Pesantubbee, Michelene E. 1953–

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Pesantubbee, Michelene E. 1953–


Born September 13, 1953. Education: University of Oklahoma, B.S., 1975, M.S., 1978; University of California Santa Barbara, M.A., 1991, Ph.D., 1994.


Office—Department of Religious Studies, 312 Gilmore Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242. E-mail—[email protected]


San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, lecturer, 1984-85; Bacone College, Muskogee, OK, lecturer, 1988-89; University of Colorado, Boulder, instructor, 1994, assistant professor, 1995-2003; Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, lecturer, 2002; University of Iowa, Iowa City, assistant professor, 2003—.


American Academy of Religion, Society for the Study of Native American Religious Traditions.


Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World: The Clash of Cultures in the Colonial Southeast, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 2005.

Contributor to Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence, edited by Catherine Wessinger, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2000; Native Voices: American Indian Identity and Resistance, edited by Richard A. Grounds, George E. Tinker, and David E. Wilkins, University of Kansas Press (Lawrence, KS), 2003; and Religion and Peacebuilding, edited by Harold Coward and Gordon S. Smith, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 2004. Contributor to academic journals, including the Journal of American Academy of Religion.


Michelene E. Pesantubbee is a Choctaw native and professor of religion at the University of Iowa. Her book Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World: The Clash of Cultures in the Colonial Southeast discusses the various ceremonial roles given to women in the Choctaw culture prior to the nineteenth century and how these roles raised their status within the tribe. When the French colonized the Choctaw region—primarily what is now Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana—many of these formerly powerful roles were weakened. The Jesuits who entered the area also discouraged women's participation in important tribal customs. With this Western-led demotion, all Choctaw women suffered diminished status in quick succession. Pesantubbee bases her findings on written historical documents of European settlers and Choctaw oral histories, along with archeological, anthropological, and linguistic evidence.

The Corn Woman, for instance, who was named during the important Green Corn Ceremony, was the most revered Choctaw role. The femme de valleur, the woman who prepared bones for funerary processions, and the "beloved," a designation given to women of extraordinary abilities, were two other positions of honor given to females. With the breakdown of these traditions, Choctaw life became more violent, ultimately erupting in the 1748 Choctaw civil war that all but eradicated women's participation in dispute resolution and farming. Women were sometimes enslaved by white men, and to protect themselves from such a fate many voluntarily retreated from participation in public affairs. Less contact with Westerners, it was thought, might prevent enslavement. This retreat then influenced how Choctaw men related to the women.

"As a whole, the book is engaging and provides a great deal of food for thought," wrote Michelle LeMaster in Humanities and Social Sciences Online; "Pesantubbee's familiarity with modern Choctaw culture allows her to raise questions and arrive at conclusions that would elude a non-Choctaw scholar." Dawn Karima stated in a review of the book for Indian Life that "Pesantubbee combines outstanding scholarship, clear writing and fascinating historical facts."



American Indian Culture and Research Journal, summer, 2005, Patricia Pen Hildren, review of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World: The Clash of Cultures in the Colonial Southeast, pp. 130-134.

Indian Life, May-June, 2005, Dawn Karima, review of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World, p. 10.

Journal of American Ethnic History, winter-spring, 2006, Katherine M.B. Osburn, review of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World, pp. 289-293.

Journal of Southern History, November, 2006, Wendy St. Jean, review of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World, p. 913.

Journal of the Early Republic, summer, 2006, Greg O'Brien, review of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World, p. 346.

Journal of the West, summer, 2005, Ethan Schmidt, review of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World, p. 100.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2006, review of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World.


H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (December, 2005), Michelle LeMaster, review of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World.