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Inuit women in the process of the conversion to Christianity in the Canadian eastern Arctic: 1894–1945

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2014

Frédéric B. Laugrand
Department of Anthropology and Centre Interuniversitaire d’Études et de Recherches Autochtones (CIÉRA), Laval University, Ste-Foy, G1K 7P4, Québec, Canada (
Jarich G. Oosten
Faculty of Social Sciences, Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 Ak, Leiden, Netherlands


Arctic missionaries have been studied extensively as agents of change but the role of Inuit women in the adoption of Christianity has been largely overlooked. In this paper we discuss Inuit women who played an important role in the processes of evangelisation and conversion. We focus on the first converts in South Baffin Island as well as the cases of Teresikuluk, a young woman who tried to turn her relatives from shamanism to Christianity, and of Pelagie, the first Inuit nun, in the Kivalliq. The missionaries often presented these women as role models choosing the right path in contrast to other individuals who kept their ‘pagan’ that is shamanic traditions. For these Inuit women, Christianity was attractive as it freed them from many ritual restrictions, providing them with more freedom and power. Many women were among the first converts, but in most areas men took the leading roles as preachers and evangelists. It proved to be hard for women to pursue a religious career and here the constraints of their social roles played an important part.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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