The Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History explores the influence of religion on every facet of life in the United States.
The root of the word religion means “to bind.” Throughout American history, religion has bound us together: In communities. Within families. As a search for meaning that crosses racial, political, and cultural lines.
Yet binding is not always positive. Religion has also kept people in bondage. It has created boundaries. It has led to violence.
The Center examines the binds that gather us in and those that pull us apart.
Through thoughtful exhibitions and active programming, we examine the complex interaction of diversity, devotion, creativity, and critique that has marked American attitudes toward religion.
To learn more, explore our collections, programs, and research below.
The Center for the Understanding of Religion in American History is made possible through generous support from Lilly Endowment Inc. and the John Templeton Foundation.
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth
Around 1820 Thomas Jefferson cut and pasted verses from the New Testament to create this work, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Extracted textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French, & English. His purpose was to distill Jesus' ethical teachings from accounts of miracles and other elements that he considered distortions of Jesus' history and thought. Jefferson was a Deist--he believed in a Creator but did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. He thought he could distinguish between Jesus' true message and the apostles' later additions or misunderstandings by using reason as a guide. [PL.158231]
1885 - 1886 Harriet Powers's Bible Quilt
Harriet Powers, an African American farm woman of Clarke County, Georgia, made this quilt in about 1886. She exhibited it at the Athens Cotton Fair of 1886 where it captured the imagination of Jennie Smith, a young internationally-trained local artist.[TE.T14713]
Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Lamp, 1986
Many immigrants sought to preserve their cultural heritage while at the same time embracing their new identity as Americans. Manfred Anson did so in designing this Hanukkah lamp to mark the centennial of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. Anson, who escaped Nazi Germany as a teenager, later reunited with family who had immigrated to the United States. For this lamp, Anson combined a traditional Polish menorah and figurines cast from a 19th century Statue of Liberty souvenir.[2010.0158.01]
Jewish Prayer Book
Abridged Prayer Book for Jews in the Armed Forces of the United States, in drab green boards, 360 pp. This prayer book was owned by Sergeant Jules Herstein. He listed his military service on the inside back cover. He served five years from his induction in June 1940 until his discharge on December 5, 1945. [1993.0505.01]
Robert Ricks, chief NWS forecaster on duty at the Slidell, Louisiana weather station the morning of August 28, studied the computer maps of Hurricane Katrina's movement across the Gulf of Mexico. To comfort him during his forecasting assignment that day, and in the chaotic days immediately after, Ricks carried this Catholic rosary given to him by his grandmother. [2006.0220.01]
Ecumenical Symbol For The Hindu Temple Society of North America
The Hindu Temple Society of North America was founded in 1970 and became one of the first and most prominent Hindu temples in the New York City area. It was built with traditional granite stones imported from India. This prototype of the temple’s religious symbol was once carved into the façade of the building, and represents religious diversity through five major faiths – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism – all surrounding and illuminated by the lamp of knowledge and acceptance, a symbol of Universalism. [2016.0049.01]