Scottish churches have declared 1997 the Year of Faith. Deedee Cuddihy visits three exhibitions that look at religion today from very different perspectives. SCIENCE AND CHRISTIANITY: AN ACT OF CREATION St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow until June 29. Tel: 0141 552 4744.
CARFIN PILGRIMAGE CENTRE Lanarkshire. Tel: 01698 268941. SHROUD Collins Gallery, Glasgow, until February 8. Tel: 0141 553 4145.
Despite falling church attendances, recent research has shown that 75 per cent of the Scottish population believes in "a god''. A return to spirituality is being predicted for the third millennium, and only this month Christian churches in Scotland got together to declare 1997 the Year of Faith. So perhaps it's not surprising to find a cluster of religious exhibitions happening at once.
"Science and Christianity: An Act of Creation'', at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow, examines the ways that scientists and clerics have viewed the universe and its origins over the past 700 years. There was a time when both groups calculated the age of the Earth by reference to the Bible. Now there are clerics who believe in the Big Bang theory, and scientists who say God did it all in six days.
Aimed at children (an interactive questionnaire and quiz is available), an information panel at the entrance to the show states that, "`This is a big subject and a very small exhibition''. The space is certainly small and, crammed as it is with videos, lift-up flaps, cardboard cut-outs and large fossils, visitors may feel more than a little confused.
But the show does make some interesting points. For instance, while most of us think of science and religion as very different areas, they have one thing in common: they both offer ways of making sense of the world. It's just that religion tackles more philosophical questions, such as why are we here?; and why was the universe made?
Teachers will find some comfort in the statement that "both science and religion rely on knowledge not everyone can understand, such as the Bible and Einstein's theory of relativity''.
The two permanent exhibitions at St Mungo's are full of fascinating, beautifully laid-out and well-labelled artefacts (as well as photographs and audio information), but whether schools who come to see "Science and Christianity'' should attempt both on the same visit, is debatable. "Religion in Secular Scotland'' looks at education, charity, missions and places of worship, while "World Religion'' deals with attitudes to birth, death and the afterlife in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Judaism.
Where St Mungo's is very much a secular establishment concerned with the history, display and interpretation of religious objects, Carfin Pilgrimage Centre in Lanarkshire is all about belief.
Built at a cost of Pounds 720,000, the centre opened a little over six months ago beside Carfin Grotto, a shrine founded in the depressed 1920s for people who couldn't afford to make pilgrimages to Lourdes.
Using a 15-minute video presentation with contributions by prominent members of Scotland's Catholic, Jewish and Muslim communities, followed by a tour of the smallish exhibition area, where the emphasis is on atmosphere rather than artefacts (there is a fountain and a place to tie your complimentary pilgrimage ribbon), the centre aims to "tell the fascinating tale of pilgrims through the ages and around the world'', from the earliest times to the present day. Some visitors may feel that more is promised than is actually delivered.
Anne Marie Cairns, manager of the centre, advises that no school should plan a visit without first sending for a free education pack, available from this month. The pack focuses on Scotland's saints and Carfin's stained glass window (incorporating an incredible 122 symbols of pilgrimage, including footballs and Stonehenge). A video about the window and its creation is also available.
Finally, at Strathclyde University's Collins Gallery, Glasgow-born artist Patricia Mackinnon-Day is back with a one-woman show, with sculptures that include 21 pairs of hands (her own) cast in soap, clutching 21 pairs of identical white plastic rosary beads.
Even more striking is "Shroud'', the stuff of nightmares, which comprises 15 black clothes pulleys, strung up with black rope and hung with long lengths of sinister black material that look remarkably like monks' habits.
Only someone who had been living away from Glasgow for 20 years would dare to mount a show with such overt references to Catholicism, in a city where Orangemen play their flutes and beat their drums every July 12. As one visitor wryly remarked: "They'd love this at Ibrox."