Interpreting Religion at Museums and Historic Sites

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Gretchen Buggein, Barbara Franco
Interpreting History
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Rowman & Littlefield
    , August
     240 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Crispin Paine forthcoming.


Interpreting Religion at Museums and Historic Sites encourages readers to consider the history of religion as integral to American culture and provides a practical guide for any museum to include interpretation of religious traditions in its programs and exhibits. Combining both theoretical essays and practical case studies from a wide cross section of the field, the book explores how museums are finding new ways to connect with audiences about this important aspect of American history. 

This book explores the practical and interpretive problems that museums encounter when they include religion in their interpretation: 

  • How do we make sure visitors don't think the museum is taking the side of any particular religious group, or proselytizing, or crossing church-state boundaries? 
  • How do we spin out a rich story with the available artifact base? 
  • What are the opportunities and perils of telling particular religious stories in a multicultural context? 

These and other questions are addressed in a series of interpretive essays and case studies that capture the experimental and innovative religion programming that is beginning to find a place in American history museums. 

An introduction by Gretchen Buggeln places the subject of religion and museums in the intellectual context of national and international scholarship. Case studies cover a range of topics and venues that include outdoor museums, historic houses and exhibits; interpretive issues of secular and sacred contexts; and interpretive techniques like dialogue, music and first person accounts. A concluding essay suggests a publicly oriented historiography of religion for American museums and historic sites.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gretchen Buggeln is Chair in Christianity and the Arts at Valparaiso University. She previously was associate professor and director of the residential research program at the Winterthur Museum. Buggeln is the author of Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut's Churches, 1970-1840 (2003) and The Suburban Church: Modernism and Community in Postwar America (2015), as well as numerous articles on religious architecture and artifacts, museums, and American religious history. She is co-editor, with Crispin Paine and S. Brent Plate, of Religion in Museums: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives (2017).

Barbara Franco has had a long career in American history museums as a curator and administrator and most recently served as Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and as Founding Director of the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum. She served as a past chairman of the American Association for State and Local History and co-edited Ideas and Images: Developing Interpretive History Exhibits (1992). She has written numerous articles on museum practice and historical interpretation, and currently works as an independent scholar and museum consultant.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments