According to Peter Manseau (Killing the Buddha; Songs for the Butcher's Daughter), the "one nation, under God" line of the Pledge of Allegiance radically oversimplifies our religious history. In fact, as he shows in this eye-opening new history, even our colonial forefathers recognized that one deity did not fit all. Citing religious dissidents and dissenters from Salem "witches" to counterculture gurus and modern-day spiritual movements, he demonstrates that religious diversity has been a keystone of what makes us greatand fascinating. Editor's recommendation.
One Nation, Under Gods: A New American Historyby Peter Manseau
At the heart of the nation's spiritual history are audacious and often violent scenes. But the Puritans and the shining city on the hill give us just one way to understand the United States. Rather than recite American history from a Christian vantage point, Peter Manseau proves that what really/b>/i>
A groundbreaking new look at the story of America
At the heart of the nation's spiritual history are audacious and often violent scenes. But the Puritans and the shining city on the hill give us just one way to understand the United States. Rather than recite American history from a Christian vantage point, Peter Manseau proves that what really happened is worth a close, fresh look.
Thomas Jefferson himself collected books on all religions and required that the brand new Library of Congress take his books, since Americans needed to consider the "twenty gods or no god" he famously noted were revered by his neighbors. Looking at the Americans who believed in these gods, Manseau fills in America's story of itself, from the persecuted "witches" at Salem and who they really were, to the persecuted Buddhists in WWII California, from spirituality and cults in the '60s to the recent presidential election where both candidates were for the first time non-traditional Christians.
One Nation, Under Gods shows how much more there is to the history we tell ourselves, right back to the country's earliest days. Dazzling in its scope and sweep, it is an American history unlike any you've read.
The last few decades have produced several magisterial tomes on American religious history, from such authors as Sydney Ahlstrom and Edwin Gaustad. None, however, matches the subversive and much-needed revisionism of Manseau's tour de force. Arguing that "we have learned history from the middle rather than the margins... from which so much of our culture has been formed," Manseau (Rag and Bone; Vows) undertakes a thorough reimagining of our nation's religions. Christopher Columbus, in this telling, is not nearly so interesting as contemporaneous Moorish and Jewish conquistadores, who were already accustomed to cultural pluralism; Mormon founder Joseph Smith was influenced not so much by the revivalist Protestantism of western New York as by the legacy of the Iroquois spiritual leader Handsome Lake; and the Salem witch trials are evidence of Puritans' inability to stamp out persistent folk beliefs and practices from the Old World. Indeed, Manseau suggests, "a spectrum of beliefs has shaped our common history since well before the first president." Engagingly written, with a historian's eye for detail and a novelist's sense of character and timing, this history from another perspective reexamines familiar tales and introduces fascinating counternarratives. Agent: Kathleen Anderson, Anderson Literary Management. (Jan.)
"Subversive and much-needed...[a] tour de force. A thorough reimagining of our nation's religions.... Engagingly written, with a historian's eye for detail and a novelist's sense of character and timing, this history from another perspective reexamines familiar tales and introduces fascinating counternarratives."Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The United States is arguably the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Peter Manseau shows how this has always been the case. One Nation, Under Gods is a refreshing, compelling, and surprising reexamination of our nation's history that puts lie to the oft-quoted idea that America was founded as 'a Christian nation.'"Reza Aslan, author of No god but God and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
"Accessible and insightful prose... A richer, more complex, and compelling viewpoint that is reminiscent of Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States... This significant and timely work is important for those who wish to understand the complete and diverse landscape of religious history in America--but even more valuable for those who don't."Erin Entrada Kelly, Library Journal (starred review)
"What the author endeavors to do here--and does so with deep-running stories told with verve and dash--is to square that narrative with a religious syncretism that provides a more colorful, distinct, eccentric, not to mention truthful, historical record.... An eye-opener. After reading Manseau, readers will see the influences he writes about not only dot, but shape, the landscape."Kirkus
"With a novelist's verve and a historian's precision, Manseau deftly guides us through a cacophonous religious landscape, studded with encounters so unexpected and bizarre that they could be the stuff of speculative fiction.... Manseau's book likewise represents a remarkable gathering of American spiritual voices. Much more than a simple catalogue of diversity, One Nation, Under Gods is a stunning history of religious cross-pollination."Tanya Erzen, Bookforum
"With tales of secret faiths, false tolerance and quiet yet formidable dissent, each chapter is a window onto lives that were lived on the margin of Christian narratives. And along with a few intriguing statistics, like the fact that 20 percent of Africans in the early colonies were Muslim, and that most of the colonists didn't bother to go to church, they shine a light on history's finer strands.... [A] lively, refreshing account."Damaris Colhoun, New York Times Book Review
"Manseau artfully packs each profile with context, adding the occasional soupçon of drama to assure maximal, enthralling readability."Booklist
"Here at last is the rest of the American story, in one great kaleidoscope of a book. Peter Manseau has revealed the many too often obscured by 'one nation.' The truth is so much more vast and strange and funny and fascinating than that, and Manseau, a brilliant writer of great wit, curiosity, and learning, is the perfect guide."Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family
"Truth telling and riveting storytelling don't always go hand in hand, but they do in this necessary history of America's stunningly diverse religious heritage."Cathleen Medwick, MORE Magazine
"An unusual work of history... A series of isolated snapshots, each chapter telling the story of a person considered a heretic, blasphemer, atheist or heathen, who nevertheless helped in some way to shape the course of American history."Laura Miller, Salon
"One Nation, Under Gods is one of those too-rare works of innovative history that also manage to be works of literary art. Its series of interlocking stories, rich in color and depth, combine to offer a new picture of America, both past and present."Adam Goodheart, author of 1861
"In 'One Nation, Under Gods,' Manseau... examines the tension between the one and the many in a wide-ranging series of anecdotes (some of them long forgotten) drawn from 500 years of American history."Glenn C. Altschuler, San Francisco Chronicle
"An unexpected history of the United States, in which Muslim explorers, Chinese temple-builders, Hindu philosophers, Shinto soldiers, Ouija-board-wielding hippies and those Sikh lumbermen shape the ideals of a nation, right alongside the familiar Protestant founding fathers."Michael Schulson, Salon
"Like most nations, the United States also needs to rewrite its history in order to remove myths that have become part of its history books. Peter Manseau has done just that in his exceptionally brilliant book."Arif Jamal, The Washington Book Review
"Prodigiously entertaining and thought-provoking.... One Nation, Under Gods is a sparkling work and a very pleasingly playful one, just exactly the pitch of light but learned inquiry that the vexed question of religion in America desperately needs, and the embattled secular humanism at the book's core is as refreshing as it is rare."Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
"Brilliant."Ed Simon, Tikkun
"One Nation, Under Gods is a tour de force, definitely in the must-read category.... Dissecting 500 years of history, [Manseau] presents scholarly research as compelling storytelling that presents a controversial view: the notion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation is a myth."Najwa Margaret Saad, The Arab Weekly
"Beautifully written account of our interfaith country."Eboo Patel, Sojouners
"The case for a pluralistic America is made even stronger when the stories of religious minorities are brought in from the margins and given the level of critical attention they deserve... One Nation, Under Gods deals a fatal blow to the myth of America as a singularly Christian nation. It is a Christian nation, of sorts, but it has always been more than that. It is a Muslim nation and a Sikh nation and a Buddhist nation. Its religious legacy doesn't just belong to the Puritans' ideological descendants."Sarah Jones, Church and State
"A curious and rewarding series of acutely observed and felt character studies from American history... Manseau sympathizes with these colorful and brave figures from America's spiritual margins, and he appreciates how those margins, in often unacknowledged ways, shaped American religion and culture."Brian Doherty, Reason
"Lively and well researched look into our country's wonderfully checkered religious past. While most of us trace a Christian-centric past from the founding Puritans to a Fundamentalist present, Manseau argues that the USA is the most religiously diverse nation in the world-and backs up his argument with examples ranging from the earliest Wiccans through present-day cults and movements. Fascinating stuff."Bethanne Patrick, Washingtonian
"Wonderfully engaging..."Religion News Service
America's foundational theocracy is often portrayed as "an Exodus story within the scripture of American history: England as Egypt; the ocean as desert," says Manseau (fellow, Smithsonian; coauthor, Believer, Beware). But the truth of America's religious history isn't limited to the Christians who staked claim, sometimes violently, to already occupied land. Buried in the margins is a broader picture: one of Jews and Muslims, passive colonists, skeptical Puritans, and fervent atheists—most of whom have been lost to the more nationalistic, one-dimensional view of America as Christians' chosen nation, but all of whom played a vital role in building the country and nurturing its freedoms. Manseau explains that, "if not for those on the margins of the dominant faith…the freedoms the majority takes for granted might be strangled in a noose of selective toleration." The author takes readers from Christopher Columbus to President Barack Obama with accessible and insightful prose that offers a truer picture of America's supposed ordained authority and a richer, more complex, and compelling viewpoint that is reminiscent of Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. VERDICT This significant and timely work is important for those who wish to understand the complete and diverse landscape of religious history in America—but even more valuable for those who don't.—Erin Entrada Kelly, Philadelphia, PA
Smithsonian fellow Manseau (Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead, 2009, etc.) unspools a web of gods who have had an impact on the development of the United States.The dominant Christian narrative that runs through the history of the United States was written by Christians. What the author endeavors to do here—and does so with deep-running stories told with verve and dash—is to square that narrative with a religious syncretism that provides a more colorful, distinct, eccentric, not to mention truthful, historical record. In each chapter, Manseau addresses a single topic, though they gradually spread a maze of intersections and dynamics. "[T]he repeated collision of conflicting systems of belief, followed frequently by ugly and violent conflict," writes the author, "has somehow arrived, again and again, not merely at peaceful coexistence but striking moments of inter-influence." Manseau takes on a great company of iconoclasts, from Eric the Red to North African Muslims and Chinese from the Middle Kingdom, all of who arrived in American before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. From the undaunted Anne Hutchinson's antinomianism, the author pivots to the healers from Africa who faced smallpox with their history of inoculation. Early on, Thomas Jefferson knew that religious systems interacted, intimately and transformatively. Eventually, there would come Shakers and Mormons, Hindus and Buddhists, Sikhs and Scientologists. Manseau does not paint a peaceable kingdom; it has always been riven by exclusion leagues, immigration acts, dreadful violence and banishments. His point is that there has always existed an undeniable "inter-influence," that the atmosphere of the country couldn't help but be shaped and reshaped by its disorderly moments with those who found themselves here for religious reasons. An eye-opener. After reading Manseau, readers will see the influences he writes about not only dot, but shape, the landscape.
- Little, Brown and Company
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- Hachette Digital, Inc.
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Meet the Author
Peter Manseau holds a doctorate in religion from Georgetown University and currently serves as the first-ever Curator of American Religious History at the Smithsonian. He is the author of Rag and Bone, Songs for the Butcher's Daughter, and Vows. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland.
- Charlottesville, Virginia
- Date of Birth:
- November 15, 1974
- Place of Birth:
- Washington, D.C.
- B.A., University of Massachusetts, 1996
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