Religious Objects in Museums: Private Lives and Public Duties

Author(s): Crispin Paine

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In the past, museums often changed the meaning of icons or statues of deities from sacred to aesthetic, or used them to declare the superiority of Western society, or simply as cultural and historical evidence. The last generation has seen faith groups demanding to control 'their' objects, and curators recognising that objects can only be understood within their original religious context. In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in the role religion plays in museums, with major exhibitions highlighting the religious as well as the historical nature of objects. Using examples from all over the world, Religious Objects in Museums is the first book to examine how religious objects are transformed when they enter the museum, and how they affect curators and visitors. It examines the full range of meanings that religious objects may bear - as scientific specimen, sacred icon, work of art, or historical record. Showing how objects may be used to argue a point, tell a story or promote a cause, may be worshipped, ignored, or seen as dangerous or unlucky, this highly accessible book is an essential introduction to the subject.


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This book provides the first concise, comprehensive overview of all the key issues surrounding a hotly debated topic: the presentation and inclusion of religious objects in museums.

The author takes his readers on a magical world tour of tangible things that were once-and in some cases still are-used in a huge variety of religious settings. With a cosmopolitan lightness of touch, Paine demonstrates the radical instability of such things, even once they have found their way into museums. They do not have a single meaning or use, but are almost infinitely adaptable. Above all, he deftly shows that the "distinction between 'religious' and 'mundane' is a curious modern Western idea, incomprehensible to most people at most times." No other book introduces readers more engagingly to the puzzles surrounding how museums address the sacred realm worldwide. Ivan Gaskell, Professor of Cultural History and of Museum Studies, Bard Graduate Center, New York City

Crispin Paine is Honorary Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, UK.

Introduction Objects Curated Objects Visited Objects Worshipped and Worshipping Objects Claimed Objects Respected Objects Demanding and Dangerous Objects Elevating Objects Militant Objects Promotional Objects Explanatory and Evidential Conclusion Notes References

General Fields

  • : 9781847887733
  • : Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • : Berg Publishers
  • : December 2012
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Crispin Paine
  • : Paperback
  • : 192