Museum of World Religions Concept 2010

THE MUSEUM OF WORLD RELIGIONS (UK PROJECT)
CONCEPT PAPER
22nd September 2010

Table of Contents
A. INTRODUCTION ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1
B. MISSION ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 2
C. GOALS ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2
D. APPROACHES ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2
E. QUALITIES …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3
F. PROGRAMMES …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 4
G. PRACTICAL ASPECTS …………………………………………………………………………………………. 5
MEMBERS OF THE WORKING COMMITTEE ………………………………………………………….. 6

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A. INTRODUCTION
This proposal is to establish a world-class Museum of World Religions in Birmingham (possibly to have the status of a ‘UNESCO Museum of World Religions’). What is envisaged is an inspiring, outstanding, and innovative educational and cultural institution, along the lines of the great museums of the world, such as can be found in the National Mall in Washington, DC (USA). Its prime purpose will be to showcase ideas and values rather than artefacts. It will be housed in a purpose-built building, which will itself be inspiring, outstanding, and innovative.
The idea to create such a museum in Birmingham was inspired by the Museum of World Religions in Taiwan, which was founded by Dharma Master Hsin Tao. The Birmingham project, while supported by the museum in Taiwan, is an autonomous initiative. This Concept Paper was prepared by a working committee consisting of individuals from diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds; their names are listed at the foot of this document.
The need for such a museum is exceptionally timely. In today’s increasingly globalised and fractured world, members of different faith communities and ethnicities find themselves sharing a common space. At the same time, humanity is facing unprecedented challenges––environmental degradation, poverty, war, violence between groups and communities, uneven distribution of material wealth, social disparity, injustice, alienation, and many other problems. The proposed Museum is intended to provide information and resources for individuals to reflect on the meaning and role of religion amidst these challenges, and how religion can indeed be a positive force for global healing, social transformation, and personal growth in the twenty-first century.
We have considered a variety of locations in the UK and come to the conclusion that Birmingham is the most suitable site for this project. This is because of its central location in the UK, its European character, the strong and diverse religious communities in the city, and its history of interest in and support of religion generally. Birmingham also has an international airport and excellent conference facilities.
The project has received outline support from the key entities in Birmingham: the University of Birmingham: office of the Vice-Principal. It also has the academic support of the Department of Theology and Religion, which is among the largest university departments of Religious Studies in the country, as well as from
(a) the UNESCO Chair in Interfaith Studies based in the same Department (the only UNESCO Chair in this field in the UK).
(b) UNESCO: the UK National Commission for UNESCO.
(c) Birmingham City Council.
(d) Religious and faith communities in the city.
The support of the above four is dependent on precise financial and contractual relationships, yet to be determined. We believe that it is appropriate for the Museum to be affiliated with UNESCO, which has so far established fifteen Chairs in Interfaith Studies across the world (linked together in a common ‘UNITWIN’ programme), and which enjoys wide respect for its commitment to cultural diversity, intercultural understanding, and an unbiased approach to the social issues centring on religion. It will follow the UNESCO definition of the aim of a museum––to develop and transform society.
The Museum is to be regarded as a common space for the many religious communities in Birmingham, and to reflect the central importance of religion in human life. It would not have any particular religious or political affiliation. The project would have an educational value for the general public and would be the first of its kind in Europe, possibly the first in the world (outside Taiwan). It would lead the way.

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B. MISSION
The mission of the Museum is to:
1. Encourage respect for religion by introducing visitors to the core values, wisdom, and practices of all the major world religions, and in this manner illustrate the need for religion in an increasingly secular and environmentally threatened world;
2. Cultivate mutual understanding and respect between the major religions by helping people from different backgrounds become more aware of the rich diversity of religions, thereby addressing the social needs of a culturally pluralist and multi-religious society in context;
3. Show the complexity of the difficult issues that religious traditions face in the modern world, such as the encounter between religion and science, and the desire to hold on to ancient principles and venerate sacred texts whilst simultaneously embracing change;
4. Encourage the recognition of the importance of inter-religious dialogue and religious education as vehicles contributing to social stability and world peace;
5. Serve as a major educational resource for teachers and students of theology and Religious Education in Britain, Europe, and beyond;
6. Exemplify UNESCO’s four pillars of learning: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be, as expressed in Learning: the Treasure Within, the report of the UNESCO International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century (1996).

C. GOALS
The Museum has the following broad goals:
1. To provide an opportunity for people of different backgrounds to get to know, understand, respect, and learn from each other, including a respect for diversity and for each other’s religions;
2. To become a national and European resource for religious education and provide information about religion in general as well as specific religions;
3. To celebrate the role and relevance of religion, both for individuals and for society;
4. To stimulate constructive and critical reflection on the role of religion in our global society;
5. To nurture a religious consciousness of love, compassion, and sharing, and an understanding of how religion can provide individuals with comfort and reassurance, and answer the need for hope;
6. To show how shared values can serve as a link between religions;
7. To create an atmosphere that stimulates spiritual awareness and a sense of humility;
8. To offer a sacred space for worship that can touch people’s hearts and minds, generate goodness, and inspire people to stand up for justice.

D. APPROACHES
The Museum intends to approach these goals by
1. showing what religion has to offer, in terms of love, compassion, humility, generosity, hospitality, wisdom, caring, peace of mind, and other qualities;

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2. offering a safe space where people from diverse backgrounds can meet, talk, and––especially––listen to each other;
3. providing rich information about the world’s religions as well as meaningful experiences and encounter for all visitors, especially young people and other learners;
4. presenting the world’s religions thematically as well as through materials on each religion, in a way that is interesting to people of different faiths and to those without a religion;
5. showing two sides of religion: (a) the internal (religion as it functions for the individual): how religion provides wisdom and can thereby elevate and purify the human heart and spirit, and (b) the external (religion as it functions in society): both the positive aspects, through the emphasis on love and compassion, family and community life, education, moral and social values, and also the negative aspects, such as extremism, triumphalism, sexism, coercion, violence, and war;
6. challenging scepticism and encouraging people to explore how better to incorporate religious values into their daily lives.

E. QUALITIES
The museum would embody the following qualities:
1. Inclusiveness
The Museum will have a spirit of inclusiveness (including gender inclusiveness), which extends to those who have no religion or religious affiliation, and practical solutions will be sought so as to be inclusive of all the world’s religions;
2. Simplicity
The Museum will be characterised by simplicity, so that it can be accessible to all visitors including children;
3. Beauty
The Museum and its surroundings should be beautiful; so that people will be drawn to visit it from far and wide for its attractiveness, even if for no other reason;
4. Celebration
The Museum will be a celebration of religion, rather than being defensive and apologetic;
5. Living phenomenon
The Museum will be lively and inspiring, showing that religion is a living phenomenon;
6. Interactivity and accessibility
The Museum will use cutting-edge interactive technology and be accessible to a broad audience, a living space rather than isolated exhibits of artefacts that are no longer useful;
7. Unity, diversity, and controversies
The Museum will include themes of unity, diversity, and controversies:
 with regard to unity, the Museum will focus on the core inner or spiritual aspects of religion, as well as the outer social aspects of religions; it will also highlight shared values through approaches that are both intellectual and experiential;
 with regard to diversity, the Museum will include that which is different and difficult. This means that it will not only emphasise commonalities and differences amongst religions, but also raise difficult questions, e.g. conflicts between and within religions, false/forced and

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materially induced conversion, gender bias in religions, martyrdom, and the involvement of religions in historical and present-day conflict, war, and terrorism.
 with regard to controversies, the Museum will not aim to create controversy, but rather to show the complexity of religious issues, including constitutional matters (such as the notion of freedom of religion, or the separation of church and state).
8. Sharing and outreach
The Museum will strive to reach as wide a range of people as possible, by catering to individuals of both elementary and advanced levels of knowledge about religion. The Museum intends to attract religious leaders of all faiths to become actively involved in its work and to become patrons of its message to secular society.
9. Transformation
Through its programmes for and within communities, the Museum will be a catalyst for change and transformation, greater inter-religious understanding, and for peaceful living together;

F. PROGRAMMES
The Museum has seven programmes:
Permanent Exhibition
Through its permanent exhibitions,
 the Museum will express the nobility of religion to all audiences, including people of no religion. The core is to show the values and practices that religion can offer to secular society;
 the Museum will create a space for spiritual practices, e.g. worship, meditation and prayer. Representatives from religious communities should be available to visitors to communicate about their religions;
 the Museum will provide opportunity for encounter with sacred experiences, for instance through music and art, as important components of religious experience.
The exhibitions will consist of two main elements:
(a) mapping out the geographical and historical origins of the world’s religions and their influences on particular cultures, and how religions have developed over time (including the development of their sacred sites). The idea is to show the inter-connectedness of religions and how they may be viewed as a jigsaw puzzle, coming from and inspired by the same source, but appearing and interacting in different spaces and times.
(b) a thematic approach to a series of topics. Each theme will include three or four religions on a rotating basis, and will address what a particular religion has to say about a specific subject, such as morals and values, family, education, hospitality, the life cycle, ecology, the immigrant experience, and other topics including unity, diversity, and controversies as described above. In this way the intention is to enable particular religions to express what they wish to say on specific topics. Rotating the contributions of different religions will maintain freshness and encourage visitors to return.

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For practical reasons, the emphasis will be on the main religions of the world. Religions that cannot be given adequate exposure will nevertheless be provided for, either by touch screens in the permanent exhibition space or by temporary exhibitions. It is proposed that the Museum will not have its own permanent art collection or seek to acquire one; rather it will collaborate with other museums to exhibit materials on a loans basis.
Temporary exhibitions
The Museum expects to maintain appropriate links with other institutions, and to sponsor joint exhibitions and similar projects. Visual and other tangible aspects of religious culture will be included, such as art, food, festivals, rituals, the beauty of calligraphy, and so on. This can open people’s eyes and hearts to what their neighbours do.
Special events and interfaith meetings
The Museum may host special events proposed by any religious community or communities, including the celebration of religious festivals as appropriate, and provide a venue for interfaith meetings and other activities.
Community outreach
The Museum will provide a link with places of worship in the local community.
Seminars and educational work
The Museum will benefit from collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group, and interfaith organizations in the city of Birmingham and the West Midlands in many aspects, such as holding conferences, lectures, and seminars; and also with a programme of interfaith studies. It will accommodate the needs of researchers and be sensitive to students who wish to serve as volunteers and interns.
Dialogue and conflict resolution
The Museum will be a neutral place for inter-religious dialogue, and for religions in conflict to meet. This will enhance community harmony and social cohesion at local and national levels.
Website and other publications
The Museum will have an interactive and informative website; and from time to time sponsor publications such as catalogues and other publications as appropriate.

G. PRACTICAL ASPECTS
1. Architecture
The Museum will be twenty-first-century state-of-the-art, for example by using large spaces (possibly including a central atrium) so as to allow visitors a sense of freedom in exploring the building and its exhibitions on several floors. Specific provision will be made for an important element of the building to have the atmosphere of a living, sacred space suitable for worship, contemplation, and prayer; a large auditorium, to enable important special events to be held at the Museum; smaller meeting rooms, for the benefit of local interfaith groups to hold their events; and an outdoor garden, to facilitate both personal meditation and public cultural festivals from time to time.
2. Facilities for visitors
In keeping with its character as a world-class, visitor-friendly institution, the Museum will include a Visitors Information Desk, supplying leaflets showing the content and location of the different elements of the Museum’s exhibitions; a cinema showing a short, specially commissioned orientation film introducing visitors to the subject-matter of the Museum; other, smaller rooms with facilities for groups to watch a video, hear a short lecture by their guide, and engage in a discussion; booths with touch screens to enable visitors to explore specific topics, become involved in personal question-and-

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answer sessions about their opinions (for example, on ethical issues), or turn the pages of sacred texts and the great religious books; a good bookshop (stocking both popular and scholarly publications on the world’s religions and religious studies in general, as well as appropriate religious souvenirs from across the world); programmes and facilities that are family-friendly; convenient access for the disabled; and a food hall with a variety of self-service facilities offering food deriving from the different culinary traditions of the world’s religions.
3. Personnel
The first formal step that has been taken to establish this Museum is the creation in 2010 of a Charitable Trust (registered in the UK), whose trustees have been drawn from among the members of the working committee listed below. The trustees recognize, however, that the practical aspects of taking the project forward will require a very wide range of suitably qualified personnel, to include the following specializations, headed by a project manager, an exhibition designer, and a curatorial team: exhibition fabrication, mount making, production support, graphics, media production, photographic services, conservation, collections management, interactive graphics and software, publications editor, community services, external affairs and development, and a fundraising director.
4. Community consultations
Consultations with the faith communities will constitute the most creative part of the Museum’s development, by providing community curators and exploring how it is hoped that visitors will experience the Museum of World Religions––and, thereby, assisting the planners achieve a project which is worthy of its name.

MEMBERS OF THE WORKING COMMITTEE
Josef Boehle, Coordinator of the UNESCO Chair in Interfaith Studies, University of Birmingham
*Rodney Dodds, Reader Emeritus, Church of England
Marius Felderhof, Senior Lecturer, Dept. Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham
Scherto Gill, Research Fellow, Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, Brighton, UK
*Maria Reis Habito, International Programme Director, Museum of World Religions, Taiwan
Farida Hashem, Senior Consultant, Felixia Associates
*Sharif Horthy, President, Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, Brighton, UK
Tuti Horthy, Trustee, Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, Brighton, UK
*Dharma Master Hsin Tao, Founder, Museum of World Religions, Taiwan
*Kurt Schreiber, Advisor, Museum of World Religions, Taiwan
*Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, Birmingham
Sukhbir Singh, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, Birmingham
Garrett Thomson, Professor of Philosophy, College of Wooster, Ohio
Connie Webber, Managing Editor, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, Oxford
*Jonathan Webber, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in Interfaith Studies, University of Birmingham
*Trustees of the Museum of World Religions (UK).
MWR (UK) is registered as a Charity in the UK. Registration No: 1134301

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