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, September 21, 2020

SCRIPT online conference panels, December 3 and 9


SCRIPT panels at the online AAR/SBL meeting:

Panel 1: Performing Iconic Texts -- December 3, 11:00-13:00 EST

    • "Reenacting ritual contract: a Tibetan text between Buddhist enlightenment and local cosmology," Maria Turek, University of Toronto
    • "Mobile Applications and Religious Subjectivities in the Swaminarayan Sampraday," Bhakti Mamtora, The College of Wooster
    • "A Magical Book That Nobody Reads: Expanding Discussions of Iconic Scripture to Include the Dimension of ‘Charismatic Technology’ ," David Dault, Loyola Chicago

Panel 2: Seeing Iconic Texts -- December 9, 17:00-19:00 EST

    • "Scribing an Iconic Text: An Experiential, Performative Approach to Writing Mezuzot," Jonathan Homrighausen, Duke University
    • "Talismanic Significance of the Qur'an in the Mansions of Ottoman Cairo," Juan E. Campo, UCSB
    • "The Bible as my Witness: Digital Bibles, Visual Anonymity, and Performative Iconicity," Dorina Miller Parmenter, Spalding University
    • "A Knot in the Rosary: Rilke's *Letters on Cézanne* as Liturgical Text," Dan Siedell, Drew University 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Burning Bibles and Russia's 2020 disinformation campaign

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Qur'anic Matters by Natalia Suit

Qur'anic Matters

New book by Natalia Suit, Qur'anic Matters: Material Mediations and Religious Practice in Egypt (Bloomsbury, 2020).

The publisher's description: In Qur'anic Matters, Natalia Suit explores the materiality of books, focusing on the mushaf. With its paper, binding, ink, and script, the mushaf is not simply a carrier of the Qur'anic text but, by the virtue of its material body, it also has the ability to engender reformulations of religious knowledge and practice. Reading the Qur'an on a screen of a phone, for example, does not require the same forms of ritual ablutions as reading a printed text. The rules of purity limiting the access to the Qur'anic text for menstruating woman change when the Qur'anic text is mediated by digital bytes instead of paper.

Qur'anic Matters spans the time between two important technological shifts-the introduction of printed Qur'anic books in Egypt in the early nineteenth century and the digitization of the Qur'an almost two centuries later. Throughout, Natalia Suit weaves together the theological, legal, economic, and social “presences” of the Qur'anic books into a single account. She argues that the message and the materiality of the object are not separate from each other, nor are they separate from the human bodies with which they come in contact.

Part I: The Makers
1. The Beginning(s)
2. Pens, Letters, and the Politics of Correctness
3. Qur'anic Icons
Part II: The Custodians
4. Debating Defects
5. The (Ortho)Graphic Blueprint
6. What the Eyes Can't See but the Hands Can Touch: Mushaf in Braille
Part III: The Users
7. How Printing Created Manuscripts
8. Uses and Abuses
9. Enacting the Electronic Qur'an

Friday, June 26, 2020

From Scrolls to Scrolling Sacred Texts, Materiality, and Dynamic Media Cultures

New open access book edited by Bradford A. Anderson, From Scrolls to Scrolling: Sacred Texts, Materiality, and Dynamic Media Cultures (De Gruyter, 2020).

Test Cover Image of:  From Scrolls to Scrolling
  • Bradford A. Anderson, "Introduction: Materiality, Liminality, and the Digital Turn: The Sacred Texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Material Perspective" 1
I Sacred Texts and Material Contexts
  • Anna Krauß and Friederike Schücking-Jungblut, "Stichographic Layout in the Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls: Observations on its  Development and its Potential" 13
  • Dan Batovici, "Reading Aids in Early Christian Papyri" 35
  • Asma Hilali, "Writing the Qur’ān Between the Lines: Marginal and Interlinear Notes in Selected Qur’ān Fragments from the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar" 51
  • Ben Outhwaite, "The Sefer Torah and Jewish Orthodoxy in the Islamic Middle Ages" 63
  • Javier del Barco, "From Scroll to Codex: Dynamics of Text Layout Transformation in the Hebrew Bible" 91
  • Eyal Poleg, "Memory, Performance, and Change: The Psalms’ Layout in Late Medieval and Early Modern Bibles" 119
  • Amanda Dillon, "Be Your Own Scribe: Bible Journalling and the New Illuminators of the Densely-Printed Page" 151
II Sacred Texts and the Digital Turn
  • Garrick V. Allen, "Monks, Manuscripts, Muhammad, and Digital Editions of the New Testament" 181
  • Alba Fedeli, "The Qur’ānic Text from Manuscript to Digital Form: Metalinguistic Markup of Scribes and Editors" 213
  • Joshua L. Mann, "Paratexts and the Hermeneutics of Digital Bibles" 247
  • Natalia Suit, "Virtual Qur’ān: Authenticity, Authority, and Ayat in Bytes" 263
  • Bradford A. Anderson, "Sacred Texts in a Digital Age: Materiality, Digital Culture, and the Functional Dimensions of Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam" 281

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Responding to Trump's Bible Pose

Since Donald Trump violently expelled protestors in order to pose with a Bible in front of a church, media and social media has overflown with outrage and ridicule. All this talk will likely prove ineffective, because it is just talk. Trump took symbolic action. The only way to counter ritual action is with other symbolic action.

Bad rituals can only be corrected by good rituals. That is true whether you believe that the rituals have real effects or that they are only symbols. Either way, they have visceral effects on participants and observers. So commentary by supporters and critics has little do with whether or not the picture of Trump holding the Bible will have its desired effect.

What would counter rituals look like? Well, protestors could hold bibles while they march, and claim this powerful symbol of the Christian religion for their cause. Their signs could quote bible verses like “Let my people go!” (Exodus 5:1), “You must love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18), “You must love the immigrant as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34), “Let justice and righteousness flow like a river” (Amos 5:24), and “Blessed are the poor … but woe to  the rich” (Luke 6:20, 24).

Better yet: people holding up bibles could march side-by-side with people holding up qur’ans (Muslims) and torahs (Jews) and gitas (Hindus) and sutras (Buddhists) and Adi Granths (Sikhs) and wampum belts (Native Americans of the northeast) and other sacred symbols of different religious and cultural traditions that each community would choose as appropriate for these protests.

A picture of that protest would counter Trump’s pose with a Bible more effectively than all the words on media and social media put together. That picture would reclaim religious and cultural symbols for proclaiming the priority of justice and compassion for all.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Trump's Bible Pose

Yesterday, troops and police used force and tear gas to clear a path through protestor for Donald Trump to walk from the White House to a nearby Episcopalian church, which had suffered some damage from the protests. There, he posed for photographers while holding up a Bible. He did not give a statement or speech there, and hardly spoke at all.

This photo op immediately prompted angry denunciations, not only from journalists who recognized the strong-man imagery, but also from police commanders who complained about this misuse of their personnel, and from the Episcopalian bishop who complained about this misuse of religious symbols. And well she should.

Trump’s performance was an attempt to gain legitimacy by associating himself with the Bible and with the Church. His picture in front of a church building damaged by a small fire cast Trump in the pose of a “defender of the Church,” a traditional self-characterization of Christian kings and generals to justify their bloody violence.

Trump’s pose holding up a Bible was something more. By manipulating a Bible, he legitimized himself by association. Manipulating a physical book of scripture associates a person with its message and with the religious tradition that it represents. Holding a Bible is a way to portray oneself as Christian, as pious, and as religiously orthodox. This pose is readily recognizable because of its use in Christian art for thousands of years. It does not need verbal commentary to communicate.

Politicians traditionally manipulate bibles or other scriptures at their inaugurations. Yesterday, Trump reasserted God’s support for his presidency with a few simple pictures. To his opponents, like me, these pictures look simplistic, clumsy, and artificial. But they may well be politically effective.

Scholars have often complained that manipulating physical scriptures is a misuse of them. Their complaints usually fall on deaf ears. While people readily ask experts to interpret the meaning of a biblical verse, they don’t need them to understand the symbolism of a book of scripture. They touch and hold their iconic books to feel comforted, protected, and legitimated. Trump’s pose with a Bible was calculated to communicate viscerally to everyone who holds their own bibles close. That is a lot of people.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Miniature Books

Miniature Books: The Format and Function of Tiny Religious Texts, edited by Kristina Myrvold and Dorina Miller Parmenter, has now been published by Equinox. 
Miniature Books

Miniature books, handwritten or printed books in the smallest format, have fascinated religious people, printers, publishers, collectors, and others through the centuries because of their unique physical features, and continue to captivate people today. The small lettering and the delicate pages, binding, and covers highlight the material form of texts and invite sensory engagement and appreciation. This volume addresses miniature books with a special focus on religious books in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The book presents various empirical contexts for how the smallest books have been produced, distributed, and used in different times and cultures and also provides theoretical re ections and comments that discuss the divergent formats and functions of books.

Religious Miniature Books: Introduction and Overview
– Kristina Myrvold, Dorina Miller Parmenter
1. Ritualizing the Size of Books – James W. Watts
2. On the Functions of Miniaturizing Books in Jewish Religion
– Marianne Schleicher
3. Words in a Nutshell: Miniaturizing Texts in Early Modern England
– Lucy Razzall
4. Small Things of Greatest Consequence: Miniature Bibles in America
– Dorina Miller Parmenter
5. Diminutive Divination and the Implications of Scale: A Miniature Quranic Falnama
of the Safavid Period – Heather Coffey
6. Mite Qurans for Indian Markets: David Bryce in the Late Nineteenth and Early
Twentieth Century – Kristina Myrvold
7. Miniature Qurans in the First World War: Religious Comforts for Indian Muslim
Soldiers – Kristina Myrvold, Andreas Johansson
8. Size Matters! Miniature Mushafs and the Landscape of Affordances
– Jonas Svensson
9. Gitamahatmya! Paratexts in Miniature Bhagavad Gitas with Special Reference to
Pictures and Gender – Jon Skarpeid
10. Sutras Working in Buddha’s Belly and Buddhists’ Pockets: Miniature Sutras in
Korean Buddhism – Yohan Yoo, Woncheol Yun

Monday, July 22, 2019

CFP and Conference: The Image of the Book

RSA (Renaissance Society of America), 2-4 April 2020, Philadelphia

CFP: The Image of the Book: 1300–1600

      .... This session seeks to assemble speakers who will address the depiction of books in painting, sculpture, print, and other art forms from one or more of these angles, with an eye towards understanding images as mediated signs as opposed to transparent representations of “real” objects and practices.
       The session will be held in conjunction with the Books as Symbols in Renaissance Art (BASIRA) Project, currently being developed to enable a high-quality, searchable scholarly database of such representations.
Full Call for Papers at  https://basiraproject.wordpress.com/2019/07/12/join-us-call-for-papers/

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

What I have learned from 18 years of the Iconic Books Project—now collected together in one place:

Religious and secular communities ritualize some books in one, two, or three dimensions. They ritualize the dimension of semantic interpretation through teaching, preaching, and scholarly commentary. This dimension receives almost all the attention of academic scholars. Communities also ritualize a text’s expressive dimension through public reading, recitation, and song, and also by reproducing its contents in art, theatre and film. This dimension is receiving increasing scholarly attention, especially in religious studies and anthropology. A third textual dimension, the iconic dimension, gets ritualized by manipulating the physical text, decorating it, and displaying it. This dimension has received almost no academic attention, yet features prominently in the most common news stories about books, whether about e-books, academic libraries, rare manuscript discoveries, or scripture desecrations. By calling attention to the iconic dimension of books, James Watts argues that we can better understand how physical books mediate social value and power within and between religious communities, nations, academic disciplines, and societies both ancient and modern.

How and Why Books Matter will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in books, reading, literacy, scriptures, e-books, publishing, and the future of the book. It also addresses scholarship in religion, cultural studies, literacy studies, biblical studies, book history, anthropology, literary studies, and intellectual history.

Table of Contents: 
Introduction: The Iconic Books Project  1-5
Chapter 1 How Books Matter: The Three Dimensions of Scriptures  7-29
Chapter 2 Iconic Books and Texts  31-54
Chapter 3 Relic Texts  55-69
Chapter 4 Iconic Digital Texts: How Rituals Materialize Virtual Texts  71-81
Chapter 5 Desecrated Scriptures and the News Media  83-98
Chapter 6 Ancient Iconic Texts  99-115
Chapter 7 Rival Iconic Texts: Ten Commandments Monuments and the U.S. Constitution  117-134
Chapter 8 Book Aniconism: The Codex, Translation and Beliefs about Immaterial Texts  135-159
Chapter 9 Mass Literacy and Scholarly Expertise  161-166
Chapter 10 Why Books Matter: Preservation and Disposal  167-188

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.