Exploring World Faiths through Museum Collections at the Chester Beatty, Dublin, Ireland

By Jenny Siung, Head of Education, Chester Beatty

The Chester Beatty is located in the centre of Dublin, Ireland, and its collections originate from across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Through its exhibitions and learning programmes, culturally diverse communities can discover and share different cultures as represented in the collections.

The Chester Beatty plays a key role in interfaith dialogue with significant symposiums and learning programmes. These include conferences on Understanding Islam (2004) and The Word and its Beginning (2005) as well as numerous events on world faiths (through talks, art workshops and exhibitions) and contributions to international conferences and publications.

Exploring World Faiths through Museum Collections and Education

The Sacred Traditions gallery on the second floor exhibits the sacred texts, illuminated manuscripts and miniature paintings from the great religions and systems of belief represented in the collections – Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, with smaller displays on Confucianism, Daoism, Sikhism and Jainism. The Biblical Papyri, the remarkable collection of Qur’an manuscripts, and scrolls and books of Buddhist thought provide the focus for the displays.

The Learning and Education Department has worked for several years exploring ways to engage primary and post-primary schools and teachers with this unique collection, and has co-developed a number of learning initiatives. Very few learning resources or supports exist for trainee teachers and teachers in the Irish education system, yet the profile of children in the classroom reflects the country’s culturally diverse population. The Chester Beatty teamed up with the Intercultural Education Service (IES) of Northern Ireland to develop new learning resources addressing language support and interfaith dialogue in two publications, Ways of Seeing I and Ways of Seeing II (2012–2015). Using these resources, teachers from across the island of Ireland can learn about cultural diversity through museum collections following themes found in the school curriculum including world faiths, science, art, maths, literacy, language skills, science, history and geography.

This has led to a number of other relevant collaborations with key teaching institutions and organisations. In collaboration with Mary Immaculate College Limerick, the largest initial teacher training colleges in Ireland, and members of Dublin Interfaith Forum and Triskel Arts Centre, the Chester Beatty project led a series of interfaith events in Dublin, Limerick and Cork in 2016. 

These partnerships have culminated in a better understanding of how the Chester Beatty can foster and support interfaith dialogue for teachers both in the classroom and museum.

The Learning and Education Department researched and developed an intercultural school’s programme in 2020. As a result the department has initiated the first of a series of Continuous Professional Development programmes with the Junior Cycle Religious Education Team, which steers the development of the teaching of religious education in post-primary schools.  Plans are underway to co-design learning content online as a result of the pandemic, and create better access for teachers in Ireland.

For more information on the Chester Beatty visit www.chesterbeatty.ie


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