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40 | 2021 - Exhibiting Religious Objects

October 4th, 2021: Deadline for proposals


We would like to examine in this dossier the conditions for exhibiting objects seen to be or presented as religious, and to study their evolution in a heritage setting. An object presented in a cultural institution, in a museum’s permanent collection or a temporary exhibition, is not necessarily stripped of its religious significance. By contrast, an artistic or historical object presented in a religious context is rarely seen as anything other than a piece of heritage. These transformations cannot be reduced to a simply chiastic relationship between worship and culture. Thus, proposals may discuss the trajectories taken by such objects and the discourses of those involved. Equal emphasis should be given to structures and objects alike in order to consider what it means to exhibit religious objects.

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Edited by David Douyère (University of Tours), Gaspard Salatko (Fondation des sciences du patrimoine – The Heritage Sciences Foundation), Nathalie Cerezales (University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)


Often in a castle, a prie-dieu seems to be just a piece of furniture or a souvenir of a deceased spouse. The presentation of an object as heritage can thus have the effect that its religious signification is lost or that it is cut off from a space in which it has a “spiritual” existence. However, it is sometimes the case that a religious object in the care of a heritage institution can be borrowed for a ritual procession, in Spain or France for example. A single piece, in particular a reliquary, can be exhibited in a church at once for its aesthetic and devotional value. What, then, is to be made of the “sacred” dimension of such objects, who lends it? How can institutions deal with them? How do visitors consider them? To exhibit objects with a religious signification, one must first inquire as to whether their “claimed” aesthetic is indeed “that of those who made them and used them” (Hainard, 2006: 129). At the beginning of his Musée Imaginaire, André Malraux recalled that a “roman crucifix was not a sculpture initially” ([1947], 1965: 9). From the perspective of social and human sciences, this reference to the initial use of “religious artefacts” can be interpreted as an invitation to retrace the history of these images, objects and liturgical accessories by following the shift from their initial place of production and use to other contexts in which they are preserved and exhibited.

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Interior view of the Salzillo Museum in Murcia (Spain): an angel and Saint Veronica.

Photo: Nathalie Cerezales, 2014.

This issue of Culture & Musées thus sets out to allow us to better understand the ways in which the cultural paths, heritage courses and material biographies of these objects are formed – for they are far from predetermined! – by examining the exhibition of objects thought of or presented as “religious”. Indeed, it is the people that interact with these objects that influence their usages and possible futures, by activating certain qualities or characteristics (Heinich, 2017) that have meaning for them with regards to the systems of reference that they employ in order to interpret what is shown to them, or, inversely, to appreciate what is exhibited. In such conditions, how can institutions manage the exhibition of objects or works of art that are endowed with strong religious meaning for those who produced or took care, or were cared for by these objects? Can they banish (or, on the contrary, reaffirm) the “sense of spirit” (to not use the term spiritual) that is lent to such pieces? In short, how can institutions charged with the care of such objects consolidate or displace their operational character (Marin, 2016) through their exhibition? By exploring this aspect of the question, we would question the transience of the gaze and attachment (Bonnot, 2014) to these objects and works in public and private collections, as well as the ways in which the meaning and functionality of a piece or objets is reaffirmed or reinvented according to admitted interpretive context, activated or created for the public (Goodman, 1990). By questioning it in this way, the conversion of religious objects into pieces of cultural and heritage importance cannot be seen as a simple crossover between the sacred and cultural. Without opposing the cultural and heritage practices that surround “religious” objects in collections, the moment of their exhibition reveals itself to be a methodologically heuristic instance to think about processes of qualification and disqualification of these objects beyond established categories and fields.

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A restorer at the National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid (Spain) inspecting the crown of thorns of Cristo de la Luz before its procession.

Photo: Nathalie Cerezales, 2014.

Papers selected for this issue should be based on documented case studies (archives, ethnographic studies, comparisons, observations) concerning French and international museum, both public and private, regional and national. They should emphasize the singular aspects of the institution exhibiting such objects and their unique viewpoints in order to expose the modes of presentation of such “religious” objects, including but not only in a secular context, especially when it is invoked to form a barrier or obstacle in the explanation of the sacred meaning of an object. To this end, three lines of inquiry may be pursued: 1) on the one hand, museums of religious, or sacred, art, 2) on the other hand, objects of “religious” significance presented in various manners within historical, ethnographic or artistic collections, both public and private, 3) and finally, cultural objects of historical importance exhibited in sacred spaces. Attention should be paid to the different processes (profanation, sanctification, conservation, restoration and patrimonialization) at work on such objects. For each line of perspective, one can examine how variations in religious affect and senses are combined with various forms of aesthetic, cultural, historical and heritage appreciation; or how these pieces deal with a heterogeneous array of practices, forms of attention, theoretical or theological, economic or judicial formulations, discourses and references, joined together through historically constructed and stabilized articulations.

Position 1: Museums of religious, or sacred, art and Religious Museum

Museums of religious art are faced with the issue of having to explain the significance of objects whose sacred meaning is not widely known, or has fallen out of use. How then can they rightly explain the use, significance, importance and trajectory of such objects? How can they reposition them in their initial social context? A reliquary of Saint Jane Frances of Chantal and Saint Francis de Sales made up of two rolls of paper made by the Visitation Sisters and exhibited in Moulins is not only a work of incredible ingenuity and precision created with limited means: it is also a testament to the daily activities of the Visitation Sisters and their devotion to the Sacred Heart. How do museums of religious art take on board both the aesthetic and religious aspects of such objects? What are they exhibiting: religious life or “treasures”? How do they integrate the varying relationships of different religions to ideas of representations (in Protestant or Jewish museums, for example)? What is the motivation behind the exhibition of such objects: to create a link with a religious institution, local or community history? Museums of para (or even anti) religious institutions (such as theosophy, spiritism, positivism or freemasonry) can also be studied when the objects displayed are also subject to fourfold interpretation, aesthetic, historical, social and ritual or spiritual, that defines them in multiple ways.

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A joint display of the Quran, the Tora and the Bible. Secular Museum of Sacred Art, Pont-Saint-Esprit.

Photo: Gaspard Salatko.

Position 2: “Religious” objects presented in collections

When objects that bear a historically “religious” meaning for certain parts of the population are given over to the process of becoming heritage items on aesthetic, historical or ethnographic grounds, how can a cultural institution manage the presentation of their double meaning? A 15th-century ivory crucifix exhibited at the Louvre or a mezuzah is not simply a religious item reserved for a certain community… How can a cultural institution activate the religious meaning of such a piece? Are its theological significance and the story or rituals in which it exists explicitly mentioned? How do its labels, multimedia installations and explanations function? How can a guided tour, or digital apparatus such as augmented reality, explain the emergence of the meaning of these objects? Emphasis will be put on physical museums, but the creation of a truly virtual religious museum can also be explored, insofar as the question of the value and interpretation of religious objects is put to the test by the process of digitization.

Position 3: Artistic objects exhibited in sacred spaces

Religious buildings, such as synagogues or cathedrals, can be free to visit as works of architecture in their own right while at the same time serving ritual purposes. They can house works and objects whose status oscillates between that of creative production (woodworking, goldsmithing…), art and the sacred. A finely worked pulpit in the Cathedral of Angers is not simple a virtuoso piece of woodworking: what should be said of it as a platform for scripture (in the most literal sense)? The tomb of Saint Genevieve in Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris is both an object of devotion, of historical import and of aesthetic value. When churches have stained glass windows, is there any way tours and installations cannot evoke their “spiritual” importance? Does religious history then take the upper hand on aesthetic and historical appreciation? The artistic anchoring of cultural evangelization will also be of interest, in the sense that it sees works of art as aides for telling stories of faith and scripture or to magnify and contribute to the idealization of a religious culture.


The issue should be organized around a multidisciplinary approached, combining the history of art, information and communication sciences and anthropology:

  • The history of museums has shown how the secularization of sacred objects, their “protection” or “spoliation” in and by museums was at the very origin of the creation and accumulation of public collections in various Western countries (Pomian, 2003, 2020; Poulot, 1997, 2008). History of art has shown a special interest in the history of exhibition spaces and how this has been presented (Goetze & Vigutto, 1998; Ponnau, 1999; Penez, 2000; Kagan & Sire, 2018). Regardless of the space in which an object is shown, the act of exhibiting is not neutral: it is the result of intersecting histories (Werner & Zimmerman, 2003).

  • Thus the exhibition of “religious” objects is a sort of laboratory in which one can observe and analyze not only the material existence of religion (Paine, 2012, 2013; Buggeln et al., 2017) and the complexity of values with which so-called religious heritage is endowed (Isnart & Cerezales, 2020) but also the ways in which it is staged and storied (Certeau, 1975), how it catches the gaze of a third party (Douyère & Gonzalez, 2020) who, on top of it all, is not necessarily in agreement as to the meaning to give to the artistic or spiritual and material or sensual qualities of objects thus exhibited (Dittmar, 2016 ; Salatko, 2021).

  • Determining the effect of exhibition on religious objects (and even the way in which it affects their ability to “act” upon the public) requires an examination of how audiences that consider themselves involved interpret them, understand them in the context of history, criticize, stigmatize, censure, transform, convert or even reassign them to new and unexpected uses. Studies on the reactions and perceptions, the ways in which audiences appropriate and construct new meanings for these objects or museums are welcome, though purely quantitative or behavioral studies of visitors in religious museums should be avoided.

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  • 1 Screenshot taken on 13.04.21:

A screenshot of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France’s online exhibition about Freemasonry, Le Mystère des Origines (The Mystery of Origins), the section “Ici tout est symbole” (“Everything is a symbol here”), 20161.

By crossing these different approaches, rarely called forth in a single movement, it is necessary to think about the history, nature and material qualities of objects, their place in certain forms, but also the ways in which they are exhibited, the apparatuses used to present them, the information, signs and narration that equip them, and the qualifiers used to described them, their place with social systems of signals, their practical history, all of this conjointly. This list of issues to explore is far from finite and refers not only to individual but also collective, institutional as well as professional rationales: how are religious objects displayed, presented and explained by those in charge of their exhibition? How are audiences meant to see them, given their situation within a particular type of staging (Davallon, 2010) and the architectural setting that on top of this lends them a certain value or even authority (Cometti, 2016; Amselle, 2016)? How are they regarded if they are seen by a curator, a registrar, an exhibition manager, or an art historian as opposed to a cleric, believer (be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish) or even… an atheist?

This issue’s guest editors

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David Douyère is a professor of information and communication sciences at the University of Tours where he directs the Prim (Practices and resources in information and mediation) research unit. He has codirected numerous journal issues about the link between communication and religion (notably, “La religion sous le regard du tiers”, Questions de communication, n° 53, 2020, with Ph. Gonzalez) and published Communiquer la doctrine catholique (Labor & Fides, “Enquêtes”, Genève, 2018).

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Gaspard Salatko is a doctor of anthropology and a researcher at the Heritage Sciences Foundation. He teaches at the EHESS. His research is on the analysis of systems of worship, art and heritage, and how their overlapping structures contemporary public spaces. He has published Le dieu situé: une enquête sur la fabrique de l’art sacré dans le catholicisme contemporain (L’Harmattan, “Anthropologie du monde occidental”, 2017).

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Nathalie Cerezales is a doctor of history of art and an associate researcher at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Hicsa). She teaches museology, the history of heritage and collections at the University of Nantes and the National Institute for Heritage Studies (INP). Her research explores the intersections and combinations of values between heritage and religion in Western Europe, and particularly in the context of museums and exhibitions. She has just edited, with anthropologist Cyril Isnart, The Religious Heritage Complex. Legacy, Conservation and Christianity (Bloomsbury, “Material Religion”, 2020).

Sending proposals

Please send in proposals (5,000 to 7,000 characters) by email before October 4th, 2021 to:

Formatting for proposals

5,000 to 7,000 characters including spaces

The .docx document should be named as follows: C&M-N°40-PC-Author’s last name (or principal author if more than one).

The document should be written in 12-point Times New Roman justified.

In order, it should have the following:

  • Last and first name of author 1

  • Email address

  • Status: Position and institution (university, research lab)

  • Title

  • Biography (maximum 600 characters)

The same goes for any other authors of the proposals.

Proposal title

The body of the proposal should include details of the disciplinary or interdisciplinary approach adopted, the issues at stake, the field or corpus studied, the methodology employed and preliminary projection of results.

5 keywords

5 references used in the article.


October 4th, 2021: Deadline for proposals

November 8th, 2021: Acceptances and refusals are sent to contributors

February 28th, 2022: Deadline for articles

March, 2022: Double-blind peer-review

April 15th, 2022: Peer-reviews returned to authors

June 13th, 2022: Deadline for final changes including metadata

December 1st, 2022: publication


David Douyère
Prim, Université de Tours
Iut Jean Luthier, 29, rue du Pont-Volant, 37082 Tours cedex 2

Nathalie Cerezales,

Hicsa, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet, 8, place du Panthéon, 75005 Paris

Gaspard Salatko
Centre de la Vieille Charité, 2, rue de la Charité, 13002 Marseille

Culture & Musées, the Journal

Culture & Musées is a double-blind peer-reviewed bi-annual journal devoted to publishing new research on cultural institutions, audiences and mediations. It aims at a wide readership of researchers, students as well as museum and cultural heritage professionals.

Culture & Musées is a recognized journal in the field of Information and Communication Sciences (71st CNU section).

The journal is supported by Avignon University and UGA Éditions. It is published with the support of France’s Ministry of Culture, the Région Sud, the Institute of Human and Social Sciences at the CNRS and the Centre Norbert Elias (CNE).

The journal is indexed by the INIST and the Arts and Humanities Citation Index and Current Contents/Arts Humanities (Thomas Reuters), Mir@bel - - Web of science – Scimago - Scopus.

Culture & Musées is open access and published on OpenEdition:

Heads of Publication

Publication Directors: Isabelle Brianso & Éric Triquet (Avignon University)

Editors-in-Chief: Dominique Poulot (University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) & Éric Triquet (Avignon University)

Assistant Editors-in-Chief: Florence Andreacola (Grenoble-Alpes University) & Gaëlle Crenn (University of Lorraine)

Editorial Board

Pascale Ancel, Grenoble Alpes University

Gaëlle Crenn, University of Lorraine

Jacqueline Eidelman, curator, École du Louvre

Daniel Jacobi, Avignon University

Emmanuelle Lallement, University of Paris 8

Joëlle Le Marec, Sorbonne University

Jean-Marc Leveratto, University of Lorraine

François Mairesse, University of Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

Anik Meunier, Université of Quebec in Montréal 

Marie-Sylvie Poli, Avignon University

Vincent Poussou, Outreach and digital direction, Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais

Olivier Thévenin, University of Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3

Jean-Christophe Vilatte, University of Lorraine

Yves Winkin, University of Liège

Amselle, Jean-Lou (2016). Le musée exposé, Paris, Éditions Lignes.


Bonnot, Thierry (2014). L’Attachement aux choses. Paris, CNRS Éditions.

Buggeln, Gretchen, Paine, Crispin, Plate, S. Brent (ed.) (2017). Religion in Museums: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, London, Bloomsbury Academic.

Certeau, Michel de (1975). L’Écriture de l’histoire, Paris, Gallimard.

Cometti, Jean-Pierre (2016). La Nouvelle aura. Économies de l’art et de la culture, Paris, Questions théoriques.

Davallon, Jean (2010). “L’écriture de l’exposition: expographie, muséographie, scénographie”, Culture & Musées, n° 16, p. 229-238.

Douyère, David, Gonzalez, Philippe (2020). “Le contact et l’écart: penser la religion sous le regard du tiers”, Questions de communication, n° 37, p. 7-62.

Dittmar, Pierre-Olivier (2016). “De la trace à l’apparition, la prière photographique”, Archives de sciences sociales des religions, n° 174, p. 169-190.

Goetz, Adrien, Vigutto, Marie-Christine (dir.) (1998). Trésor d’église, musée d’art religieux: quelle présentation?, Paris, Les Cahiers de l’Ecole nationale du patrimoine, n°2.

Goodman, Nelson (1990). “La fin du musée?”, Esthétique et connaissance. Pour changer de sujet, Cahors, L’Éclat, p. 68-81.

Goodwin, Charles (1994). “Professional vision”, American Anthropologist, n° 96, vol. 3, p. 606-633.

Hainard, Jacques (2006). “Le trou: un concept utile pour penser les rapports entre objet et mémoire”, Objets et Mémoires, Paris, Éditions de la maison des sciences de l’Homme, Québec, les Presses de l’Université Laval, p. 127-138.

Heinich, Nathalie (2017). Des valeurs, une approche sociologique, Paris, Gallimard.

Isnart, Cyril, Cerezales, Nathalie (ed.) (2020). The Religious Heritage Complex. Legacy, Conservation and Christianity, London, Bloomsbury.

Kagan, Judith, Sire, Marie-Anne (2018). Trésors des cathédrales, Paris, Editions du Patrimoine, Centre des Monuments historiques.

Marin, Louis (2016). Politiques de la représentation, Paris, Kimé.

Malraux, André (1965, [1947]). Le Musée imaginaire, Paris, Gallimard.

Paine, Crispin (2012). “Introduction: museums and material religion”, Material Religion, vol. 8, n° 1, p. 4‑8.

Paine, Crispin (2013). Religious Objects in Museums: Private Lives and Public Duties, London, Bloomsbury Academic.

Penez, Catherine (dir.) (2000), Regards sur le patrimoine religieux. De la sauvegarde à la présentation, Arles, Actes Sud.

Pomian, Krzysztof (2003). Des saintes reliques à l’art moderne. Venise-Chicago XIIIe-XXe siècles, Paris, Gallimard.

Pomian, Krzysztof (2020). Le Musée, une histoire mondiale. 1. Du trésor au musée, Paris, Gallimard.

Ponnau, Dominique (dir.) (1999). Forme et sens. Colloque sur la formation et la dimension religieuse du patrimoine culturel, Paris, Ecole du Louvre.

Poulot, Dominique (1997). Musée, nation, patrimoine: 1789‑1815, Paris, Gallimard.

Poulot, Dominique (2008). Une histoire des musées de France, Paris, La Découverte.

Salatko, Gaspard (2021). “Icônes”, Publictionnaire. Dictionnaire encyclopédique et critique des publics. Access:

Werner, Michael & Zimmermann, Bénédicte (2003). “Penser l’histoire croisée: entre empirie et réflexivité”, Annales, 58 (1), p. 7-36.

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1 Screenshot taken on 13.04.21:

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