A Lively Experiment

A Multireligious Historical Overview of Rhode Island



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On College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, stands a large statue of Roger Williams extending his hand in benediction over the City of Providence. An inscription on the monument's base reads: "Here reposes dust from the grave of Roger Williams." The steeple of the First Baptist Church in America, the congregation that Williams gathered, is visible below.

Narragansett Tribe members dance an intertribal dance at their 327th Annual Powwow, August 11, 2002. Their Chief Sachem, Matthew Seventh Hawk Thomas, dances in the inner circle near the fire pit. The fire was lit by Medicine Man Lloyd G. Running Wolf Wilcox.

A terse and barely-legible marker stands at the entrance to the Great Swamp in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, where the Great Swamp Fight against the Narragansett Tribe occurred in 1675. The marker reads: "Three-quarters of a mile to the southward on an island in the Great Swamp the Narragansett Indians were decisively defeated by the united forces of the Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and Plymouth colonies, Sunday, December 19, 1675."

At the Narragansett Tribe's Annual Powwow in 2002, members of the Native Peoples' music group Wakeby Lake from Mashpee, Massachusetts, perform a song for dancing.

The Narragansett Indian Church in Charlestown, Rhode Island. On the flagpole, the Narragansett tribal flag hangs above a United States flag with a native symbol superimposed.

The Royal Burying Ground of the Narragansett Tribe in the woods of Charlestown, Rhode Island. The inscription on the tombstone in the center reads: "This tablet is erected and this spot of ground consecrated by the State of Rhode Island to mark the place which Indian tradition identifies as the Royal Burying Ground of the Narragansett Tribe and in recognition of the kindness and hospitality of this once powerful Nation to the founders of this State."

This 4.5 acre park in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, occupies the land that the Narragansett Tribe deeded to Roger Williams in 1636 to use for the original settlement of Providence. Now part of the Roger Williams National Memorial, it has six interpretive markers.

At the Roger Williams National Memorial in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, this garden encloses the freshwater spring around which Williams made his settlement in 1636. Williams' house was located where the brick building stands in the background across the street.

The exterior of the current meetinghouse of the First Baptist Church in America, which was gathered by Roger Williams in 1638. This meetinghouse was erected in 1774 during the pastorate of the church's first called minister, The Reverend James Manning, also the first president of Brown University, "For the publick Worship of Almighty GOD, and also for holding Commencement in." Brown's college commencement still begins in this meetinghouse.

This vault in Rhode Island's State Capitol Building in Providence, Rhode Island, contains the original Charter of the Colony of Rhode Island, granted to Roger Williams by England's King Charles I in 1663.

The Great Friends Meeting House in Newport, Rhode Island, built in 1699. The central part constituted the original building. It now belongs to the Newport Historical Society.

The Colonial Jewish Cemetery of New England in Newport, Rhode Island. The plot was purchased and consecrated by members of Newport's Congregation Jeshuat Israel in 1677.

The exterior of the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in what is now the United States, located in Newport, Rhode Island. The synagogue was dedicated in 1763.

University Hall, the main building of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Built in 1770, it is a Registered National Historic Landmark. It is central on the College Green.

Manning Chapel, one of Brown University's several religious centers, located on the College Green next to University Hall. Upstairs is the sanctuary, downstairs is a large classroom.

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Newport, Rhode Island. St. Mary's Parish is the oldest Roman Catholic congregation in Rhode Island. Its current building was built from 1848-1852. President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier were married there in 1953.

This recently restored historic home is the current center for the Vedanta Society of Providence, Rhode Island. It contains a sanctuary, clergy quarters, a library, and other facilities.

The Muslim American Da'wah Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Da'wah is Arabic for "invitation," especially the invitation to hear God's call to Islam. This center was established in 1998. Its community hopes eventually to construct its own proper masjid.

The exterior of the Providence Zen Center and the headquarters of the Kwan Um School of Zen, located in suburban Cumberland, Rhode Island. The dharma hall is at center.

The Islamic Center of Rhode Island (Masjid al-Karim) in Providence, Rhode Island. Formerly a funeral home, this building was purchased and converted into a masjid in 1976.

The gateway and current main temple of the Wat Thormikaram of Rhode Island (Khmer Buddhist Society of New England) in Providence, Rhode Island. The gateway contains statues of the twelve animals representing the years of the calendar, as well as models of the great Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia and the new temple this community hopes to construct on its land in Providence.

The entrance to the Watlao Buddhovath, located in Smithfield, Rhode Island. The yellow house in the background is the monastery, and behind it is the main meditation hall.

Masjid al-Islam in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. Constructed in 1994, the masjid has all of a mosque's traditional elements—a minaret, places to perform ritual washings, etc.

A close-up of the dome of the Rhode Island State Capitol Building in Providence, Rhode Island. The inscription below the dome comes from Rhode Island's colonial charter, issued by England's King Charles I to Roger Williams in 1663, that reiterated the intention for which Williams founded his colony: "To hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments."

Looking through the Roger Williams monument in Providence, Rhode Island, the dome of the Rhode Island state capitol building is visible in the distance. The view suggests Williams' vision of religious non-establishment and free exercise that later became national law in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


All images © Gregory McGonigle/The Pluralism Project

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