Research Questions for Moving Forward

Since my last post, I have continued to read about various exhibitions and theories on the display of religious objects in museums as well as the philosophy behind those objects in their respective traditions. Some of the key themes I have been grappling with are:

  1. Agency–where does agency in inanimate objects come from? Religious communities impose their own idea of agency onto objects which they seem significant and alive but how does this translate to the museum setting? And what physical and emotional elements dictate the kind of agency you give an object?
  2. Cultural Value vs. Aesthetic Value–why do we preserve the things we preserve? What about certain things makes them worthy of conservation and even further worthy of “veneration” in the museum?
  3. Materiality–materiality of spirituality comes across in full force in museums where objects are on display. However, what is sometimes missing is a deeper understanding of the immaterial and transcendent ideas that are at the root of most traditions, which are actually the things worshippers are trying to access during ritual?
  4. Generalization–how often in museums do we generalize non-Western cultures in order to make the ideas easier to digest? Is this “Westernization” or just generalization actually benefitting our understanding or is it taking away essential elements?
  5. Accessibility–how is the text accompanying objects in museums making museums more or less accessible to a wide range of audiences? On a different note, most ritual objects are not accessible to everyone the way they are in the museum and does that inaccessibility make those objects more valuable?

Just a few of my research questions going forward as I continue to visit museums and places of worship!