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New Smithsonian exhibit explores diversity of religion in early America


  • A visitor at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington looks at items in the exhibit "Religion in Early America" July 26. The exhibit will be on display until June 3, 2018. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)
  • Peter Manseau is curator of American religious history for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington. He is pictured July 26 in the exhibit room for "Religion in Early America," which will be on display until June 3, 2018. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)
  • Visitors at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington check out the exhibit "Religion in Early America" July 26. The exhibit will be on display until June 3, 2018. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)
  • A cross believed to be made from iron taken from the Ark and the Dove, a ship that brought the first English Catholics to Maryland in 1634, is pictured July 26 in an exhibit room at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington. It is part of the "Religion in Early America" exhibit, which will be on display until June 3, 2018. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)
  • Visitors at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington check out the exhibit "Religion in Early America" July 26. The exhibit will be on display until June 3, 2018. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Smithsonian National Museum of American History's new exhibition, "Religion in Early America," celebrates the free exercise of religion and the religious diversity that define American faith life.

The exhibit features artifacts from Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other major world religions. Peter Manseau, the museum's Lilly Endowment curator of American religious history, is the author of several books and curator of the new exhibit.

"We can't really think about the role of religion in America today without wondering about how it all began," Manseau told Catholic News Service.

The exhibit, which opened June 28, displays artifacts and stories of American religious life from the 1630s to the 1840s. Reflecting the many Christian denominations that made up early America, it also features noteworthy items of Jewish, Islamic, Mormon, Native American and other faith traditions. Visitors from diverse backgrounds will likely find their own religious beliefs represented in the objects.

"The real power is seeing all of these together, and recognizing that these are all part of the same American story," Manseau said.

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