De-sacralizing a sacred space: the Luxembourg Jewish museum project as a process of contested definitions
(University of Luxembourg)
Paper short abstract:
Transforming 'religious' spaces into 'heritage' sites is a messy, complex, and disputed process; a space may shift between these, just as the categories themselves take on multiple meanings. I aim to explore these issues through the transformation of a synagogue into a museum space in Luxembourg.
Paper long abstract:
There is currently a project underway to establish a Jewish museum in Luxembourg in a restored synagogue. Though still in its early stages, project coordinators have taken several key steps towards the creation of this museum. First, they have negotiated with national government representatives and the administrative body of the Jewish community to have the structure declared national patrimony. Second, they have facilitated the sale of the building from the Jewish community to the local government, such that the government is now responsible for any financing and upkeep, but can only use the space for 'educational purposes'. And third, they have de-sacralized the space and begun erasing traces of its secular (and Christian) uses in the post-war period. Together, these processes 'museumify' the space and transform it into 'heritage' by rendering it inactive as a religious and ritual space, and simultaneously work to create an interior space that evokes religious presence and history. At times, these concepts of 'religious' and 'heritage' are positioned as contradictory and become key mediators in contested representations of the past, present, and future of the space and the Jewish community. At other times, these contradictions are neutralized such that the concepts of 'religious' and 'heritage' are understood to easily co-exist and even work together toward particular ends. Based on ongoing ethnographic research, this paper will explore the processes through which the 'religious' and 'heritage' articulate across various contexts and audiences and the roles these categories play in contested conceptualizations of Jewishness and Jewish community history.
Religious heritage spaces: disputes and convergences