Name: Valentina Gamberi
Home Institution: Research Centre for Material Culture, Leiden
Duration of Stay: Oct. 2022 to Jan. 2023
Research Project: Magical power as Heritage: a Taiwanese Retelling of Sacred Waste


Valentina Gamberi received her PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Chester in 2016. Her project focused on folk Hindu artefacts in European and American museum collections and how curators negotiate their sacred power within the exhibition spaces. Subsequently, she undertook an MPhil in Museum Anthropology (Scuola di specializzazione) at the University of Perugia, where she decided to concentrate on the phenomenon of religious museums, namely museums established by religious organizations. With this purpose in mind, in 2017 she spent 5 months of ethnographic fieldwork at the Museum of World Religions, established by Master Hsin Tao in New Taipei, understanding how the religious communities of the district of Xinzhuang make sense of the museum galleries. Since then, she switched her geographical focus to Taiwan, looking at the intersections between Chinese folk religion, Buddhism and heritage. From January 2019 to December 2020, she was appointed as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Ethnology in Academia Sinica. Her project, Building from the Inside, was a two-year ethnography on two grassroots heritage groups in the district of Xinzhuang and their conceptualisation of the district as a “living museum.” Temples are part and parcel of the groups’ heritage activities and have exhibitive spaces on their own, with original curatorial practices towards sacred artefacts that differentiate themselves from what is observed in European museums. 


Currently, Valentina has been focusing on the concept of “sacred waste”, conceptualizing religious artefacts in temples’ exhibitive spaces and artisans’ ateliers as hybrid materials, not yet or no longer ritual media, but still having a sacred aura or non-ordinary features. “Sacred waste” is at the centre of religious and non-religious museums and can significantly challenge categories such as sacred and profane, as well as the nature and the general goals of museums as cultural institutions. Reflecting on Taiwanese ethnographic material, Valentina has been defining new methodologies for curatorship with religious artefacts, on the one hand, and expanding the existing scholarship on sacred power in Chinese religions, on the other hand. Her doctoral work has been recently published by Berghahn Books with the title Experiencing Materiality: Museum Perspectives (February 2021).