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Religion And The Museum

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While going to CCS I began to take an interest in the DIA’s daily activities I’ve seen happening outside the building. The sight of school busses and the lineup of cars of parents dropping off their kids. I always wanted to research how students or the regular visitor connect religious practices and its museum practices.

I knew right away that the most crucial part of my ethnography would be to capture the personality of the museum the most. As to find what attracts the casual visitor to the more religious collections inside the DIA. I decided to do my research while inside the European gallery on the second floor.


Most museums accept all types of religious works of art from around the world to engage people in the study of other religions, including any moment in history. Treating the art work as if it were evidence and engages critical reflection on the cultural constitution. Addressing the difference range of interests and disciplines of each religion. (Meyer)


As made my way to the DIA’s front entrance, I instantly felt intimidated by the enormous size of the building. Fortunately, days before I had already mapped out where I was going once inside but wondered about those who haven't done so before arriving. I noticed how calming it was to be outside, the feeling matched the inside due to the attention to details one took upon constructing such a large building. The inactivity of the early afternoon became evident once I reached the steps leading to the front entrance. There was a stillness in the air once I reached the ticket window. When I entered the museum I forgot about how big it was, the high ceilings would make anyone feel small. It was silent except for some very light whispers from two male guards near the front doors and the clicking of heels from some female visitors exiting the museum. Before I walked to the European Gallery, I headed straight through the Riviera Court where the Diego Riviera mural reaches floor to ceiling, illuminated by natural light from the glass ceiling above. The mural was one of my favorites growing up. From there, I left where I entered and turned left leading down the hallway. When I reached the European Gallery entrance I began to wonder about the ways I can capitalize on beating the afternoon rush of people. I wanted to blend in as much as possible so the staff wouldn't be curious about me. Finding a place to sit and observe was my best chance at blending in.

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The mood was set by the checkered wood floor and red walls displaying gold frames and paintings throughout the low lit room. Each individual painting and sculpture seen from the entrance glistened under a cast light. The tone felt other worldly and biblical, setting me into the same decorous in relation to attending a church service. Once I was inside the European Gallery I took a seat on a bench in front of the Saint Ives, Patron of Lawyers, Defender of Widows and Orphans oil painting by Peter Paul Rubens dating back to 1615. It didn’t take long for the room to get busy with visitors ranging from toddlers to older men and women. Mostly all the adults were well dressed and those accompanied by a friend or spouse were whispering things like “I wonder who this person was” and “I wonder what this is supposed to mean.” as they shifted from painting to painting. Visually analyzing each portrait until they moved on to another gallery.

I proceeded to wait for more visitors who talked more openly in terms of the religious characters in the paintings throughout the room. Ultimately, it seemed that such talks were taken elsewhere as to not disrupt me. I did notice Indian, Hispanic, African American and American people took interest in the gallery I was in the most. Giving me the sense that more is learned of what may have happened in the past despite personal beliefs and cultures. I concluded my observation by walking around the room once more to view the paintings, then proceeded to exit the museum.


There is much to learn about the connection between those who visit the DIA to learn and connect what is read about in religious practices and standard museum practices. Museums are actively shaping how people perceive their religion. The museum provides an image to go along with one's own imagination without pushing any ideas upon the visitor. There is a sense of neutral ground inside a museum. You are able to gain a new perception of the purpose and meaning of any given religion. Visitors may take on the challenge of unfamiliar sights as it may not be what religious practices are personally taught to them. There are public debates and discussions on what is being viewed which the museum provides the neutral grounds of educating, entertainment, and impression of what role religion plays in a very public and in a variety of different ways. This movement of social change interconnects religion and museums beyond traditions and collections. This connection is to our daily lives. The DIA acts as a medium, offering the viewer a portal through time to actually see what has been read. A much closer look to what religion is than just simply reading about it. Providing the viewer more understanding of the facts on religion, emotions, and how might the interactions may have looked like.

Much of this credit goes toward the directors and curators who have acknowledged the diversity of the city and its visitors. Taking into account how the community and each religion would like to be represented. Giving the schools who visit the DIA to teach the history of religion a neutral ground to do such activities. The selection of objects, their placement, and what may be interpreted by the viewer is valued by the DIA, given the many difference regions displayed with in it. The results can be transformative and give enlightenment as to have actually witnessed these encounters themselves. Also, raising the question of how students may have resolved the issues raised in a painting themselves.

The DIA covers religions. Providing richness to the educational study of religion for the public. Providing productive and insightful conversations and discoveries that may not have been possible. We begin to understand the religions identify and practices more clearly through these conversations. In a world where we disclose our religious beliefs because it is such a difficult topic due to contrasting views. The museum invites its visitors to be open to curiosity and form a respect for each religion and its differences. Whilst also giving the visitor the grounds to talk freely about what is personally believed and what is believed by others, ultimately bridging the connections and identifying the differences. It's also important to note that museums are not a place to practice religion but to learn about them. Visitors are given the sense of a different time, place, and values of a different world. Ultimately, museums should be viewed as a sacred place. It is where we learn about multiple beliefs and contrasting claims of each that's displayed. It is where we take what we may have read and give it actual form in a time and place. Therefore, fundamental for all walks of life to have public conversations about religion and challenges the stereotypes of each. Providing meaningful engagement between the casual visitor and of the stories provided in the description of each painting and statue that's worth remembering, and a better understanding of its context and evidence of its history.

Works Cited

  1. Meyer, Bridget. Morgan, David. Pain,Crispin. Brent, S.Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, 22 Feb 2011,Plate
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Religion And The Museum. (2021, September 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Religion And The Museum.” Edubirdie, 09 Sept. 2021,
Religion And The Museum. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
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