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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423

The World of Museums: Displaying the Sacred

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Class Meeting:  Friday 1:00-3:20pm

Location: Rhode Island Hall 008


Instructor:  Claudia Moser

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World

Rhode Island Hall, 60 George Street, E-mail:

Office hours:  Fridays  12:00pm- 1:00pm and 3:30-4:30, and/or by appointment. Rhode Island Hall, Room 016



Course Description:

This course will examine critically, from institutional, historical, material and historical perspectives, the relationships between the native cultural contexts of objects and their use by museums. This is not a lecture-based course – emphasis is on class participation, discussion and presentations.


 This seminar is divided into two sections. Throughout the first half of the semester, we will explore many of the logistical, institutional aspects of museums, including the laws and mission statements which guide their practices. We will also examine the legal and ethical features of museums.  Case studies, guest lectures and site visits (virtual and real) will be used to demonstrate evolving theory, practice, legal and ethical implications of collecting archaeological objects. In the second half of the semester, we will focus on issues concerning the display of religious objects in secular museums. We will draw on our general, background knowledge of museums from the first half of the semester and apply it to unpacking ways of displaying the sacred and how the architectural spaces of a museum, though avowedly a secular institution, can take on the characteristics of a sacred space.  Each week, we will focus on the religious objects of a different culture (including religions that are still practiced today and those that are no longer practiced). We will look at Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Indian, and Byzantine and medieval European religions and their objects. Using case studies taken from both historical and contemporary museums and displays, we will investigate the issues surrounding the presentation of religious objects from each culture.  


Course Objectives:

At the end of the course, the student will be able to:

• Demonstrate an understanding of the history and organization of museums

• Understand the historical but changing roles of objects for museums

• Debate ethical issues pertaining to museums

• Discuss critically, in written and verbal form, current issues in the philosophy of museums, museum missions, representations of the past, interpretations of cultural objects, and the role of museums in society

• Evaluate critically a museum exhibition

• Understand the issues surrounding the display of sacred objects in a museum

• Understand the basic principles of the different religions studied

• Locate core museum studies literature, principal museum organizations, and museum reference sources, including on-line resources

• Conduct original research on a topic related to museums and religion and present that research in a poster or exhibit panel

• Work collaboratively with others in team-based learning and problem solving

The current schedule is tentative and the readings may change.

Download the current syllabus here: Document IconSyllabus for World of Museums-Displaying the Sacred.docx

Weekly Schedule|Assignments|Grading|Readings|NOTES, NEWS and LINKS|