Foundations of the Appalachian Trail as Sacred Landscape

Colonial Demons and Holy Mountains

Culture & Identity  •  Fellowships  •  History

CC0 Creative Commons
CC0 Creative Commons

Virginia Humanitites

145 Ednam Drive Charlottesville, VA

During the 1960s, academic critique of Christianity presented the Puritans and other American colonists as antagonistic to wilderness. Recent scholarship has, in contrast, described the Appalachian Trail corridor as a pilgrimage route.

Virginia Humanities Fellow Susan Bratton, a religious and environmental studies professor at Baylor University, argues that multiple religions have portrayed the Appalachian peaks as the residence of supernatural beings or as a sacred terrain. Cultural change has initiated a process that replaces one belief system with another.

Benton MacKay’s proposal for the Appalachian Trail linked a pre-existing inventory of “sacred” locales, including Mounts Washington, Katahdin, and Pisgah, while recreational interpretation initially forwarded idealizations of Thoreauvian adventures, the Southern highlanders and the frontier. At the same time, Native American traditions were misreported and African American and industrial heritages were largely ignored.

Join Bratton for a free public discussion of her work. A casual lunch will be provided.