The new National Museum of the American Indian has become one of Washington, D.C.’s major tourist attractions. According to its own statements, the museum is “breathtaking . . . a truly Native place.”
Yet not all observers are impressed. In a devastating review, Edward Rothstein of the New York Times describes the museum’s approach as gratuitous and self-indulgent, presenting “comforting homilies behind every façade”: it “has packaged a self-celebratory romance.” Slate’s Timothy Noah describes the museum’s opening last September as “the museum world’s gaudiest belly flop” in 40 years, and called for the immediate resignation of the institution’s director and administration. The Washington Post called it “an exercise in intellectual timidity.”
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.