Season 2, Episode 8

Religion & Spirituality in Museums

In foundational museum studies literature of the past 50 years, museums have been called “temples,” “sacred groves,” and places to connect with “something higher, more sacred, and out-of-the-ordinary.” How do museums today engage religion and spirituality, with whom, and why? Can encounters with objects and exhibits move people beyond the material world to consider the divine, the transcendent, the magical? In what ways do museums serve the growing number who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” those of different faiths, and those of no faith? In light of global challenges, how could museums contribute further to spiritual well-being as well as our collective future? Join four public-engaged scholar-practitioners of museum studies and/or religion to explore these intriguing questions and highlight the growing connections between religion, spirituality, and museums.

Host: Lois H. Silverman

Lois H. Silverman is Professor of Museum Studies and Public Scholar of Museum Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Dr. Silverman’s research has addressed visitor meaning-making, museums and human needs, and museums as therapeutic agents. Her most recent book is The Social Work of Museums (Routledge, 2010). In her book, Silverman forges a framework of key social work perspectives to show how museums are evolving a needs-based approach to provide what promises to be universal social service. Lois’ current interests include museums, health, and well-being, the spiritual potential of museums, and the filed-wide need for more just and inclusive museum practices.

Lois' full bio

Panelist: Eric Lewis Williams

Eric Lewis Williams is Curator of Religion at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He is an ordained minister of the Church of God in Christ. He has taught history, religion and African-American studies at several institutions across the country. Williams currently serves as the Curator of Religion for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. His current research examines the meaning of religion within Africana histories and cultures and the role and influences of African religions in the Atlantic world. Additional research and teaching interests include Black Christian thought, American religious history, religion and material culture, African diasporan religions, Pentecostalism and phenomenology of religion. Williams’ research and studies have taken him around the world. He considers himself a transatlantic commuter, a collector of words and an emergent jazzman in the world of ideas.


Eric's full bio

Panelist: Yvonne Chireau

Yvonne Chireau is professor in the department of religion at Swarthmore College, where she teaches courses on theories of religion, Africana religions, and American religious history. She is the author of Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (2003) and the co-editor of Black Zion: African American Religions and Judaism (1999). Her varied thoughts on the historical intersections between magic, Africana religions, comics, and popular culture tropes of black spirituality can be found at the research blog The Academic Hoodoo ( She is currently co-producing a documentary film about contemporary reclamations of the African American ancestral traditions known as ConjureHoodoo, and Rootworking by millennial practitioners, artists, educators, and entrepreneurs.


Yvonne's full bio

Panelist: Ben Garcia

Ben Garcia is Executive Director of The American LGBTQ+ Museum. With more than 20 years of experience in museum leadership, development and intersectional LGBTQ+ advocacy, Ben leads The American LGBTQ+ Museum’s exhibition and program development, advocacy efforts, communications and community outreach, and fundraising. He is charged with bringing the American LGBTQ+ Museum into its next stage of growth as we work toward the opening of our physical home at the New-York Historical Society in 2024. Ben’s work has been focused on equity, representation, and decolonization in museum administration, exhibitions, and development initiatives. Currently, he is developing the American LGBTQ+ Museum’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign to fund exhibitions, educational programs, and operations.


Ben's full bio

This event took place on April 21st, 2022.

Additional Resources

Check out additional teaching resources, show notes and more form this video!

Religion & Spirituality in Museums Teaching Resource

“Religion &”: Center Conversations on the State of Religion and the Current Moment

“Religion &” is a series of monthly conversations between leading academics and thinkers in multiple fields hosted by the Center to continue these critically important interventions.  Every Third Thursday at 3p ET we discuss a topic that looks at the relationship between religion, the pressing issues of our day, and their impact on the fields we study.

Previous episodes of “Religion &” can be viewed on our YouTube channel.

A JOURNAL OF INTERPRETATION: This semiannual publication explores the interplay between religion and other spheres of American culture.

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