The Religious Politics of Theme Parks in the 21st century: Imagineering Religion, Heritage and National Sentiments

This project researches how religion is ‘imagineered’ in religious theme parks in different countries. Which representations of religion are conveyed and how? What are the underlying agendas and how do the parks influence the emotional and political significance of religion and heritage?

The MAKEBELIEF project analyses how people in countries such as China, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United States are trying to influence the emotional and political significance of religion and heritage. It is looking at this question from a unique perspective: that of religious theme parks.

Religious theme parks try to convey certain representations of religion through a variety of different media: from the architecture in the park, miniatures and moving puppets (‘animatronics’) through to 4D films and re-enactments. At the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, for instance, the Bible is brought to life using lifelike dinosaurs, while visitors to Miniatürk in Istanbul are immersed in Ottoman history in miniature form. The MAKEBELIEF project examines how and why religious theme parks are built in the Netherlands, China, Turkey and the United States.

Battle to imagineer religion

In these countries the battle to imagineer religion is being waged in various forms. Take multicultural issues in the secularised Netherlands, the renewed popularity of Ottoman heritage in Turkey, complex relationships between religion and heritage in China, or media-savvy evangelical Christianity in the United States, for example. Researcher Ernst van den Hemel (Meertens Institute/NL-Lab): ‘The parks are a unique gateway into fundamental questions of the 21st century: who defines what religion means?’

The ERC grant will make it possible to appoint a team of two PhD students, two postdoctoral researchers and a visual-anthropological filmmaker.

Runtime: December 2023 – December 2028