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Strange and Curious Smithsonian Jobs: Religion and Politics

Evening Program

Tuesday, December 11, 2018 - 6:45 p.m.
Code: 1A0071
Brad Braxton delivers an address on religion at the 2018 Smithsonian Martin Luther King, Jr. event (Photo: Michael Barnes)

As a secular and educational cultural institution, the Smithsonian’s touchpoints with religion and politics are diverse and sometimes surprising. The latest in this occasional series of programs explores the age-old dichotomy of church and state, as seen through the work of two Smithsonian staff members.

At the American History Museum, curator Lisa Kathleen Graddy spends her time taking care of the desk Thomas Jefferson used to write the Declaration of Independence; hunting for signs at protest rallies; dodging balloons while chasing delegates in funny hats at political conventions; greeting first ladies; deciding how to tell the story of voting rights in 1,000 square feet; and planning ways to tell more stories about the political lives of women. Graddy shares the excitement and inspiration that comes with the job of researching, collecting, and displaying the variety of ways that Americans have engaged with and influenced their government and continue to shape our democracy.

Across the street at the African American History and Culture Museum, Brad Braxton, director of the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life, explores the role of religion in the Smithsonian’s newest museum. According to Braxton, a chief characteristic of Africana culture is a deep appreciation for the spirit and the marvelously diverse ways in which they define it: as tribal gods, elemental forces, human capacity, community wisdom, and religious rituals and artifacts that serve as links to a sacred universe. By establishing a center on religion as a key part of the museum, the Smithsonian emphasizes the indispensable role of religion in the African American journey, and by extension, in the broader American experience.

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)