49th Annual Dakota Conference

Father Stanislaus Maudlin (1916-2006) inside the Benedictine monastery Blue Cloud Abbey (now Abbey of the Hills Inn and Retreat Center) in Marvin, SD.

Held every April, the Dakota Conference on History, Literature, Art and Archeology examines issues of contemporary significance to the Northern Plains 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. 

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 Northern Plains History, Literature, Art, and Archaeology will examine the variety of religious expression in the Northern Plains 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.

Submission Requirements: Online submission forms are available. Presenters can also send a one-page paper or panel proposal with title, brief summary, and biographical sketch, along with presenter name, address, phone number, and email address via email, or mail to:

Dakota Conference
Center for Western Studies
Augustana University
2001 S. Summit Avenue
Sioux Falls, SD 57197

Proposals (not completed papers) are due on or before Friday, February 10, 2017. Please indicate whether you would be willing to serve as a session chair.

Conference Schedule: The conference schedule will be available in March 2017.

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 $50.
  • Registration is free for full-time undergraduate students of any college or university and for Augustana University faculty and staff, courtesy Mellon Fund Committee.

Registration: Registration is not open at this time.

Autograph Party: The Northern Plains Autograph Party will be held on Saturday, April 22, in conjunction with the conference. Authors of recent books about the Northern Plains may apply for invitation to the autograph party by contacting Executive Director Harry Thompson by February 10, 2017.

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

National Endowment for the Humanities Logo

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