By Stephen Fasulo II
A project to open a new museum in Washington, D.C. has become intertwined with the passion of Catholic University of America. The project is called The National Museum of American Religion, and the aim according to Colleen Prior, a current PhD student at the University, is to educate and integrate the understanding of religion’s involvement in American culture.
“Religious groups have been behind every major social push like women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, the anti-slavery movement,” said Prior. “For the most part, these aspects have been left out, which is unfortunate, because it is a part of history that needs to be told.”
Currently, the project is raising funds to draft a Master Strategic Plan and Economic Feasibility Study (EFS).
“The EFS will tell us how much money we have to raise in a capital campaign, what kind of money is available, what we can afford, based on the eligible donor base, so we can’t plan until that is produced,” said Prior. “We’ve had some private donations, but the first step is getting a master strategic plan and economic feasibility study, and that costs $140,000. Right now we have about 137, so we’re doing an indiegogo campaign to raise the last little bit of funds.”
The Museum’s subject is not currently being covered by any Smithsonian Institute Museum, and the lack of a comprehensive historical study of religion’s effects on America is what has inspired the Museum project.
“I think it’s [religion] at the heart of almost everything, and it’s rarely spoken about in an unbiased way, and it’s nearly always spoken about at the viewpoint of another religious viewpoint or the view of a political party,” said Prior. “I think there is religion in everything, history, sociology, politics, anthropology, and only by studying religion can we truly understand us as a people at a national perspective and a species perspective.”
As the project is still in its early stages, all of the people working on the project are volunteers, a group of like-minded individuals who are each interested in the education of the public.
“I was trying to figure out the path I wanted to take with my career, and I love museums, so I decided to look up if there was a museum that was in the field of my major, and I found the project, and emailed them telling them I’d work for free. The whole team is volunteer based and we’re all trying to get our foot in the door. If I’m lucky, once we get to the hiring point, I’d love to have a job working for them. But even if not, that’s where I want my career to go, looking at the role of religion in American society,” said Prior.
The National Museum of American Religion is currently still accepting donations to go towards the Feasibility Study, and the indiegogo campaign has met its goals and is still accepting donations until the 12th of December.
“My hopes,” said Prior, “are that we get the funding first, and then that we’ll be able to tell the history of religion in the United States in a fair and unbiased way. I really want to be able to help the education of our country’s history with religion without teaching the religion. I want the project to inform the role of religion.”