Songs of the Spirit: The Collaborative Hymnody of the Mohican Moravian Missions

Collaborative Group

Dr. Rachel M. Wheeler, Dr. Sarah J. Eyerly


Religious Studies


On the shelves of the Moravian Church Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania sit several small booklets of hymns dating to the 1740s. Their titles announce that they are written in Mohican, and leafing through them reveals that most verses have a line in German above the Native-language stanza. At first glance, these appear to be simply popular German-Moravian hymns of the time, translated for use in Moravian missions to the Mohicans. But a more careful look reveals these documents to be far more complex. A number of the Mohican stanzas are attributed to Native residents of the community and an analysis of their content demonstrates that the stanzas are not translations, but new creations. This project, which is a collaboration between religious studies scholar Rachel Wheeler and musicologist Sarah Eyerly, aims to bring this music back to life. Despite the unusually rich depth and breadth of Moravian mission records, Native-language hymns such as these have received scant scholarly recognition and attention. Songs of the Spirit explores the adaptation of the German-Moravian hymn tradition in North American mission contexts by focusing on the collaborative process that brought the hymns into existence and the Native and European musical and religious traditions that informed their creation, performance, and use. This project provides new insights into the ways music functioned as a site of cultural encounter between European missionaries and Native peoples in early America. Wheeler and Eyerly combine their respective expertise in Native American religious history and musicology to investigate the musical, cultural, and linguistic significance of these hymns. Wheeler and Eyerly have presented their research together at several conferences and have coauthored an article on the Mohican hymns. Their research will result in three coauthored articles, supported by digital and spatial humanities modes of research and publication, as well as historically-informed recordings and modern arrangements of these hymns, done in collaboration with members of the Mohican community. Award period: August 1, 2017 through May 31, 2018