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We begin this episode with a land acknowledgement.

In this podcast episode, hosts Phil Arnold and Sandy Bigtree interview Joel Harrison, an associate professor of religion at Northern Virginia Community College, and two of his students, Jason Armstrong and Christian Oppenhagen. Harrison and his students recently attended and presented at a conference on the religious origins of white supremacy and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. They discuss how the conference impacted their understanding of the Doctrine of Discovery and its connection to white supremacy and Christian nationalism. They also explore the ways in which the language of demons and chosenness is used to justify violence and oppression. The conversation highlights the importance of incorporating the Doctrine of Discovery into academic curricula and engaging in conversations about its ongoing impact.

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Jason Armstrong

Jason Armstrong is a dual-enrolled 11th grade highschool student at Northern Virginia Community College, tracking towards attaining an Associates in Science. He is hoping to pursue an advanced degree in engineering/sciences, but enjoys learning about arts, cultures, and religions.

Christian Oppenhagen

Christian Oppenhagen is a recent graduate from Northern Virginia Community College who majored in cybersecurity. With previous experience studying religions and anthropology as well as work in emergency medicine, he plans to further pursue his interests in technology and cultural studies as he continues his academic career.

Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison, Ph.D, is Associate Professor of Religion at Northern Virginia Community College. He teaches courses on theory and method in religious studies and world religions, emphasizing the colonial encounter between indigenous cultures and the Western world.

Show Notes

In a recent episode of an insightful podcast, listeners are treated to a profound exploration of the complex landscape of American religious history. Joel Harrison, an associate professor of religion, alongside his students Jason Armstrong and Christian Oppenhagen, unravel the intricate layers of civil religion and secularism in America, focusing particularly on the interplay of race and religion since the colonial era.

The discussion begins by highlighting Joel’s innovative approach to teaching, using the January 6th insurrection as a vivid case study in his Religion 100 course at Northern Virginia Community College. This method engages students deeply, highlighting the significance of historical events in shaping the current religious and political climates. By incorporating such contemporary events into the curriculum, Joel brings to light the undercurrents of chosenness and entitlement that continue to shape religious and political identities.

The podcast then takes listeners on a journey through the Doctrine of Discovery conference, a testament to the power of scholarship in initiating societal reflection and change. Attendee Jason shares his transformative experience, revealing the profound impact of engaging with our intricate historical legacies. The conference illustrates the vital role academia plays in fostering collective confrontation with our past, serving as a catalyst for personal growth and a deeper appreciation for cultural diversity.

As the episode progresses, the conversation delves into the relationship between land, heritage, and identity, highlighting the stark repercussions of European conquest on indigenous communities. Chris, another student, shares enlightening experiences from the conference, inspiring a broader discussion on the primacy of land identity within indigenous culture and the importance of understanding our ancestral ties. This revelation serves as a reminder of the significance of our roots, guiding our ongoing quest for understanding and empathy.

The episode continues by examining the significance of guiding undergraduates towards academic sources, rather than general internet searches, when researching the doctrine of discovery and its historical justifications for the persecution of marginalized groups. The chapter discusses the incorporation of this doctrine into syllabus content to bridge the gap between colonial racism and modern-day Christian nationalism, examining the use of demonization in American religious history and how similar rhetoric has resurfaced in events like the January 6th insurrection.

In the final chapter, the podcast looks at the shift in tactics among Christian nationalist groups, moving from overt religious condemnation to co-opting more secular language to stigmatize their opponents. It touches upon the historical roots of viewing certain groups as existential threats in America and shares personal anecdotes reflecting the impact of Christian nationalism on individuals’ lives.

The episode concludes with gratitude for the engaging interactions and a hopeful outlook on nurturing ongoing relationships with students and educators. The podcast thanks the contributors and encourages listeners to visit the website for additional content and updates.



  • Music: Onondaga Social Dance songs performed by Orris Edwards and Regis Cook
  • Producers: Jordan Loewen-Colón and Adam DJ Brett
  • Show notes: Adam DJ Brett


Philip P. Arnold and Sandra Bigtree, “S04E02: Exploring the American Religious Tapestry: From Civil Religion to Secularism and the Impact of the January 6th Insurrection,” Mapping the Doctrine of Discovery (Podcast), April 9th, 2024. https://podcast.doctrineofdiscovery.org/season4/episode-02/.

This podcast is licensed under the Creative Commons by the Indigenous Values Initiative.
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