Reading List

The first of these two lists is aimed at newcomers to the field. The second is also intended to be introductory, but is a little fuller. Corrections and additions will be very welcome

A very basic reading list

Starting with religion:

  • Holloway, Richard. 2016. A Little History of Religion. New Haven: Yale UP. [Despite the title a skilful introduction to thinking and talking about world religions, accessibly written by a Thought for the Day regular, the retired Bishop of Edinburgh.]

Then the extraordinary variety of objects that have focussed and channelled religion in so many world cultures:

  • MacGregor, Neil. 2019. Living with the Gods: On Beliefs and Peoples. New York: Vintage Books / London: Penguin Books

and a crucial introductory study:

  • Morgan, David. 2021. The Thing About Religion: An Introduction to the Material Study of Religions. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

An immensely helpful introduction to the issues and questions is this rich collection of short and readable essays:

  • Buggeln, Gretchen, S. Brent Plate and Crispin Paine, eds. 2017. Religion in Museums: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury.

while some of the ways in which thirty very varied American museums have responded are described in:

  • Buggeln, Gretchen and Franco, Barbara, eds. 2018. Interpreting Religion at Museums and Historic Sites. AASLH Interpreting History Series. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield

The handful of museums in different parts of the world devoted to religion as a human phenomenon are introduced in:

  • Orzech, Charles D. 2020. Museums of World Religion: Displaying the Divine, Shaping Cultures. Bloomsbury Studies in Material Religion. London: Bloomsbury Academic

There’s a variety of studies of museums concerned with individual religions, for example:

  • Junod, Benoît, Georges Khalil, Stefan Weber and Gerhard Wolf, eds. 2013. Islamic Art and the Museum: Approaches to Art and Archeology of the Muslim World in the Twenty-first Century. London: Saqi Books
  • Gahtan, Maia Wellington, 2012. Churches, Temples, Mosques: Places of Worship or Museums? Chiese, Templi, Moschee: Luoghi do Culto o Museo?  Florence: Edifi Edizioni Firenzi
  • Sullivan, Bruce, ed. 2015. Sacred Objects in Secular Spaces: Exhibiting Asian Religions in Museums. London: Bloomington.

But everywhere most religious objects are in ‘secular’ museums:

  • Paine, Crispin. 2013. Religious Objects in Museums: Private Lives and Public Duties. London: Berg

An attractively idiosyncratic and provocative introduction to religion in museums is:

Despite the explosion of publications on material religion and on religion in museums in recent years, there is still disappointingly little on some topics. Three fields that deserve much more attention are conservation and religion, how visitors react to religion in museums, and education. An introduction to each might be:

  • Brooks, M. M. 2012. Seeing the Sacred: Conflicting Priorities in Defining, Interpreting and Conserving Western Sacred Artefacts. Material Religion 8:1, 10-29
  • Berns, Steph. 2016. Considering the Glass Case: Material Encounters Between Museums, Visitors and Religious Objects. Journal of Material Culture. 16:1, 1-38
  • Material Religion 6:2, 2010. Special Issue on Material Religion, Education and Museums

Religious collections often include both objects and archives. Two introductions to archive collections are:

  • Caswell, Michelle. 2013. On Archival Pluralism: What Religious Pluralism (and its Critics) Can Teach us about Archives. Archival Science 13:273-292
  • O’Toole, James M. 1984. What’s Different About Religious Archives? The Midwestern Archivist 9:2, 91-101

Some other useful introductory books and papers, kindly suggested by a number of curators and scholars:


  • Beier-de-Haan, Rosemarie and Marie-Paule Jungblut, eds. 2010. Museums and Faith. Luxembourg: Museé d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg
  • Clifford, James. 1997. Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Crerar, Belinda. 2022. Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic. London: British Museum Press. [An incisive and wide-ranging look at female deities as forces for good, for wisdom and understanding, compassionate and protective but also ferocious and bringers of chaos when crossed. Accompanied the BM exhibition.]
  • Grimes, Ronald L. 1992. Sacred Objects in Museum Spaces. Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuse 21/4, 419-430
  • Hughes, Amanda M. and Carolyn H. Wood. 2010. A Place for Meaning: Art, Faith, and Museum Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press
  • Minucciani, Valeria. 2012. Religion and Museums: Immaterial and Material Heritage. Turin: Allemandi
  • Morgan, David and Sally Promey. 2000. Exhibiting the Visual Culture of American Religions. Valparaiso: Brauer Museum of Art
  • O’Neill, Mark. 1996. ‘Making Histories of Religion’ in: Gaynor Kavanagh (ed.) Making Histories in Museums. London: Leicester University Press
  • Paine, Crispin (ed.), 2000. Godly Things: Museums, Objects and Religion. London: Leicester University Press
  • Robson, James. 2010. ‘Faith in Museums: On the Confluence of Museums and Religious Sites in Asia. PMLA, Vol. 125, No. 1, pp. 121-128
  • Sturge, Kate. 2007. Representing Others: Translation, Ethnography, and the Museum. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing
  • Sullivan, Lawrence E. and Alison Edwards, (eds.), 2004. Stewards of the Sacred.  Washington: American Association of Museums

Some UK Case-Studies

  • O’Neill, Mark. 2011. Religion and Cultural Policy: Two Museum Case Studies. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 17:2, 225-243
  • da Silva, Neysela. 2010. Religious Displays: An Observational Study with a Focus on the Horniman Museum. Material Religion, 6:2, 166-191
  • Strachan, Aileen & Mackay, Lyndsey. 2013. Veiled Practice: Reflecting on Collaborative Exhibition Development through the Journey of one Potentially Contentious Object. Museum Management and Curatorship, 28:1, 73-90

Particular faiths in museums

  • Berger, Natalia 2017. History and Memory, Identity and Art from Vienna to the Bezalel National Museum, Jerusalem. Jewish Identities in a Changing World 29. Leiden: Brill
  • Davis, Richard H. 1997. Lives of Indian Images. Princeton: Princeton University Press
  • Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. 2007. ‘Our Gods, Their Museums’: The Contrary Careers of India’s Art Objects. Art History 30 (4) September
  • O’Hanlon, Michael, 1990.  Paradise: Portraying the New Guinea Highlands. London: British Museum Press
  • Reeve, John. 2018. ‘Islam, Islamic Art, the Islamic World – and Museums’ in The Contemporary Museum – Shaping Museums for the Global Now edited by Simon Knell. London: Routledge
  • Tythacott, Louise. 2011. The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display. Oxford: Berghahn Books

Guidelines on collections-care

  • Johnson, Naomi and Marsland, Claire. 2020. The Care of Artefacts in Archival Collections. np: Catholic Archives Society

Visitors and religion in museums

  • Bouquet, Mary and Nino Porto. 2005. “Introduction.” In Science, Magic and Religion: The Ritual Processes of Museum Magic, edited by Mary Bouquet and Nino Porto. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books
  • Duncan, Carol. 1995. Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums. London, Routledge
  • Howes, Graham. 2007. The Art of the Sacred: An Introduction to the Aesthetics of Art and Belief. London: I. B. Tauris. [Chapter 3 reviews visitor reaction to ‘Seeing Salvation’]
  • Michel, Patrick. 1999. La Religion au Musée: Croire dans L’Europe Contemporaine. Paris: L’Harmattan. [Analysis of visitor reactions at St Mungo’s Museum]

Display & exhibition

  • Gahtan, Maia and Pegazzano, Donatella, eds. 2018. Sacred Art and the Museum Exhibition – L’Arte Sacra e la Mostra Museale. Proceedings of a conference held in Florence, Italy, November 27, 2015, and other essays. Florence: LdM Press

Conservation & Collections Care

  • Clavir, Miriam. 2002. Preserving what is Valued: Museums, Conservation and First Nations. Vancouver: UBC Press
  • Flynn, Gillian A.  2001. Merging Traditional Indigenous Curation Practices with Modern Museum Standards of Care. Museum Anthropology 25:1
  • Museum Standards of Care. Museum Anthropology 25:1


  • Burris, John. 2001. Exhibiting Religion: Colonialism and Spectacle at International Expositions 1851-1893. Charlottesville: UVA Press 2001
  • Teryukova, Ekaterina. 2019. Central Anti-Religious Museum in Moscow: Historical Landmarks (1929–1947). Религиоведение. 4, 121-127
  • Shaw, Wendy M. K. 2002. ‘Tra(ve)ils of Secularism: Islam in Museums from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic’. In The Invention of Religion: Rethinking Politics and History edited by Derek R Peterson and Darren R Walhof.  New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press

Readers are very warmly invited to suggest other publications they have found particularly useful