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An Archaeology of Doings

Secularism and the Study of Pueblo Religion

Severin M. Fowles

There is an unsettling paradox in the anthropology of religion. Modern understandings of “religion” emerged out of a specifically Western genealogy, and recognizing this, many anthropologists have become deeply suspicious of claims that such understandings can be applied with fidelity to premodern or non-Western contexts. And yet, archaeologists now write about “religion” and “ritual” with greater ease than ever, even though their deeply premodern and fully non-Western objects of study would seem to make the use of these concepts especially fraught.

In this probing study, Severin Fowles challenges us to consider just what is at stake in archaeological reconstructions of an enchanted past. Focusing on the Ancestral Pueblo societies of the American Southwest, he provocatively argues that the Pueblos—prior to missionization—did not have a religion at all, but rather something else, something glossed in the indigenous vernacular as “doings.” Fowles then outlines a new archaeology of doings that takes us far beyond the familiar terrain of premodern religion.

2013. 324 pp., figures, maps, table, notes, references, index, 7 x 10

Contributors: Severin M. Fowles

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“An Archaeology of Doings provides a landmark contribution to the archaeology of religion and charts a course through which archaeology might bring its unique insights to the modern world.”
—Scott Ortman, Omidyar Fellow, Santa Fe Institute

“This is a brilliant book that should be read by all anthropologists interested in understanding religion. It is simultaneously a fascinating history of Euro-Pueblo relations, a penetrating critique of our ontological categories, and a compelling argument that we have never really understood how non-Westerners understand the world.”
—John Robb, University of Cambridge

“An Archaeology of Doings offers a brilliant reinterpretation of the Northern Tiwa archaeological record and a profound intervention into current interdisciplinary debates around anthropological method, the study of religion, and the problematics of secularism. Fowles shows us how persistent tropes about nonmodern ‘religion’ reinforce secularism’s accounts of its own inevitability, and he demonstrates the value of indigenous categories, not just as a way out of the scholarly conundrums of ‘religion,’ but as a significant improvement in the way we understand human cultures across time.”
—Tisa Wenger, Yale University

“Certainly, this is one of the more important archaeology books of the last few years, and not just for those of us interested in matters religious and Puebloan. Doings is a critical reappraisal of what we should and should not mean by ‘religion,’ questioning both a modern-day secularism that primitivizes native people’s practices and a putative post-secularism that sees religion everywhere…. I like where this book takes us. You should too.”
—Timothy R. Pauketat, University of Illinois


  1. Archaeology after Secularism
  2. The Paradox of the Priest
  3. Belief and Unbelief in a Pueblo Society
  4. Doings
  5. On Effervescence and Sympathy
  6. Katsina and Other Matters of Concern
  7. Separation of Church and Kiva

There are no working papers for this book at the present time.