Jun 3, 2017
There are over 850 million visits every year to museums in the United States, a count higher than that for sporting events and amusement parks combined. Hundreds of millions more visit collections online. Museums are go-to spaces for educational field trips, must-see destinations for tourists to new cities, sites for contemplation, for hands-on scientific exploration, and flint stones of socio-political controversy. They are also filled with religious objects.
Among all the media and means through which a broad swath of the public comes to understand religious lives and traditions, museums have emerged as some of the most prominent social institutions influencing the popular conceptions and imaginaries of religion. From history to natural history, art to archaeology, local to national, museums actively shape how people come to know about beliefs and practices other than their own, just as they challenge conceptions of one’s own cultural, religious, and national histories.
(RNS) The place of religion in museums has a long, troubled, and often strange history.
In the 1930s, the Soviet Union established a series of “anti-religion” museums. Several decades later, objects from the museums were transformed for use in the Museum of the History of Religion, now in St. Petersburg. And in response to ethnic and religious clashes across Scotland, the government there helped create the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, which is dedicated to “understanding and respect between people of different faiths and of none.”
Sep 10, 2016
In 1938, on the cusp of World War II, the Museum of Mankind (Musée de l’Homme) opened in Paris, across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. It would never have come to fruition without the efforts of Paul Rivet, an ethnologist working alongside Marcel Mauss and Émile Durkheim between the wars, who was committed to antifascist cultural and political work. In contrast to the Nazi ideology sweeping Germany at the time, Rivet wanted the museum to portray “man as an indivisible whole in space and time.”
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Musée de l’Homme underwent a massive renovation, spanning several years, and reopened in the fall of 2015. The new layout, in the same architectural shell at the Trocadéro, is a beautiful, uncluttered space. The exhibition rooms and exhibit cases display archaeological discoveries, cultural curiosities, scientific data, and artistic takes on human existence. All of them speak to the questions set up by the museum coordinators: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we headed?