Over Spring break I will be visiting Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, PA. Their website is, http://www.glencairnmuseum.org/, I am doing this research for a paper I am presenting at the Butler Undergraduate Research Conference in April. While this is mostly for my resume, I am interested in the subject of religion in museums and have done a paper on it in the past. The concept behind all of this is that: religion is displayed in museums but not simply as religion it is treated as an aspect of culture. This lack of direct representation of religion in museums is what I am trying to address in my research. I am not the first person to take an interest in this subject, this specialized area of museums is a young and growing field. In the hundreds of years museums have existed only two books have been written on the subject, Godly Things: Museums, Objects and Religion and Stewards of the Sacred, the earliest of the two being published in 2000. Of all the museums in the world I only know of two that are attempting to display the world religions from a multi-religious perspective, St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow, Scotland; and the Museum of World Religions in Taipai, Taiwan. Glencairn specializes in ancient religions and states that its focus is to display the development of the New Church (the New Church is a form of Christianity that I will discuss in a different blogpost), this means that while it displays various religions its central focus is a mono-religious view of the world. Another example of a mono-religious museum is the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY; a little west of Cincinnati. I plan to visit the Creation museum during a weekend before my presentation, but the extent that I will use it in my presentation will most likely be limited due to its narrow subject material. I also plan to visit the MOCRA (Museum of Contemporary Religious Art) in St. Louis, MO; this museum displays art from various faiths, but it is all done in the contemporary style. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does limit what aspects of religion the museum is discussing; again I will use this museum in a limited role in my presentation.
You may still be asking what it is that I am presenting, well if you are maybe this will help clarify it. Here is my the abstract I had to submit for the conference.
The Sacred Museum or the Museum of the Sacred: The Context Behind Religion Museums
Museums and religion have always had a conversation with each other but this conversation has not been done directly. Instead religion has always been hidden behind the veil of culture. Culture and religion are intricately tied to one another but a few brave museums have begun to look at religion as an individual entity that can be presented without the veil. These museums have the difficult task of balancing the age old question of “temple versus forum” that all museums deal with but religion museums deal with in a unique way. The temple versus forum question is summed up as whether museums are spaces that merely showcase objects or are they their to have a conversation with the public that they cater too. Thus when it is suggested that these religion museums are “temples” this could be taken in a literal sense where guests come and venerate artifacts. This is why the context used in the display of religious artifacts must be chosen carefully so as not to offend those who come to venerate them and to not alienate those who come to simply learn. Thus the focus of my project will be on religious museums and the context in which they display their artifacts and why they have chosen to use this context. I plan to review multiple museums including museums that focus on religion and those that do not. I intend to show the unique difficulties of this young but growing field of specialized museums.