1st Edition

Museums as Ritual Sites Civilizing Rituals Reconsidered

Edited By Lieke Wijnia, James S. Bielo Copyright 2025
    288 Pages 18 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Museums as Ritual Sites critically examines the assumption that museums inherently function as ritual sites and, in turn, are poised to exert influence on cultural and societal change.

    Bringing together a diverse, international group of interdisciplinary scholars and curators, the volume celebrates and critically engages with Carol Duncan’s seminal work, Civilizing Rituals. Presenting a wide-ranging exploration of how museums function as liminal zones in broader societal contexts, the book discusses major topics identified as functioning at the heart of the above-mentioned paradigm shift:  diversity and inclusion, consumption, religion, and tradition. These topics are studied through the lens of their ritual implications in museum practice. Presenting case studies on ethnographic, art, history, community, and memorial practices in museums, the book reflects the diversity of the contemporary international museum field. As such, the volume presents a critical and updated revision of the ritual perspective on museums - both as it was presented by Duncan and as it has since been developed in the field of museum studies.

    Museums as Ritual Sites will be essential reading for academics and students working in museum studies, heritage studies, cultural anthropology, religious studies, and ritual studies.  Museums as Ritual Sites will also be of interest to those working across the humanities and social sciences who are interested in the intersection of museums or archives with indigeneity and decolonization.

    The Enduring Value of Museum Ritual: Volume Introduction
    Lieke Wijnia and James S. Bielo

    Part 1. Ritualizing Diversity and Inclusion

    1. Living with Others: Fashioning a Post-Secular Citizen in the British Museum
    Yaniv Feller

    2. Remediating Colonialism: Stories of Gold in Harvard’s Natural History Museum
    Pamela Klassen and Claire Need

    3. (Un)Civilizing Rituals: Challenging Cultural Memory at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights
    Karine Duhamel

    Part 2. Rituals of Consumption

    4. Visiting Helene: Jachthuis Sint Hubertus at the Crux of the Kröller-Müller Donor Memorial 
    Mary Bouquet

    5. Corporate Racial Citizenship: How Black Cultural Patronage Reinforces Capitalism
    Patricia A. Banks

    6. Like-able Me, Like-able There: Instagram Selfie-Taking as Ritual Practice
    James S. Bielo

    Part 3. (Re)Presenting and Interrogating the Sacred

    7. The Many Faces of Mary Magdalene: Curatorially Compared, Ritually Construed
    Lieke Wijnia

    8. Scenes of Ritual Intimacy: Museums and the Display of Magical Practice
    Marisa Karyl Franz

    9. Reassembling the Sacred in Museums: Two Case Studies from Korea
    Hwasun Choe

    Part 4. Ritual Tradition: Constraint and Opportunity

    10. Rituals after Ruin: The Memorialisation of the University of Cape Town Jagger Library
    Duane Jethro

    11. Rituals of Erasure and Transcendence: Exhibiting Indigenous Objects in Art Museums
    Sarah Dees

    12. Curating Rituals: The Role of Curators in Shaping Narratives of Culture
    Marie Vejrup Nielsen & Sanne Andersen Hansen


    Lieke Wijnia (she/ her) is Head of Research & Library at Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Her research explores the dynamics between the arts, heritage and religion. She completed her PhD on the sacred in contemporary culture at Tilburg University in 2016. Her research was awarded the golden honorary medal of the Teylers Theological Society (2017) and the inaugural Jeffrey Rubinoff Postdoctoral Award (2018).

    James S. Bielo is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University.