Faith in a Glass Case: Religion in Canadian Museums

Title: Faith in a Glass Case: Religion in Canadian Museums
Authors: Nixon, Shelly
Date: 2012
Abstract: This thesis explores how religion is being represented, interpreted, and discussed in Canadian museums. It draws from a sample of thirty-one semi-structured interviews with curators and museum professionals and from the author’s own observations of fifty-one museums in eleven provinces and territories across Canada to explore the themes of space, power, and identity as they relate to religion in Canadian museums. Using the theories of sacred space created by Knott, this thesis explores how Canadian museums are capable of becoming sacred spaces based on their ability to give visitors numinous experiences, to act as contested spaces, and to serve as a location of religion. Canadian museums are powerful, as argued by Bourdieu and Foucault, by their very nature as places that produce and define knowledge, through claims to objectivity and an emphasis on a progress narrative, giving museums (and curators) power to define what is and is not religious by deciding whether and how to discuss the religious aspects of an artefact, object, or culture. Within the context of these two themes, museums enact Ricoeur’s theory of narrative identity by telling stories about different groups in order to create and communicate their identities. Some museums present a homogenous Canadian identity based on white mainline Christian identity while others explore the complexity of Canadian identity by telling the stories of non-mainstream religious or ethnic groups and their participation in Canadian history. Aboriginal peoples in Canada have become involved in the display of their traditions in larger museums and have started creating their own museums and cultural centres where their voices can take precedence.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -