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.)
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Sensing Sacred Texts
Posted by Jim Watts
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.