book spotlight: creating the creation museum, how fundamentalist beliefs come to life by kathleen c. oberlin

It’s a real pleasure to be discussing this book. Casey Oberlin, as she prefers, is a proud graduate of IU’s sociology program and the author of this really unique study of the creationist movement. The scholarly background is this: religion scholars have long studied creationism as a form of Biblical literalism that split from mainline protestantism, but few sociologists have studied creationists as a social movement that challenges mainstream science. This is probably thr first book to really tackle this topic and it focuses on how creationists have set up a scientific community around Biblical literalism, museums, and academic research.

Based on tons of ethnography at Kentucky’s Creation Museum, Casey got the inside view of the movement’s history, inner workings, and how they reconcile themselves with traditional science. The basic gist is this – creationism is a movement that tries to marry its core belief – the absolute truth of the Bible – with an acceptance of the scientific methods and the institutions it represents. Thus, creationists have tried gain credibility of the public, and deepen support among evangelical Christians, by employing or mimicking the practices of mainstream science. They have a museum, creationist scientists have graduate degrees from regular universities, and they now have their own creaton science courses and peer reviewed journals.

Casey’s book delves into the history of schism that leads up to the museum’s creation and presents us with gripping accounts of how creationists situate their claims. My favorite part of her work has to be the discussion of how central dinosaur fossils are to the way creationism is presented to the public. As a very obvious piece of evidence that the earth is quite old, creationists must face dinosaur fossils head on.

Overall, this book is not only a wonderful contribution to the study of religious movements and science, it also adds to the now growing literature on how movements “by pass” the mainstream by setting up their own shop. This would include Jaime Kucinskas’ work on meditation/Buddhism in America and Davis and Robinson on how fundamentalist groups set up their own social service programs. Recommended!

CODA: Last year, I discussed my visit to the Creation Museum. Don’t agree with the science, but it was a very enjoyable visit. And the dinosaur fossils are indeed fabulous!

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Written by fabiorojas

December 15, 2020 at 12:01 am

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