Enfilade

Exhibition | Religion in Early America

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on April 28, 2018

From the Smithsonian:

Religion in Early America
National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C., 28 June 2017 — 3 June 2018

Thomas Jefferson’s private text, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth—colloquially known as the Jefferson Bible (Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; photo by Hugh Talman).

The role of religion in the formation and development of the United States is at the heart of this one-year exhibition that explores the themes of religious diversity, freedom, and growth from the colonial era through the 1840s. National treasures from the Museum’s own collection are on view, such as George Washington’s christening robe from 1732, Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, also known as ‘The Jefferson Bible’, and Wampum beads. Significant objects on loan include Massachusetts Bay Colony-founder John Winthrop’s communion cup, circa 1630; a Torah scroll on loan from New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel, founded in 1654; a chalice used by John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic bishop in the U.S. and founder of Georgetown University; and a first edition of the Book of Mormon. The objects represent the diverse range of Christian, Native American, and African traditions as well as Mormonism, Islam, and Judaism that wove through American life in this era.

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Peter Manseau, Objects of Devotion: Religion in Early America (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2017), 260 pages, ISBN: 978-1588345929, $30.

Objects of Devotion: Religion in Early America tells the story of religion in the United States through the material culture of diverse spiritual pursuits in the nation’s colonial period and the early republic. The beautiful, full-color companion volume to a Smithsonian National Museum of American History exhibition, the book explores the wide range of religious traditions vying for adherents, acceptance, and a prominent place in the public square from the 1630s to the 1840s. The original thirteen states were home to approximately three thousand churches and more than a dozen Christian denominations, including Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Quakers. A variety of other faiths also could be found, including Judaism, Islam, traditional African practices, and Native American beliefs. As a result, America became known throughout the world as a place where, in theory, if not always in practice, all are free to believe and worship as they choose. The featured objects include an 1814 Revere and Sons church bell from Salem, the Jefferson Bible, wampum beads, a 1654 Torah scroll brought to the New World, the only known religious text written by an enslaved African Muslim, and other revelatory artifacts. Together these treasures illustrate how religious ideas have shaped the country and how the treatment and practice of religion have changed over time. Objects of Devotion emphasizes how religion can be understood through the objects, both rare and everyday, around which Americans of every generation have organized their communities and built this nation.

Peter Manseau is the Lilly Endowment Curator of American Religious History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. He holds a doctorate in religion from Georgetown University and writes frequently for publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Wall Street Journal.

 

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