Sacred residues in museums: A membrane ethnography of Taiwanese religious heritage
This article reflects on the existing dynamics between the sacredness derived from the museumification of religious items and the sacredness of those artefacts employed in rituals that survive in museum spaces as a trace or sacred residue (Beekers 2016). Which sacrality predominates, and how do they influence each other? Through an ethnography conducted in several Taiwanese museums, the article probes into a stratification of sacralities: the encounter between Buddhist and Chinese religious practitioners with museum artefacts’ sacred residue reflects complex and unpredictable dynamics. The ethnography presented in this article is defined as membrane ethnography since the relationship between humans and matter is like a membrane that unites and simultaneously separates, filters and subjectifies. This article extends the meaning of sacred residue by examining the reproducibility of religious artefacts through technological or experiential means. The latter, rather than determining the artefacts’ inauthenticity, makes the sacred residue more explicit. Furthermore, the ethnography of the membrane shows how non-European contexts are permeated by porosity and interdependency between the secular and the sacred of religious heritage, thus preventing a dichotomisation between museums and ritual contexts for analysing the implied dynamics between them instead.
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