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Durham e-Theses
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Gods Behind Glass: Exploring Lived Religious Experiences in Museum Displays of Roman Britain

LEE, ANTONY,MATTHEW,ROBERT (2022) Gods Behind Glass: Exploring Lived Religious Experiences in Museum Displays of Roman Britain. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Full text not available from this repository.
Author-imposed embargo until 08 November 2024.


The archaeology of Roman Britain is commonly encountered in museums. Religion forms a significant element of not only those displays, but popular perceptions of life in the period. Though the scholarship of religion in Roman Britain has been vibrant, this research represents the first holistic study of its display and interpretation in museums, focussing on the lived religious experiences of ancient individuals and communities. This is achieved through a multidisciplinary study, centred upon a unique application of the Lived Ancient Religion rubric to museums alongside complementary theoretical approaches to material culture, museology, contemporary religion, and post-colonial Roman archaeologies. Qualitative and quantitative analyses of displays at 23 museums across Britain are presented, supported by curatorial interviews and an online survey.

This study challenges paradigms of archaeological presentations of religious material culture which forefront description and categorisation, instead promoting approaches based upon the situational needs, actions and multisensory experiences of ancient individuals and communities. I argue that material culture should be presented as not merely demonstrative of beliefs and practices but constitutive of them, and for the recentring of individuals as sensing, embodied, emotive and agentic religious actors operating within local and provincial social, economic and political networks. Moving beyond the detached, art-historical museum gaze requires new approaches to be embedded in documentation and display planning processes. More complex and culturally-specific definitions of ‘religion’ require greater recognition of the significance of non-overtly religious material culture and non-temple-based acts such as structured deposition.

Religious experiences can serve as a powerful catalyst for challenging popular perceptions of Roman Britain and the legacy of the Roman empire. This research explores the potential of creative ‘storytelling’ language, materiality, and multisensory experiences in the construction of engaging, emotive and ontologically challenging displays, culminating in 12 principles for museums wishing to revitalise their approaches to ancient religion.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:archaeology, roman, britain, religion, museums
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Nov 2022 13:16

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