The State Museum of the History of Religion was founded as a part of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.
The Museum opened to the public on 15 November 1932. The origins of the State Museum of the History of Religion lie in the will of an outstanding Russian historian of religion, ethnographer and anthropologist Vladimir Bogoraz-Tan (1865 – 1936). Innitial collections largely came from Peter the Great’s Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), the State Hermitage, the Library of the Academy of Sciences and the State Russian Museum.
The Museum of the History of Religion was established in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR system as an academic, educational and research organization. It was opposed to the majority of antireligious museums in the USSR. The Museum was focused on exploration of religion as a complex social and historical phenomenon, including studies of religious beliefs and cults’ development, place of religion in spiritual cultures from various historical periods, psychological aspects of faith, religious and social movements, secularization, religious art, etc.
During the WWII the museum staff worked to save museum collections, put out firebombs, organized exhibitions and wrote scientific papers. From the foundation of the Museum till the present day museum scholars have not only been in charge of objects conservation and organization of temporary and permanent exhibitions, but have thoroughly studied the museum collections and conducted research work.
Outstanding Russian scholars (Iosif Amusin, Boris Bogaevskiy, Sigismund Valk, Aleksandr Gorfunkel, Samuel Lozinskiy, Solomon Lurie, Milica Mathieu, Victor Rutenberg, Anatoliy Predtechenskiy, Vladimir Propp, Vasily Struve, Alexey Okladnikov, etc.) have collaborated with the museum, published their papers in the museum bulletins and have been members of the Museum Scientific Council over the past years.
In 1954 the Museum received a new title: the State Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. In 1961 the Museum went under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture of the USSR. In the early 1970-s the Museum became the Academic and Methodological Centre for the History of Religion and Religious Studies of the Ministry of Culture of the USSR. In 1990 its original title was returned to the Museum – the State Museum of the History of Religion.
Today the Museum collections number about 250000 exhibits. Permanent and temporary exhibitions and special museum projects reflect the variety and unity of the spiritual life of humankind. They integrate artifacts of various religions of different countries and peoples in a single museum space.