About the Group

The Group was founded at the beginning of 2021, after a ‘Scoping Study’, funded by Art Fund, had revealed both a need and a call for it.

Aims and objectives

The Group aims:

  • To raise awareness of the religious interest of collections,
  • To promote their care and interpretation, and thus
  • To enhance the public understanding of religion.

And it hopes:

  • To link and support people who look after such collections,
  • To help enhance their skills and knowledge,
  • To identify such collections and make them better known.

Collections of ‘religious’ objects are found in all sorts of places; not just in museums and galleries, but also in places of worship, schools and colleges and private collections and elsewhere. Collections include great works of art, everyday objects, and often books and archives. They all have their own challenges, but museums and galleries tend sometimes to lack familiarity with religious faith and practice, while faith-based collections often lack curatorial and conservation skills.

The Group hopes to work closely with our many sister organisations: see Resources on this website. The Group is registered as a Subject Specialist Network; see https://www.subjectspecialistnetworks.org.uk.

Steering Committee

The first step was to set up a Steering Committee, comprising:

Co-Chair and Education lead: John Reeve, tutor at the Institute of Education; former Head of Education at the British Museum.

Co-Chair and Mapping lead: Crispin Paine, Visiting Fellow at the OU; former social history curator.

Secretary: Ian Colson, former Church of England forces and school chaplain, now a PhD student at Durham working on the interpretation of religious belief in heritage settings, in particular that of the ‘Golden Age’ of Northumbrian Christianity.

Treasurer: Judeth Saunders, curator for the Alfred Gillett Trust, which cares for the heritage collections of C & J Clark Ltd. (Clarks Shoes) and the Quaker family which founded the company.

Membership Secretary: Emma McAlister, who recently completed a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast on the complexities of displaying religion in exhibitions in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands.

Webmaster: Antony Lee, PhD student at Durham, working on the presentation of Romano-British religion in museums; former Archaeology Curator at Lincoln.

Social Media Manager: India Patel, MA student in Museum Studies at UCL.

Conference Secretary: Rosalind Parker, freelance curator and opera director.

Members:

Mark O’Neill, Associate Professor at the College of Arts, Glasgow University; former Head of Glasgow Museums.

Hassan Vawda, PhD student at Goldsmiths College and Tate, working on religion, secularity and Muslims in Britain in the British Art Museum.

Jan Graffius, Curator of Collections and Historic Libraries at Stonyhurst.

Constitution & Membership

An Initial General Meeting is planned for early July 2022, to elect a new Committee and set up the Group as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

Arrangements to recruit and sign up members are being discussed. At first, at least, membership will be free. Members will be welcome from all parts of the world, though the Group’s focus will be on the UK.

Activities

Networking

The Group’s most valuable function will be to build links, formal and informal, between people and organisations which care for religious objects. Networking will also help the carers of religious collections to learn better to care for them. Networking will encourage art historians and other curators to recognise and interpret the religious meaning of their collections. All these can be achieved through conferences and workshops, and group visits to different collections.

Training

Many people looking after religious collections are not specialists; some know a lot about religion but little about preventive conservation and cataloguing, others know a lot about art – say – but little about their objects’ meaning within their faith context. An important role for the Group will be to point collections to sources of advice and help. The Group will also offer training sessions and online resources. Study days on the use of collections for education, and resources for teaching, have been particularly called for. Other areas of need are identification, cataloguing, and conservation.

The Group is beginning by arranging training/networking meetings on zoom. See Events on this website. Suggestions for future sessions will be welcomed by John Reeve at johnfrederickreeve@outlook.com.

Future plans include:

  • Commissioning of training materials, to be posted on the website.
  • Training sessions/study days on different themes.
  • Brokered consultancy visits to collections seeking advice.
  • Brokered links between collections and faith communities, especially minority groups.
  • A possible future project might be a collaborative MOOC, an introductory course for people caring for and presenting religious objects.

‘Mapping’ ‘Finding out what is where’ was flagged by many people as a priority. Our first step was to post a list of ‘religious’ museums (see Resources on this website) but vastly more religious objects are found in secular museums, places of worship and other places. We are now investigating a much more elaborate ‘mapping’ exercise to uncover collections of religious interest. Ideas and enquiries will be welcomed by Crispin Paine at crispinpaine1@gmail.com.