Religion in Museums

When museums and religion collide

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Call for applications for ‘Talking Religion’

empires-of-faith-logoThe Empires of Faith project (University of Oxford/British Museum), in partnership with TORCH (the AHRC Graduate Fund), invites applications for Talking Religion.

Talking Religion is a new research group, running in Trinity and Michaelmas of 2017, that will look at the importance of material culture for the study of religion. It will combine a series of interdisciplinary workshops, hands-on experience at both the Ashmolean and the British Museum, and the opportunity to present findings in both academic and public contexts. The research group is organised to coincide with the forthcoming Empires of Faith exhibition on Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Hindu art of the first millennium AD in the Ashmolean running from October 2017 to February 2018.

The ten successful applicants will become associate members of the Empires of Faith research project.

  • Participants must be available for both a series of workshops in Trinity Term, and public engagement activities related to the forthcoming exhibition in the Ashmolean in Michaelmas and Hilary term.
  • Participants will develop presentations suitable for public audiences in the form of gallery talks to be given over the course of the exhibition, and a presentation for a graduate conference to be held in conjunction with the Empires of Faith project conference in January 2018.
  • As part of the Visual Conversation series (OUP), participants will be welcome to submit ideas for possible book collaborations in the future, the first of which, Images of Mithra, will be published in March 2017.

Applicants should be in the first or second years of the D.Phil., and be able to demonstrate a strong interest in aspects of religion and material culture (please note that it is not necessary for applicants to be specialists in this area). Applications are particularly welcome from the faculties and schools of Anthropology, Archaeology, Art History, Classics, History, Oriental Studies and Theology.

For further details please visit

The deadline for expressing interest is November 15th 2017.

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Yoga in Museums

Bruce Sullivan has just been interviewed on the Religious Studies Project about Yoga in Museums. The interview is introduced by:

Yoga, in its modern form, should be of great interest to scholars of religion. While it certainly has roots in Vedic culture, the vast majority of Western practitioners do not see it as “religious”, but rather to do with health or “well-being”. Yoga’s status as religious has been in court, but nevertheless it continues to be practised in business, schools and, as Bruce Sullivan tells us, museums.

He has found yoga practiced in a big variety of museums across the US (though not in Europe) and by no means only in museums with Asian collections. The interview strays into a number of aspects of religion in museums, but returns with Bruce’s story of two yoga teachers who saw themselves as in a sense reconsecrating a sacred object by performing yoga in front of it.


Listen to the interview here.

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‘Religion in Museums’ on sale today

rbookAnnouncing the publication of Religion in Museums: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Gretchen Buggeln, Crispin Paine, and S. Brent Plate.

Currently on sale for £11.99 in paperback or ebook/PDF from the UK publisher and $17.97 for the paperback or $11.99 for the ebook/PDF from the US publisher.


Bringing together scholars and practitioners from North America, Europe, Russia, and Australia, this pioneering volume provides a global survey of how museums address religion and charts a course for future research and interpretation. Contributors from a variety of disciplines and institutions explore the work of museums from many perspectives, including cultural studies, religious studies, and visual and material culture. Most museums throughout the world – whether art, archaeology, anthropology or history museums – include religious objects, and an increasing number are beginning to address religion as a major category of human identity. With rising museum attendance and the increasingly complex role of religion in social and geopolitical realities, this work of stewardship and interpretation is urgent and important.

Religion in Museums is divided into six sections: museum buildings, reception, objects, collecting and research, interpretation of objects and exhibitions, and the representation of religion in different types of museums. Topics covered include repatriation, conservation, architectural design, exhibition, heritage, missionary collections, curation, collections and display, and the visitor’s experience. Case studies provide comprehensive coverage and range from museums devoted specifically to the diversity of religious traditions, such as the State Museum of the History of Religion in St Petersburg, to exhibitions centered on religion at secular museums, such as Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, at the British Museum.


Foreword, Sally Promey (Professor of Religion and Visual Culture at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies, Yale University, USA)

Introduction: Religion in Museums, Museums as Religion, Gretchen Buggeln, Crispin Paine, and S. Brent Plate

Part One: Museum Buildings

1. Museum Architecture and the Sacred: Modes of Engagement, Gretchen Buggeln (Duesenberg Chair in Christianity and the Arts, Valparaiso University, USA)
2. Toward a Theology of the Art Museum, Karla Cavarra Britton (Yale School of Architecture, USA)
3. Native Americans on the National Mall: The Architecture of the Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Gretchen Buggeln (Duesenberg Chair in Christianity and the Arts, Valparaiso University, USA), with Douglas Cardinal (Architect, National Museum of the American Indian, USA) and Tim Johnson (National Museum of American History, USA)

Part Two: Objects, Museums, Religions

4. The Museumification of Religion: Human Evolution and the Display of Ritual, S. Brent Plate (Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Hamilton College, USA)
5. Altar as Museum, Museum as Altar: Ethnography, Devotion, and Display, Mary Nooter Roberts (UCLA, USA)
6. Religious History Objects in Museums, Lauren F. Turek (Trinity University in San Antonio, USA)
7. Archaeological Displays: Ancient Objects, Current Beliefs, Chiara Zuanni (University of Manchester, UK)
8. Museums, Religious Objects, and the Flourishing Realm of the Supernatural in Modern Asia, Denis Byrne (Western Sydney University, Australia)

Part Three: Responses to Objects, Museums, & Religion

9. Devotional Baggage, Steph Berns (University of Lancaster, UK)
10. Transactional and Experiential Responses to Religious Objects, Graham Howes (Emeritus Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge and a Trustee of the Art and Christianity Enquiry)
11. Museums and the Repatriation of Objects, 1945-2015, Mark O’Neill (Director of Policy, Research and Development at Glasgow Life, UK)
12. The Case for the News Media’s Critical Engagement with Museum Religious Exhibits, Menachem Wecker (Art Critic, Chicago, USA)

Part Four: Museum Collecting and Research

13. Museum Collection and the History of Interpretation, David Morgan (Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University, USA)
14. Community-led Museums Exploring Religious Life in Canada: Abbotsford’s Sikh Heritage Museum and Mennonite Heritage Museum, Matthew Francis (Executive Director, Chilliwack Museum and Archives, Canada)
15. Religious Objects and Conservation: The Changing Impact of Religious Objects on Conservators, Samantha Hamilton (Object Conservator at Museum Victoria; University of Melbourne, Australia)
16. Collecting and Research in the Museum of the History of Religion, Ekaterina Teryukova (Deputy Director for Research Affairs,Museum of the History of Religion, St Petersburg, Russia)
17. Studying, Teaching and Exhibiting Religion: The Marburg Museum of Religions – (Religionskundliche Sammlung), Konstanze Runge (Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Marburg, Germany)

Part Five: Museum Interpretation of Religion and Religious Objects

18. Radical Hospitality: Approaching Religious Understanding in Museums, Amanda Millay Hughes (Duke University Chapel, USA)
19. Islam and Museums: Learning and Outreach, John Reeve (Lecturer in the Department of Art, Design and Museology, UCL, UK)
20. Museums and Religion: Uneasy Companions, Tom Freudenheim ((Smithsonian Institute, USA)
21. Conversing with the Past: First-Person Religion Programming at Colonial Williamsburg, Gretchen Buggeln (Duesenberg Chair in Christianity and the Arts, Valparaiso University, USA)
22. Religion in Museums for Families with Children, Christian Carron (The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, USA), Susan Foutz (The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, USA), and Melissa Pederson (The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, USA)
23. Bringing the Sacred into Art Museums,Gary Vikan (The Walters Art Museum, USA)

Part Six: Presenting Religion in a Variety of Museums

24. Rich and Varied: Religion in Museums, Crispin Paine (Honorary Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, UK)
25. The Museum of Biblical Art: a Worthwhile Experiment, Ena Giurescu Heller (Director of Rollins College Cornell Fine Arts Museum, USA)
26. Missionary Museums, Christopher Wingfield (Senior Curator, Archaeology, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge University, UK)
27. Religion at Glencairn Museum: Past, Present, and Future, Ed Gyllenhaal (Curator, Glencairn Museum of Religion, Philadelphia, USA)

Afterword: Looking to the Future of Religion in Museums, Gretchen Buggeln, Crispin Paine, and S. Brent Plate

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Spiritualism in Everyday Life

I was fortunate to be part of an 18-month (2014-16) AHRC-funded project called Spirited Stoke: Spiritualism in the Everyday Life of Stoke-on-Trent (SpELS) based at the Open University. The project’s central aim was on public engagement: the production of an exhibition on Spiritualism in collaboration with active Spiritualist churches and our project partner Gladstone Pottery Museum.

Spiritualism is often depicted as a religion of the past, popularized during the Victorian era, and often visualized through the séance where people sat around a table waiting for the medium to connect with departed loved ones. Yet Spiritualism is still an active religion today. The latest UK Census numbers show that while Christianity declined, Spiritualism rose by 17% between 2001 and 2011. Regionally, the highest increase was located in the Midlands, where the SpELS project focused its attention. Stoke-on-Trent has a rich history of Spiritualism, including being the home of Gordon Higginson – the longest serving President of the Spiritualist National Union.

A key component of Spiritualism is its dissociation with materiality. This presented a challenge, considering our task was a museum exhibition. Yet we knew this, and, indeed, the exhibition was partly to challenge ourselves and others about how to display aspects of religion and spirituality that are often considered intangible.

The museum had a dedicated space for us which often acts as a workshop room, yet parts of it are Grade II* listed, limiting our ability to ‘use’ it in particular ways. We chose to change the space allocated to us and gain the assistance of a local art technician to build a living room, linking the importance of the living room as a location of Spiritualist practice from the past, and the place where most of our residential interviews with Spiritualists took place. As museum visitors explored the living room, they were encouraged to watch TV reports on Spiritualism, sift through newspapers where Spiritualism articles could be found, lift up the telephone receiver to hear stories from our Spiritualist participants, go through books on the bookshelf that reflected those found in our participants’ homes, and listen to music that can be heard at contemporary Spiritualist church services and healing services. Outside the living room was a living ‘Memory Tree’ where visitors could leave thoughts to departed loved ones. The museum also let us use a kiln which enabled us to experiment with audio; its space and acoustics contributed to building up an atmosphere that featured recordings of some of our Spiritualist participants recounting how they first got involved in Spiritualism.

Alongside the exhibition, events took place in the museum where visitors had the opportunity to experience Spiritualist practices in a public setting, outside the confines of a church. These events included participating in mediumship demonstrations, obtaining healing and engaging in Spirit Art.

The exhibition at Gladstone Pottery Museum took place in September and October 2015. For more information, visit the Talking with the Dead website where the exhibition has been archived.

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Vacancy: The Bishop Otter Scholarship

The trustees of the Bishop Otter Trust seek to appoint a person of proven academic ability to a scholarship for exploration of theology and the arts, based in Chichester, working in partnership with the Centre for Arts and the Sacred at King’s (ASK), London. The scholarship will be for two years. The successful candidate will be ready to undertake some original, post-graduate work of research that will generate theological debate (seminar, lecture, blog, etc.), provide a research resource for the bishop of Chichester, and achieve publication that will constitute serious scholarship. Residential accommodation (including utilities, etc.) is provided.

The scholarship is for £7,000 per annum. The time commitment to the scholarship is three days a week residence in Chichester, the equivalent of a .5 part-time post of 20 hours. Holiday is pro rata for a .5 part-time post.

Applications close at 12.00 noon on Friday 17 March, 2017. Interviews will be held at The Palace, Chichester, on Wednesday, 5 April, 2017. Details are available from: Mrs Margaret Gibson, The Palace, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1PY

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ICOM appoints Director of Dommuseum as its new Director General


‘Museums Heritage Advisor’ reports that Peter Keller has been appointed Director General of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) today.

Keller, who is currently serving his second mandate as ICOM Treasurer, has been Director of the Salzburg Cathedral Museum (Dommuseum), Austria, since 2002. In 2014, he initiated a merger with three other museums to form the DomQuartier Salzburg, a progressive institution whose visitor numbers soared to five times those of the Dommuseum.

Peter Keller studied art history in Vienna, Bonn and Cologne as well as museology in Paris. For three years, he worked at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin before joining the Dommuseum. In addition to his role of Treasurer at ICOM, Keller has also served as Chair and Secretary of the organisation’s International Committee for Historic House Museums (DEMHIST) and as a board member of the Austrian National Committee. In Austria he was also a member of the jury for museum accreditation and of the national advisory council for museums.

Good to see a ‘religion in museums’ man reach the top!