Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dr Seuss Books in Bronze

This winter, I found myself with an hour to spare in Springfield, Massachusetts, so I visited the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden.


What a delightful place! The bronze sculptures by Lark Grey Dimond-Cates were unveiled in 2002. They reproduce some of Seuss's most famous characters around or popping out of two giant books.


Nearby is a likeness of Theodore Geissel (Dr. Seuss) himself at his desk with the Cat in the Hat looking over his shoulder.


Now here are iconic books in every sense of the term!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Iconic Books & Texts in Paperback!



Iconic Books and Texts will be available in paperback in August. It can be ordered from the publisher, Equinox, or from the north American distributor, ISD, which lists it on sale for $24.

Using picture of Bible in intra-Christian polemics


Religion Dispatches reports that eight "traditionalist" churches have joined forces against their progressive Christian neighbor church in Phoenix. The effort is clearly part of their concern over the liberalization of marriage laws in the US.


What fascinates me is the iconic old book on their banner. Presumably a Bible, it be nevertheless appears less like an iconic Bible than like an old book. Never mind that it looks nothing like most evangelical bibles sold today--either glossy or leather, floppy or paperback. The picture answers the banner's question definitively: the old book is the opposite of progressive. 

Books beat e-readers as momentos


The tech columnist, Nick Bilton, urged his mother to use e-readers instead of her beloved books ("In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print, NY Times, May 13, 2015). Once she died, though, he experienced a change of heart. 
Now that she was gone, all I cared about were her physical books.
Yes, as a technology columnist, I have become acutely aware of technology’s built-in expiration date. Kindles, iPhones and those new smartwatches are designed to become outdated, and quickly. Technology is about the future, not the past. ... As VHS tapes turned to DVDs and later streaming services, I didn’t think twice about the lost physical objects — rather, I rejoiced in their disappearance.
But books, I now understand, are entirely different.
... I love listening to audiobooks when I drive. And taking a Kindle on a long trip is nothing short of magical. But that doesn’t mean I want my mother’s old Kindle to remember her by. And I certainly wouldn’t get much from her Audible collection.
Instead, I want her physical books. I want to be able to smell the paper, to see her handwriting inside, to know that she flipped those pages and that a piece of her lives on through them.
Bilton emphasizes how his senses interact with books differently than with digital texts, and that this makes all the difference for his memories of his mother. It is an old observation that our senses engage our memories in a variety of ways. Smell and sound can often provoke vivid recall of events years in the past. 

Sense and text/sense and scripture is on the research agenda of several of us this coming year. Bilton reminds us to consider the close connection between sensation--touch, smell, sight--and memory. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Printing in Blood


A Lebanese Art and Culture magazine, Audio Kultur, has used human blood to print its issue commemorating the Armenian genocide.

NPR reports that

Lebanon became home to large numbers of Armenians fleeing the Turks during World War I. While many emigrated during the Lebanese civil war, several Beirut neighborhoods remain centers of Armenian culture.

So just how do you publish in blood? The magazine approached five notable Lebanese-Armenian artists, from musicians to designers. Phlebotomists drew the blood, collecting it in vials.

"Obviously when you do something like this it becomes a statement, and the reader will take away from it whatever they want to take away from it," Colacion told the Daily Star. "But what we want to do is just kind of celebrate this rich culture, which impacts all of us every day, especially in the arts."

Audio Kultur produced a video about the process and its goals:



The video ends with the text: "100 Years Later, Armenian blood is being spilled for recognition."

Writing in blood identifies texts with human bodies. The tendency to equate texts and humans is endemic to the history and rituals of textual culture, as demonstrated clearly by the multi-cultural essays in Kristina Myrvold's The Death of Sacred Texts. Blood writing has to my knowledge been used most recently to create a relic text at the opposite end of the political spectrum, a Qur'an written in Saddam Hussein's blood.

SCRIPT at EIR/AAR Montreal May

SCRIPT is providing two panels on the theme of “Devotion to and with Books” for the Eastern International Regional  meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Montreal this week-end.

Both panels will take place on May 2nd in Room 204 of the Birks Building on the campus of McGill University

1:30 p.m.
Chair: Michael Como (Columbia)
1. Rachel Fell McDermott (Barnard/Columbia) “What Happens When Love is Transposed:
The Story of a South Asian Devotional Poetry Genre that was Birthed, Once”
2. Dai Newman (Syracuse) “The Family: A Proclamation in Three Dimensions: Contemporary LDS Scripturalization”
3. James Watts (Syracuse) “Book Aniconism in Christian Tradition and Ritual Practice”

3:00 p.m.
Chair: James Watts (Syracuse)
4. Michael Como (Columbia) “Buddhist Sutras: Desires and Devotions”
5. Urmila Mohan (London) “Preformed or Performed? Embroidery as Devotion in ISKCON”
6. Discussion: “Devotion to and with Books


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bibliography additions

Recent additions to the alphabetical and topical bibliographies on iconic books include:

On iconic books and Islam:
  • George, Kenneth M. "Designs on Indonesia's Muslim Communities," The Journal of Asian Studies 57/3, (1998), 693-713, a description of the artistic, political and religious choices involved in making a uniquely Indonesian copy (mushaf) of the Qur'an. George takes up these same issues more broadely in:
  • George, Kenneth M. "Ethics, Iconoclasm and Quranic Art in Indonesia," Cultural Anthropology 24/4 (2009), 589-621.
  • George, Kenneth M. Picturing Islam: Art and Ethics in a Muslim Lifeworld. London: Wiley Blackwell, 2010. 

On ancient book destruction and iconoclasm:
  • May, Natalie N., ed. Iconoclasm and Text Destruction in the Ancient Near East and Beyond. Chicago: Oriental Institute, 2012. 
  • Levtow, Nathaniel B. "Text Production and Destruction in Ancient Israel: Ritual and Political Dimensions." In Saul M. Olyan, ed. Social Theory and the Study of Israelite Religion. Atlanta: SBL, 2011. 111-39.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

CFP for SCRIPT panels at the 2015 AAR/SBL in Atlanta


SCRIPT will once again be presenting concurrent panels with the AAR/SBL Annual Meetings in Atlanta on November 21-24, 2015.

This year's theme is “Sensing Books, Sensing Scriptures” 

We invite papers on all aspects of iconic and performative texts, and especially papers that explore the sensory aspects of engaging with books and scriptures.

SBL members should submit paper proposals through the SBL conference site. Those not members of SBL should submit paper proposals to scriptsecretary@gmail.com. 

Deadline: March 4, 2015.

CFP for SCRIPT panels at the EIR in Montreal in May


SCRIPT will once again be presenting panels of papers on iconic and performative texts at the Eastern International Regional meeting of the AAR in Montreal, May 1-2.


We invite proposals for papers that address the iconic and performative dimensions of specific texts or a range of texts. We particularly encourage studies that also engage the EIR's theme "Desire & Devotion", but all SCRIPT related subjects are welcome.


Each proposal should contain the following in a single e-mail attachment in MS Word format:
  • One-page abstract (300 words maximum) describing the nature of the paper or panel
  • Current CV(s) for the participant(s)
  • Cover page that includes the submitter’s full name, title, institution, phone number, fax number, e-mail, and mailing address. For panel proposals, identify the primary contact person
Send proposals to scriptsecretary@gmail.com. 
Deadline: February 1, 2015.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

SCRIPT at SHARP in Antwerp


SCRIPT sponsored nine papers in three panels at the of SHARP annual meeting in Antwerp, Belgium on September 18-20, 2014.

On the first panel, "Canonizing and Scripturalizing Iconic Books," I introduced the Iconic Books Project. My paper, “Iconic Scriptures from Decalogue to Bible,” described the iconic motivations that generated the Ten Commandments and the scroll of Torah in ancient Israel. Michael Como (Columbia University) explored the religious, social and environmental effects of bringing Buddhist scribal bureaucracy to Japan in “Canon, Ethnicity and Kingship in Ancient Japan." Kristina Myrvold (Linnaeus University) described how Sikhs narrate the early history of the Guru Granth Sahib in “Entextualization of Sikh Texts in Religious Historiographies and Performances.”

On the second panel, "Literary and Iconic Canons," Jonas Svenson (Linnaeus University) borrowed the concept of contagion avoidance from cognitive psychology to describe Muslim concern to protect the purity of the Qur'an, in “The double Scripture: explaining diversity and conflict in Muslim perceptions and practices in relation to the Qur’an.” Rachel Fell McDermott (Barnard College, Columbia University) then described the life and controversial influence of the Bangladeshi national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam in “When a National Poet is a Heretic: The Collision of Literary and Religious Canons.” Karl Ivan Solibakke (Syracuse University) concluded the panel with by mediating two 20th-century uses of texts and images in “Mimesis and Poesis: Walter Benjamin’s and Vilem Flusser’s Translational Approach to Script.”

In the third panel, "Scriptures as Icons and Talismans," Dorina Miller Parmenter (Spalding University)  advanced theories of iconic books by employing Affect Theory in “Saved by the Book: Exploring the Christian Bible as Effective and Affective Object.” David Ganz (University of Z├╝rich) described medieval Christians' concern to "cover the nakedness" of a book of scripture with decorative bindings in “Clothing Sacred Scripture: Books as Holy Objects in the Western Middle Ages.” Finally, Bradford Anderson (Mater Dei Institute, Dublin) explored the rhetorical and ritual use of Bibles to establish religious and national identity in "'This booke hath bred all the quarrel': The Bible in Seventeenth Century Ireland."

Discussion of each of the papers was lively and continued over several dinners in restaurants on various squares of Antwerp. The SHARP meeting, on the theme "Religions of the Book," provided a venue for many other papers on the impact of book production and book reading on religion, and vice versa. The full program can still be accessed here.