Puritan 'blueprint' of American history examined in Sask. Book Awards contender

Every country has its creation story — a story shaped by the dominant religion of the time. 

In the case of the U.S. — particularly Rhode Island — it is the religion of the Protestant Puritans, says Saskatchewan history professor and author Mark Anderson. 

The themes of religious persecution and pop culture are among those explored in his new book Holy War: Cowboys, Indians, and 9/11s, which is up for two Saskatchewan Book Awards on Saturday night.

"Their particular take on religion was they felt they had been God's chosen people," Anderson, who is a professor of history at Luther College in Regina, told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend.

One of the things his book explores is the attitude of the Puritans toward Indigenous people.

"Their reading of scripture was such that they believed Indigenous peoples were devils, or at best, the devil's helpers," he said.

"They had no problem waging war on Aboriginal people, literally from the get-go."

He described this thinking as the blueprint for American culture and society, which became a prevailing theme throughout the country's history.

And while Canadians may tend to look down on Americans, Anderson notes Canada's own creation story is one of racism.

"My sense is we're not really different at all," Anderson said.

"If you happen to think racism and colonialism are a bad thing ... then the country needs to change — to honour the treaties."

Idea stemmed from reaction to 9/11 attacks

Anderson said he had been kicking around the ideas in his book since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City. 

"One of the things that happened after 9/11, you may remember, people were saying, 'Nothing like this has ever happened before,'" Anderson said. 

"This story has actually been happening since forever," he recalls thinking at the time. He then set out to determine if his observation was accurate or not, which formed the basis for the book. 

"Scholars often divorce political and military behaviour from the culture from which it seems to be naturally and organically must emerge," said Anderson, who specializes in Latin American history and relations with the U.S.

But American foreign policy can only be understood through understanding American culture, and one of the best ways to do that is by looking at pop culture, he said. 

Anderson began examining historical pop culture, going as far back as 19th-century newspapers. His research included the way people were depicted in print, film and other mediums.

Holy War is nominated for the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport Publishing Award and the Jennifer Welsh Scholarly Writing Award at the Saskatchewan Book Awards.

The awards ceremony takes place at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina on Saturday evening.