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, January 21, 2023

Burning a Quran to Manipulate Europe


The BBC reported today that a protestor in Stockholm today publicly burned a Qur'an to protest Sweden's effort to join NATO. The protestor's goal was to reinforce Turkish opposition. That goal was immediately achieved when Turkey responded by angrily cancelling the visit of the Swedish defense minister to Ankara.

Desecrating a scripture or accusing opponents of desecrating a scripture is a common tactic for gaining  political or personal advantage by inflaming public opinion. It is effective because the iconic dimension of a scripture is most easily ritualized by its believers, but can also be ritualized malevolently by anyone who gains access to a copy. My 14-year-old survey of such incidents around the world unfortunately remains relevant for understanding news like this today. See "Desecrating Scripture" at https://surface.syr.edu/.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Bookbinding as a Metaphor for Learning


Andrew Wilson advocates the art of bookbinding to teaching religious studies:

Sacred texts are continually being created and recreated, unbound and repackaged, unfurled and gathered up. Bookbinding manifests an applied, even somatic, example of these textual journeys. In a world of e-books and hypertext, one might consider bookbinding a quaint if not archaic practice, but that would overlook it as a very practical way of participating in the text. It involves doing something that actively shapes and changes the text. As the binder works the pages with their hands, the text literally takes on characteristics of changeability, pliability, and plasticity. (Andrew P. Wilson, "Teaching Religion by the Book: Bookbinding as a Metaphor for Learning," on the Blog of the Wabash Center, February 2, 2022)

He goes on to describe how engaging a student in creating books provides the means "to bind her learning journey, her experience, and her identity into a space that was richly layered and uniquely hers."

Dorina Miller Parmenter has long advocated book making and book binding in religious studies pedagogy: see the interview with her, The Religious Book as Object, on this blog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Owning vs Reading Books


Danika Ellis ("Books and Reading Are Two Different Hobbies," BookRiot, Jan 17, 2022) provides an insightful and rare description of how personal interactions with books differentiate between their semantic and iconic dimensions (my language, not hers):

My life is built on a foundation of books. But reading? Mm…I could take it or leave it. 

... Books, though? Books are my favorite hobby. They require nothing from me. I can stare contentedly at them and fantasize about an incredible library. I can design reading futures for myself without flipping a single page. I can participate in the bookish online community even if I’ve been in a reading slump for weeks (or months, or years). Books are always there for me, and being bookish continues to be one of my defining traits.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The popularity of library images



 Kate Dwyer in the New York Times (Jan 15, 2022) identfies a popular picture of a book-stuffed private library as depicting the library of the late Johns Hopkins professor, Richard Macksey. But her article is mostly about the internet popularity of library images:

The library image sidesteps all those details to evoke something more universal, said Ingrid Fetell Lee, the author of the Aesthetics of Joy, a blog about the relationship between d├ęcor and delight. “We’re attracted to the image, and we come up with all sorts of stories about who it might be and what it might be because we love to tell stories,” she said. “But what’s really driving the attraction is much more visceral.”

Ms. Fetell Lee pointed to the photo’s sense of abundance. “There’s something about the sensorial abundance of seeing lots of something that gives us a little thrill,” she said. Also relevant: the “satisfying” sense of organized chaos, and the awe inspired by the high ceilings.

Pictures of books and libraries are popular across social platforms. A representative from Instagram said that some of the top-liked posts on the platform that include the words “library” or “libraries” feature large quantities of books, a “cozy” aesthetic or a warmer color scheme.

Monday, November 22, 2021

15th c. gold book pendant



The Smithsonian reports that a metal detector turned up a tiny gold pendant in the shape of an open book in a field near York, England. On its leaves are engraved images of Saints Leonard and Margaret, patron saints of childbirth. the pendant dates from the fifteenth century.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Drawn to the Word: The Bible and Graphic Design, by Amanda Dillon



Drawn to the Word: The Bible and Graphic Design, by Amanda Dillon, has been published by SBL Press (2021), which describes it this way:

A unique study of lectionaries and graphic design as a site of biblical reception

How artists portrayed the Bible in large canvas paintings is frequently the subject of scholarly exploration, yet the presentation of biblical texts in contemporary graphic designs has been largely ignored. In this book Amanda Dillon engages multimodal analysis, a method of semiotic discourse, to explore how visual composition, texture, color, directionality, framing, angle, representations, and interactions produce potential meanings for biblical graphic designs.  Dillon focuses on the artworks of two American graphic designers—the woodcuts designed by Meinrad Craighead for the Roman Catholic Sunday Missal and Nicholas Markell’s illustrations for the worship books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—to present the merits of multimodal analysis for biblical reception history.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

$43.2 million for US Constitution first printing



Sotheby's auctioned a copy of the US Constitution printed in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787, the last day of the Constitutional Convention. Out of 500 printed, only 13 remain extant. (The manuscript copy signed by the Founders and displayed in the Rotunda of the US National Archives in Washington was penned months later.) The auction price, $43.2 million, was three times higher than Sotheby's estimate. This copy last sold for ... The identity of the winning bidder has not been announced, but the losing bidder was a crowd-funded effort by more than 17,000 people, "many of whom professed their affection for cryptocurrency and the cinematic works of Nicolas Cage, star of National Treasure," according to NPR.

To explain this remarkably high price, commentators refer to the Constitution's iconic status. The Guardian quoted David Brigham, the chief executive of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, saying "this auction and the interest in it reflects something much deeper – the intrinsic value of the US constitution and the fact that it remains the force that binds this nation together. ...  even in a digitised world, being able to see and hold a real document from the time of the Constitutional Convention is a powerful thing.”

Monday, November 8, 2021

Sacred Texts and Digital Cultures


A collection of articles about digital iconic texts, edited by Brad Anderson and Amanda Dillon, appears in  Postscripts 21/1 (2021)

  • Introduction: Sacred Texts and Digital Culture, by Amanda Dillon 
  • Mapping the (Digital) Terrain: Biblical Texts in Digital Contexts, by Bradford A. Anderson and Amanda Dillon 
  • Smartphone Applications and Religious Reading among Swaminarayan Hindus, by Bhakti Mamtora 
  • The Bible as my Witness: Digital Bibles, Visual Anonymity, and Performative Iconicity, by Dorina Miller Parmenter 
  • Satguru’s Word, Online and Offline Contemporary Representation of the “Universal Brotherhood,”
    by Anna Bochkovskaya     
  • Mark’s Ending in the Digital Age: Paratextual Evidence, New Findings and Transcription Challenges, by Mina Monier     
  • Facebook and Martin Luther: Media Technology, Accessibility, and Expertise in Three Dimensions, by James W. Watts     
  • Sacred Texts and Their Subjects, Now and Then, by Mark K. George 
  • Eat, Shit, Scar: Resurrection and the Digital Afterlife of Books and Bodies, by J. Sage Elwell

Wednesday, September 1, 2021