Thursday, 6 November 2014

MUSEUMS AS AGENTS OF SOCIAL CHANGE IN ISLAMIC COMMUNITIES: A RESEARCH INTEREST

RESEARCH COLUMN

BY: DAIRA SZOSTAK

Illumination by Hannah Habibi
My research interests lie in looking at museums as agents of social change toward making a difference for Islamic communities. There exists a need for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Islam, especially in light of recent events, which have misconstrued the faith into an extremist terrorist movement. I am determined to prove that museums can play an integral role in combatting Islamophobia (the fear of Muslims) in Western society. By offering another way to approach Islam, museums may be capable of replacing, challenging or subverting dominant forms of prejudice against its followers. The ability to harness the power of objects to explain and inform audiences about Islam through its means of cultural production is unique to the museum. I believe it is our responsibility to create the opportunity for meaningful cross-cultural experiences through our collections and public programming.

I have analyzed educational programs in cultural competency, community outreach initiatives, and social media practices in institutions worldwide. Two North American museums worthy of note are the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and the Oriental Institute in Chicago, Illinois for their course called Hadiths, Hijabs, and Hamas: Everything You Wanted to Know About Islam but Were Afraid to Ask.

I wrote a report on this subject during the course of my graduate studies for the class MSL2370, Museums and Cultural Heritage I: Context and Critical Issues. I delivered a presentation on my preliminary findings to my colleagues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in July, 2014. I hope to continue my research by partnering with the Aga Khan Museum in the coming months.

Please feel free to contact me should you want to know more or discuss any of the ideas presented here.

Sources:

Sandell, Richard. 2007. Museums, Prejudice and the Reframing of Difference. London: Routledge.

Editor's Note: Daira Szostak is a second year MMSt student who graduated from UofT with a degree in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and Anthropology. If you are a Museum Studies student engaged in research for a work, volunteer, or school project that you would like to share, please contact Robin Nelson.

1 comment:

  1. Great topic to study, Daira, as I believe there is much to be done in practice in order to connect communities which are culturally different through museums. Your project reminds of a series of grass roots organizations throughout the US which use food in order to built bridges and raise awareness. One such examples from Pittsburg is http://conflictkitchen.org/ - where Americans are invited to consume foods from countries with which the US is at war (much to be discussed here, I believe, but an interesting way to bring cultural difference into conversation). Keep us posted about your findings!

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