This award supports doctoral dissertation research in the sociology of science on relations between science and religion. It shifts the focus of analysis away from longstanding controversies involving religion and science from courtroom battles and textbook-adoption squabbles to a new setting for exhibitions that opened in Kentucky in 2007. The researcher will examine this struggle for credibility and cultural authority in a new way, by focusing on the materialization of religious beliefs and in particular on the exhibition technologies used to legitimate those beliefs for visitors. This sociology of science case study draws on interviews with informants involved with the new setting, content analyses of pertinent primary documents and literatures, secondary media coverage, and on extensive field notes prepared during successive visits to the site.

Intellectual Merit

Science, Technology, and Society scholars have an enduring interest in sites of knowledge production, such as gentleman's houses, laboratories, field sites, courtrooms, and exhibition halls. Until now, exhibition halls have been examined primarily as places where the cultural authority of mainstream science is reproduced, not as places where scientific understandings are challenged. Science, Technology, and Society scholars have recently turned their attention to social movement organizations such as patient-rights advocacy groups and scientist-activists, but the increased understandings resulting from those studies have not yet been applied to a religious social-movement organization that seeks unequivocally to challenge scientific worldviews. This dissertation extends Science, Technology, and Society interests to sites of knowledge-production by asking how places such as museums get implicated in social movement organization efforts to secure credibility and legitimacy for beliefs widely denounced by mainstream science.

Potential Broader Impacts

Analyzing religious social-movement goals, tactics, and outcomes will shed light on how a movement that is marginalized by the scientific community can nevertheless have an impact on public understandings of science. The cultural authority of science is buttressed by a network of exhibition halls designed and built on the premise that scientific worldviews are "right." What are the consequences for popular opinions about science when a natural history museum uses similar displays and artifacts to convince visitors of the legitimacy of an alternative worldview? This project raises issues of considerable importance for science education policies and for the negotiation of epistemic plurality in the public sphere.

Project Report

In this research, the analysis of longstanding controversies surrounding creationism from courtroom battles and textbook-adoption squabbles is shifted to a new setting: a natural history museum. The Creation Museum in Kentucky was built in 2007 by Answers in Genesis (AiG), an organization tied to the broader Young Earth Creationist movement (YEC). Insights from this distinct case study are linked with broader scholarship to address a core sociological question: how is cultural authority (e.g., who gets believed and why) acquired and negotiated by social movements in the twenty-first century? To understand this, data was collected over two years of on-site museum fieldwork, twenty interviews with organizational leadership, and compiled a unique historical dataset (1963-2007) of over 1,000 internal documents from various creationist organizations. Given the historical importance of resources (e.g., money, volunteers) and the political opportunities (e.g., supreme court cases) for contestation in social movement scholarship, cultural institutions like museums have until recently been overlooked as viable social movement targets since they are not tied to policy change. Furthermore, while sociologists have revealed museums as organizational sites of activity (e.g., management of collections, decisions made about exhibits) and as spaces for negotiating collective memories (e.g., how the public remembers an event like the Holocaust), they rarely examine museums as sites of resistance for social movements. I find AiG’s adoption of the natural history museum-form situates their museum in a position long associated with the authority of evolutionary scientific worldviews, which is, in fact, the movement’s primary goal. In turn, this suggests that a movement’s success or failure may no longer depend on a legislative body, but rather the movement’s ability to function as a professional alternative institution primed for media coverage. Subsequently, this research demonstrates how AiG shifted the larger focus of the YEC movement from scientific debates and legislation to cultural change through ideological repositioning (e.g., separation from Intelligent Design and other types of claims), effective leadership that reassessed previous movement actions, and a willingness to adapt to the sociocultural as well as political environment. In doing so, this research points to how and why other social movements may also endure by constructing alternative institutions in years to come as they seek to acquire cultural authority. Analyzing the case study of Answers in Genesis in relation to the Creation Museum highlights the goals, tactics, and outcomes of a movement that is marginalized by the scientific community and how they can nevertheless have an impact on public understandings of science. The cultural authority of science is buttressed by a network of museums designed and built on the premise that scientific worldviews are "right." The consequences are significant for popular opinions about science when a natural history museum uses similar displays and artifacts to convince visitors of the legitimacy of an alternative worldview. This project raises issues of considerable importance for science education policies and for the negotiation of epistemic plurality (e.g., multiple viewpoints regarding knowledge) in the public sphere.

Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Institute
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Type
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
1126535
Program Officer
Frederick M Kronz
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2011-08-01
Budget End
2013-07-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2011
Total Cost
$9,594
Indirect Cost
Name
Indiana University
Department
Type
DUNS #
City
Bloomington
State
IN
Country
United States
Zip Code
47401