Numinous Experiences with Museum Objects

Publication Title

Visitor Studies

Publication Date


Document Type





museums, museum studies, numinous, museum objects


Archival Science | Collection Development and Management | Library and Information Science


It has been over a decade since Cameron and Gatewood (2000, 2003; Gatewood & Cameron, 2004) conducted their immensely intriguing research on numinous experiences in museums. Inspired by this pioneering work, the current study was undertaken to investigate more deeply these kinds of experiences with museum objects. The essence of this encounter, as revealed by a phenomenological investigation, is comprised of a holistic uniting of intellect and affect, with a direct link to the tangible and symbolic nature of the object, a feeling of being transported, and intensely profound connections with the past, self, and spirit. These experiences are interpreted as document-centered flow experiences that fall more into the category of mystical experience than traditional learning experience. Further understanding of numinous encounters in museums can help museum practitioners make intentional choices about objects, design, and format that can serve to stimulate, connect, and inspire our museum audiences.