The Taipai, Taiwan, Museum of World Religions
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Buddhist-Christian Studies 22 (2002) 203-205

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The Taipai, Taiwan, Museum of World Religions

Maria Reis Habito
Dallas, Texas

A new museum dedicated to exploring the world's great religious traditions opened in Taipei this past November. Its professed mission is rather unique: to teach about religions and religious life in the world, and to provide instructive experiences about the variety of the world's religious expressions as a basis for mutual understanding, peace, and love among peoples of the world. The vision for the museum as a place that will foster religious learning, interreligious dialogue, and cooperation was developed by its founder, the Venerable Dharma Master Hsin Tao. He conceived the museum as an educational institution that will "explore the fundamental values that are at the roots of all religions." The mission of the museum—"to encourage respect, tolerance and love by fostering dialogue among people of all faiths and backgrounds as we work together to create greater understanding and peaceful interaction in the New Millennium"—has attracted widespread support among his disciples in Taiwan and overseas, whose contributions have made the museum project possible.

The Content of the Museum of World Religions

The goal in the content development and design of the museum has been twofold: (1) to create an institution of learning in which the visitor will find well structured information about important aspects of the world's religions and (2) to create an interactive space that, in the words of Ralph Applebaum, "immerses the visitors in an experience that enables them to view religion from many different perspectives to gain a better understanding of their own faith and the faith of others." To this, Professor Sullivan added, "[V]isitors will be invited to explore all religions as expressions of a universal search for purpose, meaning, and enlightenment. The museum will be a living monument to the human spirit and a sanctuary honoring the world's myriad faith traditions." To engage the visitor in this exploration, the visit to the museum has been designed as a journey that, even though not a ritual per se, has a structure analogous to the three-part structure of religious rituals.

First, visitors experience a moment of separation from everyday life and enter into a very different quality of space and time. Second, during this kind of "time out," [End Page 203] suspended between the normal moments of everyday activity, the visitors undergo a special and intense experience, during which they receive knowledge that transforms their understanding and alters their self-perception. Such transformation occurs in the face of powerful sacred objects, symbols, or events that are displayed and experiencedin relatively dramatic presentations in the museum. They invite the visitor to participate and interact. Thirdly, steps are undertaken to reinsert the visitor back into the life of daily activity.

There are fourteen steps to the museum experience, each of which lands the visitor in a different place, with its own experience of time. At each step, in each place, the religious structure of time is viewed on a different scale, seen under a different order of magnification. The museum experience is an orderly succession of times, magnified and mapped onto a series of spaces that invite the visitor's interaction. The aim is to offer the visitor an experience that, like a ritual, is satisfying and transformative and yet remains an experience proper to an institute of learning.

As an example of one of the steps, imagine coming from the lobby (step 5) into the Prime Times Theater (step 6). The panel on the eastern wall of the lobby slides aside, and you enter into the darkened theater as into a cave. You are implanted there in the mysterious and primeval space to relive the experience of the seed of love and peace, planted in the fertile grounds of origins. In a fifteen-minute film you view the primordial times described in religious myths and relive the drama and emotion of how life came to be as it is. A powerful weave of narration and imagery retells the stories and poses fundamental questions...