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Supporting Religious Literacy through Interpretive Planning at the Northwest African American Museum

Project Thesis by Melody Smith

Religious literacy develops stronger citizenship in local, national, and global levels, yet many people do not have the resources or tools to become religiously literate; this issue is compounded by museums’ hesitancy to address religious literacy in their spaces. These problems can stem from current cultural trends, misinformation, or apprehension. This thesis project seeks to tackle these issues by including religiously literate content into a museum exhibit through an interpretive plan. The interpretive plan was developed for the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) and completed between January and March 2020, utilizing meetings with host site staff and project specific literature to guide the development of the project. The finished plan describes the Situation and Need, Purpose and Goals, Inventory, Analysis, Thematic Planning/Visitor Experiences, and Recommendations/Implementation Guidelines.

Along with fulfilling NAAM’s goals for institutional planning, the deliverable also contributes toward improved religious literacy in their community, expands on field-wide conversations concerning the integration of religious literacy into museum content, and serves as a resource for religious literacy in museums. The process of developing this thesis project highlighted two areas for growth within the museum field: museums can integrate religious literacy within their broader institutional goals when appropriate and museums should employ community engagement strategies when undertaking this work.


Smith, M. (2020). Supporting Religious Literacy through Interpretive Planning at the Northwest African American Museum. [Unpublished master’s thesis project]. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.


project, exhibit, interpretive plan, religious literacy, community engagement