Project
CAA Panel Chair: Sacred Engagements: Religion and Ritual in the Museum

In response to the increased energy with which art historians and curators are reflecting critically upon how the museum reproduces systems of oppression, this panel focuses attention on how formal and informal engagements with the sacred, spiritual, and religious challenge disciplined conventions of the academic, secular gaze and contribute to efforts to decolonize the museum. From its beginnings as a field, critical museum studies has taken an interest in how the display of art objects variously activates sacred and secular means of looking. Art historians have developed their own approaches, considering the museum as a secularizing apparatus that nonetheless encourages ritual behavior, while studies by anthropologists and scholars of material religion have tended to foreground displays—such as the British Museum's Hajj exhibition (2012)—that explicitly aim to educate the public about religion. This panel seeks to bring together ideas from these different discourses and perspectives to catalyze a conversation on the theme of religion and the museum. We welcome papers along the following lines of inquiry or related ones, in any historical or geographical context: How have museological framings impacted the meaning of religious objects? How has religion (filtered through organizations, mission statements, curatorial strategies, etc.) shaped modes of engagement in the museum? How have museums (re)considered their pedagogical responsibilities in relationship to religious objects on display? How have museum visitors subverted the secularizing techniques of the museum? What would it mean for curators to recoup the spiritual or mystical aspects of objects?