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National Geographic Sacred Journeys at The Children's Museum

A version of this blog post will appear in the Indianapolis Star on August 23, where you can learn much more about the exhibit in the Sacred Journeys special insert. 

Millions of people around the world engage in sacred journeys every year. Those journeys may be personal, rooted in daily acts of faith. They may be collective explorations of religious beliefs undertaken by groups or congregations. Or they may be pilgrimages to places that are significant to specific religions.

Each type of journey is represented in National Geographic Sacred Journeys, a new exhibit opening Aug. 29 at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Created by the museum in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, Sacred Journeys is designed to foster understanding and awareness of, and respect for, the world’s wide array of religious beliefs, peoples, and their cultures.

Five Journeys

Using National Geographic photographs as backdrops, along with architectural recreations of sacred places, audio and video clips, and artifacts, the exhibit will transport visitors to sites of historical and religious significance. The exhibit is anchored by the sacred journeys of five young people who, though fictional, are representative of those who undertake such journeys every year. Visitors will be observers as the five young people experience their respective religions in ways that enhance their personal beliefs, in some cases as a result of taking part in congregational events. 

  • Micah, a Jewish-American boy, travels to the Western Wall in Jerusalem seeking a closer relationship with God by praying at one of Judaism’s most sacred sites, something millions of Jews do every year.
  • Amala, a Hindu girl from India, goes to the confluence of three rivers sacred to her religion to purify her soul, becoming a participant in one of the world’s largest gatherings of the faithful.
  • Hana, a Muslim girl from the United Kingdom, goes on the Hajj (a pilgrimage) to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, renewing her personal faith and connecting her to the 2 million Muslims who do the same every year.
  • An, a Buddhist boy from Vietnam, seeks guidance for his future at the Bodhi Tree where Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment, something Buddhists from around the world do.
  • Luis, a Christian boy from Mexico, visits the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Roman Catholic Basilica in Mexico City to gain insight into its importance to the 90,000 Catholics who gather there on a typical Sunday.

Extraordinary Artifacts

In addition to those five journeys, the exhibit explores the religious experiences of real people told through objects related to their experiences. Included among them are several items used in the Jewish faith that astronaut David Wolf, who is now the museum’s Extraordinary Scientist-in-Residence, took along on trips to the International Space Station. Also in the exhibit are a Bible from Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest AME congregation in Indianapolis, and an Elijah Cup and Seder Plate used by local families in their Seder meals during Passover. 

An array of other objects from religions around the world, ranging from the personally sacred to the world-renowned, are also part of the exhibit. They include:

  • Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • A stone from the Western Wall in Jerusalem
  • A statue of the Hindu god Ganesh
  • A piece of a Kiswah, the fabric that covers the Kaaba at the Great Mosque in Mecca
  • A replica of the famed Shroud of Turin
  • The trunk taken by Brigham Young as he led the Mormon people to the Salt Lake Valley
  • A tile from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
  • A 1519 pamphlet titled On the Papacy in Rome, written by Martin Luther
  • The throne created for the Dalai Lama for his visit to the Tibetan Mongolian Cultural Center in Bloomington in 2010
  • An artwork by Indianapolis artist K. P. Singh of the Golden Temple—a Sikh holy site

Search for Answers

To ensure the accuracy of the exhibit, the museum established an international advisory group of religious leaders and scholars. With the advisors’ guidance, National Geographic Sacred Journeys was designed to provide visitors with information and context so people with different religious experiences, beliefs, and perspectives might gain insights into those of others. 

“The exhibit is designed to help us understand the motivations for these sacred journeys and increase our respect for religious traditions and cultural diversity,” said Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, the museum’s president and CEO. 

Sacred journeys have the power to transform those who take them. National Geographic Sacred Journeys will help museum visitors explore how and why by observing the experiences of people seeking healing, enlightenment, and answers to some of life’s most profound questions. 

Produced in collaboration with the National Geographic Society, the exhibit is made possible by Lilly Endowment Inc.