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.)

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Conference: Digital Sacred Texts in Dublin, May 2020

A call for papers has been issued for the conference, Digital Sacred Texts: Materiality, Performance, Theory:

The “digital turn” continues to have far-reaching implications, including for the use of sacred texts: from individuals to religious communities to academia, people are increasingly engaging with scriptures in digital formats. For many, this shift from print to digital culture is understood primarily in terms of content: texts are seen as moving from one receptacle (books) to another (electronic formats). There are, however, other important aspects of this transition to consider, including issues of materiality, iconicity, and performance. Texts do not become immaterial when moved to digital formats, but instead are encountered in new material forms. What is gained or lost when a text is used in digital formats, as compared to print culture? How is personal, ritual, or scholarly engagement with sacred texts impacted by the digital turn? Important questions related to the material, performative, and iconic dimensions of sacred texts continue to emerge, even in the digital world.

The School of Theology, Philosophy, and Music at Dublin City University, in collaboration with the Society for Comparative Research on Iconic and Performative Texts (SCRIPT), is pleased to announce a conference exploring “Digital Sacred Texts”, to be held in Dublin, Ireland, on 26-27 May 2020. This conference will focus on sacred texts (broadly understood) and digital culture, giving particular attention to issues of materiality, performance, and theory. Paper proposals are welcome in areas related, but not limited to, the following:

  • semantic, performative, and iconic dimensions of Scriptures in digital formats
  • the transition from print to digital, including technological, social, and religious factors
  • reflection on the materiality of sacred texts in light of digital and electronic formats
  • the use of digital scriptures in personal, liturgical, ritual, academic, and public contexts
  • sacred texts, the internet, and digital devices
  • machine translation and sacred texts
  • critical editions in light of the digital turn
  • reception history and digital culture
  • digital humanities and sacred texts
  • digitization and the accessibility of texts
  • scriptural literacy and digital culture
  • sacred texts and digital pedagogy

Paper proposals should be submitted as an abstract of no more than 300 words. These should be submitted (in Word or PDF format) via email to brad.anderson@dcu.ie, by 10 October 2019. PhD students/postgraduates should include an up-to-date CV (max 4 pages). Registration details coming soon.This conference will focus on sacred texts (broadly understood) and digital culture, giving particular attention to issues of materiality, performance, and theory.

For the conference website, click here. You may also correspond directly with Prof. Brad Anderson at brad.anderson@dcu.ie.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A First Look at a Slave Bible

NPR is reporting on an exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, that features a Bible used in the Caribbean, during the height of the slave trade.

This abridged version goes by the title, Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, and was published in 1807.

The NPR report quotes Associate Curator Anthony Schmidt. "About 90 percent of the Old Testament is missing [and] 50 percent of the New Testament is missing," Schmidt says. "Put in another way, there are 1,189 chapters in a standard protestant Bible. This Bible contains only 232."

In describing this unique artifact, the Museum on the Bible says

The Slave Bible, as it would become known, is a missionary book. It was originally published in London in 1807 on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of enslaved Africans toiling in Britain’s lucrative Caribbean colonies. They used the Slave Bible to teach enslaved Africans how to read while at the same time introducing them to the Christian faith. Unlike other missionary Bibles, however, the Slave Bible contained only “select parts” of the biblical text. Its publishers deliberately removed portions of the biblical text, such as the exodus story, that could inspire hope for liberation. Instead, the publishers emphasized portions that justified and fortified the system of slavery that was so vital to the British Empire.
The exhibit will run through April 2019. I will be taking a trip to DC between now and then, and I will try to take a look, and report back in more detail here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Sensing Sacred Texts


The 2017 special edition in Postscripts has now been published as an independent volume, Sensing Sacred Texts, ed. J. W. Watts; Sheffield: Equinox, 2018:

All the human senses become engaged in ritualizing sacred texts. These essays focus especially on ritualizing the iconic dimension of texts through the senses of sight, touch, kiss, and taste, both directly and in the imagination.

Ritualized display of books engages the sense of sight very differently than does reading. Touching gets associated with reading scriptures, but touching also enables using the scripture as an amulet. Eating and consuming texts is a ubiquitous analogy for internalizing the contents of texts by reading and memorization.

The idea of textual consumption reflects a widespread tendency to equate humans and written texts by their interiority and exteriority: books and people both have material bodies, yet both seem to contain immaterial ideas. Books thus physically incarnate cultural and religious values, doctrines, beliefs, and ideas.

These essays bring theories of comparative scriptures and affect theory to bear on the topic as well as rich ethnographic descriptions of scriptural practices with Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and modern art and historical accounts of changing practices with sacred texts in ancient and medieval China and Korea, and in ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures.

Kennicott on the new Bible Museum in Washington, DC


Philip Kennicott, the Washington Post's Art and Architecture critic, reviewed the new Bible Museum in Washington, DC, and concludes:
The Bible Museum has come to town, in all its technical splendor, bearing with it something that most historians and museum professionals may have thought was long discredited: the “master narrative” idea of history, that there is one sweeping human story that needs to be told, a story that is still unfolding and carrying us along with it. It tells this seductive story well, in many places with factual accuracy, and always with an eye to clarity and entertainment. It is an exciting idea, and an enormously powerful tool for making sense of the world. Unless, of course, you don’t believe it.

It should be noted that the new museum is only the largest and most elaborate example of a very old tendency to reinforce faith in the Bible by displaying artifacts, models, dioramas, and reenactments.

The Museum of the Bible opened to the public on November 17, 2017.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ireland and the Reception of the Bible


I just received my copy of Brad Anderson's and Jonathan Kearney's edited collection, Ireland and the Reception of the Bible: social and cultural perspectives (London: T&T Clark, 2018). Ireland and the Reception of the Bible

I'm looking forward to reading its 21 chapters:


Introduction: Situating Ireland and Socio-Cultural Reception of the Bible -- (Bradford A. Anderson, Dublin City University, Ireland and Jonathan Kearney, Dublin City University, Ireland)
Part One: Ireland and the Transmission of the Bible
1. The Multifaceted Transmission of the Bible in Ireland, A.D. 550-1200 CE -- (Martin McNamara, Milltown Institute, Ireland)
2. The Bible and 'the People' in Ireland, c.1100-c.1650 -- (Salvador Ryan, St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland)
3. Translating the Bible into Irish, 1565-1850 -- (Fearghus Ó Fearghail, Mater Dei Institute of Education, Ireland)
4. 'The Little Ones Called for Bread and there was None that Would Break it for Them': Some Notes on the Use of the Bible in the Sermons of Bishop James Gallagher -- (Ciaran Mac Murchaidh, Dublin City University, Ireland)
5. Irish Catholic Bible Readers before the Famine -- (Brendan McConvery, St Patrick's College Maynooth, Ireland)
6. The Catholic Lectionary: Its Creation, Reception and Challenge -- (Kieran O'Mahony, Diocese of Dublin, Ireland)

Part Two: The Bible and Identity in Ireland
7. 'This Booke hath bred all the quarrel': The Bible in the 1641 Depositions -- (Bradford A. Anderson, Dublin City University, Ireland)
8. The Last of the Milesians: In Search of Ireland's Biblical Past, 1760-1900 -- (Brian Murray, King's College London, UK)
9. Between Ulster and the Kingdom of God: Uses of the Bible by Evangelicals in the Northern Ireland Troubles -- (Joshua Searle, Spurgeon's College, UK)
10. Dancing Like David and Overcoming Enemies: Scripture and Culture in Christ Apostolic Church Dublin -- (Rebecca Uberoi, independent scholar)
11. God's Preference for the Poor: The Bible and Social Justice in Ireland -- (Patrick Mitchel, Irish Bible Institute, Ireland)
12. How Sacred Text Becomes Religious Artefact: A Cultural Geography of the Book of Kells -- (Eoin O'Mahony, University College Dublin, Ireland)

Part Three: Ireland and Beyond: Reciprocal Influences
13. Toland, Spinoza, and the Naturalization of Scripture -- (Ian Leask, Dublin City University, Ireland)
14. Irish Travellers to the Dead Sea: The Interplay and Impact of Empirical Investigation and Biblical Exegesis -- (Thomas O'Loughlin, University of Nottingham, UK)
15. The Chester Beatty Biblical Collection: A Treasury of Early Christian Manuscripts in an Irish Library -- (David Hutchinson Edgar, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)
16. 'Casting Bread Upon the Water': A Voyage of Discovery -- (Carmel McCarthy, University College Dublin, Ireland)

Part Four: Cultural and Artistic Appropriation: Imagery, Music, and Literature
17. The Book of Kells and the Visual Identity of Ireland -- (Amanda Dillon, independent scholar)
18. Imaging the Bible in Stained Glass: Five Stained Glass Windows by Michael Healy in St. Brendan's Cathedral, Loughrea -- (Myra Hayes, Mary Immaculate College Limerick, Ireland)
19. The Bible in Music during Dublin's Golden Age -- (Siobhán Dowling Long, University College Cork, Ireland)
20. Scripture, Music, and the Shaping of Irish Cultural Identities -- (Róisín Blunnie, Dublin City University, Ireland)
21. James Joyce and the Study of the Bible -- (Geert Lernout, University of Antwerp, Belgium)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Understanding the Pentateuch as A Scripture


Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture (Wiley Blackwell, 2017) applies my research on iconic books and comparative scriptures to the study of the Pentateuch/Torah, the first five books of Jewish and Christian scriptures.

Contents:

1. RITUALIZED TEXT: The Pentateuch as a Scripture

2. TEXTUAL RHETORIC: The Persuasive Shaping of the Pentateuch

3. SCROLL, TABLET, AND CODEX: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Iconic Dimension

4. READING, PERFORMANCE, AND ART: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Performative Dimension

5. TEXTUAL INTERPRETATION: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Semantic Dimension

6. SCRIPTURES: From Torah to Bible


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Postscripts issue on Sensing Sacred Texts


Postscripts: the Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds has published a special issue on Sensing Sacred Texts. The contents are:

"What the Book Arts Can Teach Us About Sacred Texts: The Aesthetic Dimension of Scripture"
        by S. Brent Plate

"How the Bible Feels: The Christian Bible as Effective and Affective Object"
        by Dorina Miller Parmenter

"Engaging All the Senses: On Multi-sensory Stimulation in the Process of Making and Inaugurating a Torah Scroll"
by Marianne Schleicher

"On Instant Scripture and Proximal Texts: Some Insights into the Sensual Materiality of Texts and their Ritual Roles in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond"
by Christian Frevel

"Touching Books, Touching Art: Tactile Dimensions of Sacred Books in the Medieval West"
by David Ganz

"Infusions and Fumigations: Literacy Ideologies and Therapeutic Aspects of the Qurʾan"
        by Katharina Wilkens

"Seeing, Touching, Holding, and Swallowing Tibetan Buddhist Texts"
by Cathy Cantwell

"Neo-Confucian Sensory Readings of Scriptures: The Reading Methods of Chu Hsi and Yi Hwang"
        by Yohan Yoo

"Scriptures' Indexical Touch"
by James W. Watts

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Vinyl overtakes Digital Music Sales in Britain

On a different from of material media: The Guardian reported that income from sales of vinyl records outpaced sales of digital music in Britain in the first week of December this year. Of particular interest to readers of this blog is the comment by Kim Bayley, chief executive of the Entertainment Retailers Association, that young people
now want to buy their favourite artists on vinyl and have something a bit more tangible, a bit more collectible. People have become keen to support their favourite artists by buying into that ownership concept. It’s very difficult to demonstrate your love of an artist if you don’t have something to hold on to.

Writer's Favorite Bookstores

The New York Times recently asked seven authors to write about their favorite bookstores. The article enhances the iconicity of both authors and bookstores in each other's reflection, while ignoring their economic relationship as producers and marketers of a product...
The Times alos encourages more bookstore nostalgia with its photo essay on Livrario Lello. Back in the summer, it focused on legends about the local landmark, the Strand Bookstore.
Meanwhile, the Guardian tries to take advantage of a popular internet trend with its pictures of "the most beautiful libraries in America."