Objects Of Devotion: Tracing Religion In Early America


Thomas Jefferson used a pen knife to create a gospel of Jesus that excluded miracles.
Thomas Jefferson used a pen knife to create a gospel of Jesus that excluded miracles.

With guest host Noel King.

There’s a lot to the story of religion in the United States that we’ve forgotten.

Consider the giant metal cross used by the first Catholics to settle in the 13 colonies — it was lost in a university storeroom for decades. Or Thomas Jefferson’s story of Jesus, which he pieced together from the Bible, removing all the miracles. Or the Arabic papers written by slaves who had practiced Islam (some scholars estimate as many as one fifth of African-born slaves had some affiliation with Islam).

This last fact was so long-forgotten that when Hillary Clinton said “we’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington,” it warranted a fact check.

The new Smithsonian exhibit and book “Objects of Devotion” traces America’s faith through the objects believers created. By looking at these items, curator Peter Manseau shows that “freedom of religion is not just an idea, but something to be welded together by the hands, the work and the lives of previous generations.”


Peter Manseau, Curator of American Religious History, Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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