We are off to the American Academy of Religion (AAR) annual meeting in Boston, where at 4 PM on Saturday we are participating in a roundtable discussion on the topic, “Museums and the Public Understanding of Religion: Sacred Art, History, and Science on Display.” Here’s how the AAR program describes the session:
There are over 850 million visits every year to museums in the United States, much more than attendance at sporting events and amusement parks combined. Museums are go-to places for educational field trips, must-see destinations for tourists, for hands-on scientific exploration, and flint stones of socio-political controversy. And they are filled with religious objects. . . . Each panelist will reflect on their own experiences at the intersection of religion and museums, commenting on how museums engage, promote, and influence the public understanding of religion in the United States.
Two highly-respected scholars of religion are in charge of the session: S. Brent Plate (Hamilton College) organized the roundtable and will serve as chair, and Stephen Prothero (Boston University) will serve as respondent. The session will include presentations on the National Museum of American History (Washington), the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History (Washington), and . . . the Creation Museum/Ark Encounter (Petersburg/Williamstown, KY).
What??? How can comments about Ken Ham’s creationist tourist sites possibly fit in the same academic conversation with discussion of these three reputable museums? Will the theologians and religious studies profs in the audience head for the exit once we put up our Creation Museum photo of dinosaurs cavorting with children?
We have no idea how this is going to go. But it should be fun!