Beliefs in spiritual beings and worlds beyond nature are characteristic of all human societies. By looking at how people believe through everyday objects of faith, this exhibition provides a perspective on what makes believing a vital part of human behaviour. Seeing how people believe, rather than considering what they believe, suggests that humans might be naturally inclined to believe in transcendent worlds and beings. Stories, objects, images, prayers, meditation and rituals can provide ways for people to cope with anxieties about the world, and help form strong social bonds. This in turn helps to make our lives well-ordered and understandable.
More about the exhibition
The exhibition includes objects of belief from societies around the world and through time. It begins with a remarkable 40,000-year-old mammoth ivory sculpture known as the Lion Man. Depicting a lion’s upper body on the lower half of a man, it is the oldest known image of a being that does not exist in nature. It is the earliest evidence we have of beliefs and practices, and shows humans’ unique ability to communicate what’s in our minds through objects. Different areas of the show will look at key themes of belief. The significance of light, water, fire and energy is revealed, linked to the idea that religious experience is governed by our senses. Objects reflect how people connect to worlds beyond nature through the natural environment or in specially built spaces. Other objects show the power of prayer, the importance of festivals and pilgrimage, and the marking of key life experiences – birth, coming of age, marriage and death. The long history of conflict and coexistence between different religions and beliefs is also explored. Together, the objects in the exhibition offer a fresh perspective on practices of belief and how they are hugely important for societies, as well as individual believers.
This exhibition is part of the fourth collaborative project between the British Museum, the BBC and Penguin Books. It builds on a Radio 4 series of 30 daily programmes over six weeks presented by former Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor.