Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS:
Title: Sacred entanglements : studying interactions between visitors, objects and religion in the museum
Author: Berns, Steph
ISNI:       0000 0004 5355 0364
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2015
Availability of Full Text:
Access from EThOS:
Access from Institution:
The study of religious dimensions of visitor experiences in public museums is an under-researched area, partly because of assumptions of the secular nature of the museum space, the dominant assumptions and methods of museum evaluation studies and the relative lack of study of material religion in public spaces not intended to be devotional. This project addresses this by examining the processes through which visitors experience sacred presences in the museum. This research employed Actor Network Theory (Latour 2004) in order to decentre the more prominent components within visitor studies and evaluations (such as the visitor). Using ANT, this study conceives religious interactions as networks that combine objects, people and divine/supernatural presences, all of which have the capacity to affect the network. This network approach was then used to explore and analyse interactions at two religious-themed exhibitions at the British Museum, and the religious tour groups that visit its permanent galleries. The study found that the sacred was evoked in a number of ways in the museum; through embodied interactions with artefacts, as memories, and through engagements with scripture. Each encounter had to negotiate an array of actors that were both present and absent within the museum space. These actors, which had the ability to facilitate and inhibit visitors' religious experiences, included elements often overlooked by museum professionals and within visitor studies (such as overheard comments and glass display cases). The findings also revealed how perceptions of the museum as secular shaped visitor norms and thereby influenced whether the museum became a site of conflict or opportunity for sacred encounters. Furthermore, the research demonstrated the limited capacity of museum staff to influence visitors’ interactions as, irrespective of the museum’s intentions, the commingling of certain objects, spaces and visitors can facilitate experiences of the divine.
Supervisor: Lynch, Gordon Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BL Religion