What are the implications of these changes for the Northern Plains? Recently, the topic of “religious liberty” has assumed prominence in public discourse, and papers addressing this in its regional context are welcome.

Conference Schedule: The conference schedule is now available online. Click the refresh button on your browser to see the latest file (updated April 13). Please direct schedule-related questions to dakotaconference@augie.edu.

Registration Fee:  

  • By April 14: Registration is $45 for the two-day event. Separate Meal Package (including Friday lunch and dinner and Saturday lunch) is $45.
  • After April 14: Registration will be $50 and the Meal Package will be $45.
  • Registration is free for full-time undergraduate students of any college or university and for Augustana University faculty and staff, courtesy of the Mellon Fund Committee.

For lodging information, visit www.augie.edu/lodging.

Registration: Register online today or download a registration form to mail to the Center for Western Studies.

Autograph Party: The Northern Plains Autograph Party will be held on Saturday, April 22, in conjunction with the conference. 

Cash Awards: Awards in academic, non-academic, student, and women’s history categories are available.

The Dakota Conference on the Northern Plains is a humanities-based public affairs program of the Center for Western Studies, which examines topics specific to the region of interest to its residents. The Center’s Boe Forum on Public Affairs examines national and global issues of concern to the people of the region. The CWS Public Affairs Series publishes books exploring problems impacting the Northern Plains.

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The Dakota Conference is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.