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.