Failure to consider scriptures’ function as icons has left modern scholars of religion nonplussed by the continuing power and influence of scriptures in twenty-first century culture. In “The Three Dimensions of Scriptures,” Postscripts 2 (2006) 135-159, I build on Dori’s work by asking how the iconic nature of scriptures interacts with their other aspects. I argue that all texts function in three dimensions: iconic, performative and semantic. What distinguishes scriptures from other texts is that religious communities ritualize all three dimensions to a lesser or greater extent. Through ritual, scriptures’ dimensions convey different kinds of social power—the iconic dimension of scriptures conveys legitimacy, the performative dimension conveys inspiration, and the semantic dimension conveys authority. “The explanatory value of recognizing the three dimensions of scriptures does not depend on them being ritualized to the same degree in all times and places: they are not. It rather helps explain the religious tendency towards ritualizing scriptures in all three dimensions. It also provides a means for explaining the social effects of doing so” (p. 148).
The full article in .pdf is available here from Equinox publishing. It was reprinted in Iconic Books and Texts (ed. J. W. Watts; London: Equinox, 2013), 9-32. A pre-print repository version is available here from Syracuse University.
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.)