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.)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Bible in American Life

Coinciding with their national study on The Bible in American Life, The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is soliciting paper proposals for a conference to be held August 6-9 on "how Americans past and present have used the Bible in their daily lives."  This seems like a great opportunity to talk about iconic uses of the Bible in America, adding to the "historical, cultural, sociological, and theological" approaches that the conference claims to highlight.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Andrew Hayes' Book Art

Robert Bolick on Books On Books presents an interview with book artist, Andrew Hayes, along with many pictures of his works, such as this one (Wry, 2013).


Brolick observes:

Book art can easily fall off into mere craftwork. On the one hand, the book artist requires the freight that the book’s content and form carry, .... But the degree to which the freight weighs down the treatment, or the handling does not take the material beyond itself, that is the degree by which the work is closer to handicraft than to art. 
 And then quotes Hayes:
The book pages are a loaded found material. Other materials I use like steel that I find at the scrap yard come with built in history as well but it may not be as universal as the book pages. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

ABS survey on "Bible-Minded" cities

The American Bible Society has published rankings this week for the most and least "Bible-minded" cities in America - complete with helpful infographic.

Top of the list (the most) is Chattanooga, Tennessee. At the bottom (the least) is Providence, Rhode Island.

An article about it is here.

Jim Watts adds:
And here is Brent Plate's critique, requesting a survey of "Bible-bodied" cities instead.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Shelves in Snow

My second New Year's gift comes from Emma Brodeur, who took this picture in the Cazenovia, NY, art park:

Bookish Iowa Rest Stop

My New Year's gifts included new photos of iconic books in art and architecture. First, from Cordell Waldron, come these pictures of a rest stop on an Iowa high way (I-80 Westbound near Tiffin). Cordell notes that, "The rest stop theme is Iowa's education history, so the columns of the building are books."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Book and the Founding of the United States and Its Religion

UPDATE: The book sold for $14million

A little old Psalm book has stirred some small controversy in Boston. According to the New York Times, a Bay Psalm Book from 1640 will be auctioned off at Sotheby's, and may fetch tens of millions of dollars on the 26th of November. A hefty sum for a church, like Boston's Old South Church, in need some building repairs. But the book is part of the church (and has more history than the well-known image of the Italian Gothic steeple from the nineteenth century), and the majority vote by the congregation to sell off the book caused the church historian, Jeff Makholm, to resign.

Michael Inman, curator of rare books at the New York Public Library, said this book is one of eleven existent of the early American Psalms. Since it was one of the first books ever printed in the colonies, the workmanship was not great, with some sloppy layout and misspellings. Hebrew characters were inserted with wood block cuts, while the rest of it was done with metal type. Nonetheless, Inman says,

“These 11 copies symbolize the introduction of printing into the British colonies, which was reflective of the importance placed on reading and education by the Puritans and the concept of freely available information, freedom of expression, freedom of the press. All that fed into the revolutionary impulse that gave rise to the United States."
Religious history also suggests how this "freely available information" and the book's small, hand held size, helped lead to the great mythology of the single individual, both as a citizen and a believer.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Old believer's iconic books

In recent months, two bloggers have drawn attention to the role of Iconic Books in different religious communities.
Vlad Naumescu, on the SSRC forum Reverberations, profiled the importance of iconic prayer books to Russian Old Believers. He includes a short video of the book in use in prayer.
MormonDeadHead, on the Faith Promoting Rumor blog, built on Tim Beal's exposure of the multiplicity of Bibles to find the same results from examining the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon.  

Baby's Hug-A-Bible

Collecting iconic Bibles can start early in life ...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

SHARP theme, "Religions of the Book," Antwerp, September, 2014

The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) has announced the theme for its September 17-21, 2014, annual conference in Antwerp, Belgium, as "Religions of the Book." The Call for Papers casts a broad net, inviting submissions that explore
the relationship between any religion(s) and the production, distribution and consumption of books and texts, in whatever form (manuscript, printed or digital), in any region or any period of time.  Religious and anti-religious censorship, iconography, spiritual literature, preaching practices are only a few of the many possible approaches. Moreover, participants to SHARP’s 22nd annual conference are invited to explore the more metaphorical dimensions of its central topic. We warmly invite proposals relating the theme to bibliophilia (a religion devoted to the book?), cult books, the role of authors as high priests, reading as a trance-provoking practice, the sacral status of the printed book in Enlightenment ideology, the strong belief in the freedom of the press… One may even consider the cultural apocalypse some pessimists see ensue the on-going process of digitization, or, inversely, the imminent salvation promised by internet and tablet gurus. 
The conference planners have even produced a U-Tube video about it.

Paper and panel proposals are due November 30, 2013.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Print and Personal Religious Identity



It is exciting to see the many new studies of the impact of book technologies on histories of religions. In some cases, history is recast in new ways and what we thought happened ends up looking a little different in retrospect. In other cases, attention to the materiality of books bolsters already argued histories, but shows the origins of an event to be not so much intellectual as physical: ideas are constrained and disseminated in printed and bound forms, just as the ideas would have been impossible without the resources of writing and print.

Kathleen Lynch has recently published an essay at the Martin Marty Center's Religion & Culture Web Forum with the provocative title, "How does the fixity of print become a problem for religious identity?" Lynch is Executive Director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library and knows a few things about the power of books. Her 2012 book, Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World, (Oxford UP) argues that the genre of Protestant autobiography was bound up with print, and with the trans-Atlantic book trade.

Lynch's recent essay on the fixity of print supplements Protestant Autobiography, and focuses on Sarah Wight's 1647 publishing "sensation," The Exceeding Riches of Grace. Because of its existence as a bound book, the conversion story becomes fixed, in spite of any future doubts and questions Wight might have had. Even with new editions published over the following two decades, addenda were relegated outside the narrative proper, leading Lynch to suggest: "Despite the multiple opportunities and anecdotal prompts, the continuation of the story is resisted, with the material constraints of the number of sheets at least bolstering, if not precisely establishing, a conceptual boundary."

Print itself makes it seem that religious identity is secure, "the physical properties of the book helped shape the model of godly selfhood that was being advanced in this narrative." Stories of conversion are fixed in print, while the personal early-American gospel of an interior-focused religiosity is spread through thoroughly external, material means.