Looking at the role of museum artifacts in the construction and contestation of religious diversity in public life, “Devotion and Display: Curating Religion in an Age of Diversity” comprised a public forum on January 30, 2014 in partnership with the Royal Ontario Museum and the Friends of South Asia at the ROM, and a community research workshop on January 31, 2014.

For their kind support of these events, we thank the Religious Diversity Youth Leadership Project, the Royal Ontario Museum, Friends of South Asia at the ROM, and the Department for the Study of Religion.


“bodhisattva” by Dean Hochman
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Theme Report

Prepared by Helen Mo & Ayesha Valliani

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Featured Events


Thursday, January 30, 2014, 6-8:00p
Royal Ontario Museum, Bloor Street West, Toronto

With a specific focus on the representation and diversity of South Asian religions in museum contexts, our guests spoke from their experience as curators and designers of museum spaces. Reflecting on their decisions about how to convey the complexities of religious communities, rituals, and interactions through material objects, the speakers also considered the challenges and possibilities of curating for diverse audiences that include youth and elders, religious and non-religious, and lay and expert participants.

Moderated by Ajay Rao, Associate Professor of South Asian Religions at the University of Toronto, and author of Re-figuring the Ramayana as Theology: A History of Reception in Premodern India.
Forum Guests

Marika Sardar

Associate Curator of Southern Asian and Islamic Art at the San Diego Museum of Art and former Senior Research Associate at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Dan Rahimi

ROM Vice-President, Program and archaeologist specializing in the late prehistory of the Middle East

He is also the founder of Salaam: Queer Muslim Community, an organization he originally started in 1991. In May 2009, he co-founded the el-Tawhid Juma Circle (operating as ‘Unity Mosque’) with Troy Jackson and Dr. Laury Silvers. He is co-founder of Canadian Muslim Union, past Chair of Africans in Partnership against AIDS and sits on the Advisory Board of Muslims for Progressive Values (USA and Canada). El-Farouk has set on many boards and is a public speaker on Islam, the Immigration and Refugee system, human rights, racism, politics and HIV/AIDS. He is also one of the owners of the Glad Day Bookshop, the world’s oldest surviving LGBT bookshop. He is currently enrolled in the Muslim Chaplaincy/Pastoral Studies Master’s program at the University of Toronto.

Satish Rao

an architect whose projects include the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Deepali Dewan

an art historian with a special interest in the visual cultures of South Asia and a Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Forum Videos

Community Research Workshop

Friday, January 31, 2014, 9:00a-3:00p
Jackman Humanities Institute, 170 St George Street

An opportunity for museum specialists, teachers, and students and scholars of religion to explore the politics and possibilities of curating in an age of religious diversity.

What happens when museums function as classrooms for the study of religion? As entry points and custodians to a broad array of cultural artifacts, texts, performances, and images from around the world, museums both curate and narrate “religion” for audiences that include the pious and the simply curious alike. Considering the pedagogy of museum curation
in conversation with the insights of the academic study of religion, this workshop brought together museum staff, teachers who make use of
museums in their pedagogy, and academic scholars of religion for a
discussion of the possibilities, and sometimes the perils, of teaching
religion through curation.

A variety of questions were addressed: How do museum curators and designers make decisions about how to present religious traditions as material traditions, and how significant is scholarship on religion to their choices?  How do different religious traditions pose different challenges for the work of curation, including traditions such as South Asian religions, First Nations spirituality, varieties of Christianity, and ancient religions without contemporary living communities of practice? What are the implications of displaying an object that for one audience is an artifact, but for another is an entity worthy of devotion, reverence, and careful ritual attention?

Workshop Schedule

Museums, Materiality, and the Study of Religion
  • Maria Dasios

    PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion whose research falls at the intersections of literary and material culture studies. Focusing on late antique and Byzantine Christian contexts, especially in Cappadocia and its environs, her work fleshes out literary treatments of objects (signet rings, icons, silver liturgical vessels) whose material status variously impacts their potential to serve devotional purposes and facilitate access to the divine. The force of such depictions hinges upon familiarity with the particularities of these physical objects as embedded in their material contexts of production, distribution and use.

  • Cara Krmpotich

    Assistant Professor in the Museum Studies program at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. She researches and teaches in the areas of collections management, repatriation, museum and indigenous community relations, memory and material culture. She has a long-term research partnership with the Haida Repatriation Committee. Currently, she is co-Principal Investigator on an SSHRC Partnership Development Grant with the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto that explores the role of a community collection within collective memory and life history processes. She is co-author of “This Is Our Life: Haida material heritage and changing museum practice.” Her second book “The Force of Family: repatriation, kinship and memory on Haida Gwaii” will be available in Spring 2014.


Museums and Multiculturalism
  • Hiren Mistry

    Course Director for York University’s B.Ed Program, Peel Region Site, and a History and Social Science Teacher with the Peel District School Board. Since 1999 he has developed curricular and pedagogical approaches to address the context of growing religious and cultural diversity in Ontario classrooms. He has worked as diversity curriculum consultant for McGraw Hill Ryerson, Emond Montgomery Publishers and the Harmony Movement. Drawing from his classroom work, Hiren has presented workshops to Ontario World Religions teachers (at OHASSTA) and has been involved in the Ministry curriculum review process for World Religions. Most recently Hiren presented a paper entitled “Inclusion, Occlusion & Religious Literacy: The Challenge of Teaching Indian Religious Traditions in Ontario World Religions Classrooms” at an international Religious Education conference at UCC, Cork, Ireland (“RE21: Religious Education in a Local Global World”). He is currently a part-time PhD student in Religious Studies at McMaster University. His research addresses the question of knowledge production about Indian religious traditions in school curricula, and more broadly the conceptual and pedagogical challenges of teaching cultural difference.


Curating and Controversy: Public Religion at the ROM

A tour of selected objects at the ROM, 100 Queen’s Park. Led by

  • Deepali Dewan

    An art historian with a special interest in the visual cultures of South Asia and a Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

  • Dan Rahimi

    ROM Vice-President, Program and an archaeologist specializing in the late prehistory of the Middle East.