Browse Exhibits (4 total)

Many Paths of Faith: Religion in Kansas

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Other pioneers have had a great task of making a state out of a wilderness, but Kansas pioneers had another great task, that of making a free state in the face of a most determined opposition. They came to Kansas as the Puritans came to America, in the name of liberty. They were stern, unyielding, purposeful men and women, sure of the presence of divine leadership, and their character has deeply influenced the Kansas people. This influence has made them hate oppression; it has made them demand justice and fair play; it has made them value people for their personal worth; it has made them believe in the equality of human rights, and in the ability of the people to govern themselves. These are the characteristics of every true Kansan and the qualities that make the Kansas spirit.

--Anna E. Arnold, A History of Kansas (1915)

This exhibit is currently under development. Exhibit pages will be added throughout fall 2020 and spring 2021. Please return to view additional exhibit pages as they are developed. 

Religion has a strong presence in Kansas. The earliest inhabitants, American Indians of several nations, held spiritual beliefs that permeated their lives so completely they could not be separated from any other part of their being. The first Europeans to tread Kansas soil, the Spanish explorers, had in their number several priests – including the first Christian martyr in America. As the United States frontier reached the Great Plains, missionaries came to serve soldiers at scattered forts and attempted to convert Native nations. The settlers who swarmed into the territory when the country opened Kansas to general settlement in 1854 established churches as one of their first orders of business. And so things remained -- and changed -- as new religious groups made and continue to make their homes in the state. Kansas religions are numerous and diverse, and the state continues to have the strong religiosity that characterized it from the start.

This exhibit will explore both well-known and lesser-known religious groups in Kansas, though it is by no means exhaustive. The information in this digital exhibit only skims the surface of what is a rich trove of testimony to the power of the human religious spirit. The Religion in Kansas Project hopes it will spur visitors to learn more about this unique state and its fascinating religious history, as well as encourage Kansans to reflect upon and contribute their own religious history to this archive.

Exhibit inspired by and adapted from "Religious Kansas: Chapters in a History" edited by Timothy Miller and written by students in the first Religion in Kansas course (2009) at the University of Kansas.

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St. George Orthodox Cathedral

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Digital exhibition on the history of St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral and Eighth Day Books, an Orthodox Christian bookstore in Wichita, Kansas.

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Contemporary Pagan Communities of Northeast Kansas

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A Pagan is anybody who practices a religion that is not one of the major world religions. This includes indigenous beliefs of Africa and Asia, but is generally used to describe pre-Christian European traditions. The word Pagan itself comes from the Latin paganus meaning "someone who is not from the city, rather from the country." It also denoted civilians, those who were not soldiers in the Roman Empire military. It was a polytheistic belief system which utilized ritual sacrifice. From it's earliest usage, Pagan had a derogatory connotation. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the term Paganism was applied to any unfamiliar religion, which was assumed to worship false gods. Today many individuals embrace the term Pagan, however, there are some who don't use this term because of its origin in Christian theology, and instead identify only by the name of their particular religious path.

Paganism does not represent any one specific belief system. Most modern Pagan religions existing today express a world view that is pantheistic, polytheistic, animistic, or a combination. However, some are monotheistic Pagans. Paganism is typically classified as an Eath Based religion which believe the earth and all its creatures to be sacred and practitioners try to live in harmony with nature. They see humans, nature, and the divine as interconnected. Pagans tend to worship gods and goddesses whose imagery includes aspects of nature. 

Contemporary Paganism, also known as Neopaganism, is a collective term for new religious movements influenced by or derived from the various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. Some practitioners attempt to reconstruct indigenous, ethnic religions as found in historical and folkloric sources as accurately as possible. Others, in particular the followers of revival paths such as Wicca and Neo-Druidism, have their roots in 19th century Romanticism and retain noticeable elements of occultism, Eastern philosophy, and Theosophy. 

Northeast Kansas has a vibrant, yet secretive Pagan community. There are six active covens in the area and a handful of Pagan groups. Despite the multitude of Wiccans worldwide, it is still a religion many find mysterious and sinister, while others are unaware it even exists. I endeavor to challenge pre-conceived notions based on ignorance or fear and help share the beauty and goodness of Paganism. This exhibit explores the major beliefs and practices associated with Wicca and other Pagan religions, Witchcraft and magick, major holidays, rights and discrimination, local covens and groups, Pagan stores and resources, six oral histories from local Pagans, a glossary, and bibliographies for further research.

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The Roots of Pentecostalism in Kansas

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Kansas, and especially the capital city of Topeka, provided excellent circumstances for the shaping of new expressions of Christianity at the turn of the twentieth century. The “Roots of Pentecostalism in Kansas” will demonstrate how Kansas’ location as the geographic center of the United States, Topeka’s placement at the intersection of agricultural life and urban life, and the realities of a harsh existence on the Great Plains provided space for religious innovation during a time of great social and economic change.

In Topeka in the late 1880s to the early 1900s, migrants, rural farmers, poor urban whites, and marginalized African Americans attempted to overcome the extreme difficulties of life on the Great Plains as the city urbanized. Charles F. Parham’s Pentecostal movement provided ways to overcome these hardships, through non-traditional expressions of Christianity and social services more welcoming to the disenfranchised than established denominations in Topeka.

This exhibit will examine the Kansas roots of this now world-wide religious movement and share with the public how Parham’s movement responded directly to the needs of Topeka’s growing rural and urban poor, with a commitment to provide laboring people a connection to the divine without intermediaries. 

When viewing this exhibition, consider not only the role religion played in the lives of past Kansans, but how religions evolve and are evolving within the state of Kansas.

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