Conference Alert: Museums and Faith

From H-Museum:

ICOM / ICMAH Annual Conference 2009
"Museums and Faith"

organised by
ICOM’s International Committee for Museums and Collections of Archaeology and History (ICMAH)
and the
Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg
14-16 May 2009


The Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg (Luxembourg City History Museum) will be hosting the above conference. It will be organised as part of a support programme for the exhibition "A Matter of Faith. An Exhibition for Believers and Non-Believers". For more information on the Luxembourg City History Museum, please visit

Starting point and background of the conference

The times we live in are characterised by our highly ambivalent relationship with religion and faith. On the one hand, western societies are experiencing increased secularisation. This is countered, on the other hand, by a growing trend towards fundamentalism, also among Christians. Nevertheless, the subject of faith and religion appears so far to have occupied only a marginal place in cultural history museums and exhibitions. There are only a handful of establishments that explicitly tackle this subject. Worth mentioning are the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow, the Museum of World Religions in Taipei/Taiwan or the Bijbelsmuseum in Amsterdam. At the same time, numerous cultural history museums exhibit objects of faith outside of their religious context. Is the museum world scared of taking a stand with regard to the subject of faith?

The conference is using an exhibition, which has made its mark in this particular subject field, as a point of departure for raising the issue of how museum curators deal with the subject of faith. The exhibition “A Matter of Faith. An Exhibition for Believers and Non-Believers”, which was shown in the Lenzburg Stapferhaus in 2006/07 and is on display in an adapted version at the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg in 2008/09, illustrates individual practices of faith and invites visitors to identify their own personal ideas via a test of faith. The elaborate display of sacred objects involved in the Luxembourg cult of the Virgin Mary lends an additional historical dimension to the exhibition. The particular approach of the exhibition is also of significance for our conference.

The conference "Museums and faith" calls upon critically reflective museum curators. It is not intended to focus on religious history or anthropology.
More specifically, the conference "Museums and faith" will be contemplating and discussing innovative and stimulating practical examples under the following four focus points:

1. Museums in the area of tension between faith and society
It has become a common catchphrase to talk of a "clash of cultures" or a "clash of religions". Major cities in Europe as well as in America are characterised by the juxtaposition and often the opposition of religions. To what extent do museums / exhibitions take a stand in these negotiation processes? Do they assume the role of neutral observers, of chroniclers? Or do they intervene, moderately or even taking sides?
Can and should museums explore the depth of faith?

2. Can historical experiences of faith be exhibited?
To what extent can individual experiences of faith in fact be represented by means of historical observation? (To what extent) can this even be communicated to an audience that is no longer religious?

3. Faith in contemporary art
How does contemporary art broach the issue of faith, between blasphemy and provocation on the one hand and individual professions of faith on the other hand? What can curators of cultural history museums learn from the approach adopted by contemporary art museums?

4. Secular museum objects, sacred museum objects
Whenever a Christian church is no longer used for worship, it must first be "deconsecrated", so that it can subsequently be used for secular purposes. What happens to objects originally used for religious rites? What about their religious content? Does this disappear once they are transferred to a museum or an exhibition? As museum objects they are secular objects per se, but is there not something that “remains” nevertheless? Altar pieces, for instance, can trigger reflective meditation in a museum. Likewise, religious objects deposited in a museum can be made available to people for religious ceremonies. How do museum curators deal with this? Do they act as intermediaries between the religious and the secular? How much faith do curators allow in their museums?

For programme and registration form click here.


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