Enlightenment: Religion and Ritual

Stone bust of the Maize God


Height: 90 cm
Width: 54 cm
Depth: 40 cm



Gift of Alfred Maudslay

AOA 1886-321

Europeans had always been aware of the gods of ancient Greece and Rome, but their attitudes towards the non-Christian religions of other lands were mostly negative and ill-informed.

During the Enlightenment, encounters with the rest of the world led to an increase in knowledge and curiosity about other religions. At the same time, some intellectuals developed more openly critical views of Christianity and the church. The credibility of religion itself, including Christianity, became a subject of heated debate.

Religious objects were collected as comparative evidence for beliefs and practices the world over. To many eighteenth-century British eyes, they demonstrated the superstitious nature of what they described as pagan idol-worship, though sceptics regarded Christianity as no different. Others studied them as surviving evidence of ancient religions or used similarities between objects from different cultures to chart the spread of religious ideas, and to reconstruct the history of religion.

This is one of a series of tours exploring the themes of the British Museum Enlightenment gallery

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund