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.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Oaths of Office

From the files of the Iconic Book Project: The use of “sacred” books in taking oaths of office seems to be a nearly universal practice in the 21st century, at least by heads of state and other high officials. Compare images of inaugurations in the United States, Liberia, Israel, and Malawi, in which oath takers lays their hands on a Bible, with those from Indonesia (scroll down) where a Qur’an is held over the head of the oath taker, and those from Russia and (apparently) Venezuela where the oath is taken on the country’s constitution. Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko took his oath of office on both Bible and constitution simultaneously (scroll down) but then kissed the Bible. Some Indonesian oath ceremonies (e.g. for cabinet members) accomodate religious pluralism by having every oath taker accompanied by clergy and the books of their respective faiths. Of course, the taking of religious oaths of office (and various other kinds of oaths) feature the same kinds of rituals, from which the political ceremonies no doubt derive.


Cordell Waldron said...

The use of a sacred text in a swearing-in ritual is interesting enough to appear in popular culture as well. In a two-episode story arc in the fourth season of The West Wing, the quest to find an appropriately important Bible for the President's inauguration constitutes a major sub-plot. The fictional President ends up using the same Bible used by the real President George Washington, a Bible which is currently in the keeping of the Masonic St. John's Lodge in New York and has been used for several other Presidents' inaugurations. For more details about this iconic and historic Bible, see "Washington Bible" under the "The Lodge" tab on the linked page.

Jim Watts said...

I remember that George W. Bush was scheduled to use the "Washington Bible" at his 2000 inauguration. But the threat of rain made its keepers nervous about water damage to their relic. So a Bush family Bible was substituted at the last minute instead.