Civil religious dissent: patriotism and resistance in a japanese american incarceration camp

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Philosophy and Religious Studies

Publication Date



During the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, the largely Buddhist population of Idaho's Minidoka incarceration camp organized elaborate Christmas festivities each year. Many outsiders and white employees at the camp saw these celebrations as signs of assimilation into American culture, but this article argues that the material productions of the festivities expressed more complicated attitudes. Christmas cards, decorations, and trees contained messages of dissent and patriotism within an adoption of American civil religious practices. Incarcerees demonstrated the flexibility of that contentious category, civil religion, by using iconic symbols and practices of the American holiday to express their frustrations with the nation. Christmas cards replaced the classic image of snow-covered houses with one of snow-covered barracks. Decorative displays juxtaposed idealistic portrayals of past family holidays with their current, grim reality. The voluntary substitution of sagebrush trees for evergreens acknowledged their transformed circumstances and showed resolve to sustain tradition. Through these acts of civil religious dissent, incarcerees visually depicted the wounds caused by a government stripping its citizens of their fundamental rights.


This article was originally published in Material Religion. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Material Religion


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