Accepted paper:

To see, but not to kiss. Managing believing tourists and non-believing pilgrims in religious heritage sites and museums


Helena Wangefelt Ström (Umeå University/ Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

Has Modernity constructed a rivalry between religion and heritage, and thereby created problems in use and conservation? This paper explores the history of the division between heritage and sacredness, leading to contemporary examples on managing encounters between visitors and religious heritage

Paper long abstract:

"Why museums are the new churches" was the title of a BBC Culture essay (June 2015), reflecting on how museums and art galleries have replaced churches as places of meaning and context, perhaps even worship, in society today. Is the reversed true as well: that churches - and other religious heritage buildings and sites - are identified and marketing themselves more as museums, where heritage narratives and preservations are competing with religious identity? Or, is this polarization an invention in the spirit of Modernity, while the sacred, the historical and the worldly in fact have coexisted and reinforced each other through history? No matter the answer to these questions, they present challenges to the management and display of religious heritage sites and religion in museums - not least in terms of addressing the visitors and their shifting expectations and beliefs. What can be allowed in a museum: kissing, caressing, kneeling, or praying? Who has the insight to separate believing pilgrims from fitness and culture minded tourists at a pilgrimage site - and do even the visitors know how to label themselves? This problem may seem like emblematic for our post-secular time, while in fact it dates back several centuries to the earliest shift from pilgrims to tourists in early modern Italy and France. This paper aims at exploring the history of the division and competition between heritage and sacredness, and presents a number of international contemporary examples on how encounters between visitors and religious heritage can be managed

panel D06
Religious heritage spaces: disputes and convergences