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, August 29, 2009

The Secret of Kells

Meghan Rinn called my attention to an animated movie, The Secret of Kells, that came out earlier this year. She points out that

The film ... uses the Book of Kells as a major plot point for a coming of age story. The book itself is shown several times and the movie ends with several pieces of the text being animated themselves and the film itself takes major design cues from the text.

It would be interesting in this age of electronic texts being designed with movie culture in mind to see a movie taking design cues from an (early medieval!) illuminated manuscript. Has anyone else seen the movie? What do you think of it?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Social Life of Scriptures

The second book in the Signifying on Scriptures series from Rutgers Press has appeared: The Social Life of Scriptures, edited by James S. Bielo. The blurb reads:

What do Christians do with the Bible? How do they—individually and collectively—
interact with the sacred texts? Why does this engagement shift so drastically among and between social, historical, religious, and institutional contexts? Such questions are addressed in a most enlightening, engaging, and original way in The Social Life of Scriptures.

Contributors offer a collection of closely analyzed and carefully conducted ethnographic and historical case studies, covering a range of geographic, theological, and cultural territory, including: American evangelicals and charismatics; Jamaican Rastafarians; evangelical and Catholic Mayans; Northern Irish charismatics; Nigerian Anglicans; and Chinese evangelicals in the United States.

The Social Life of Scriptures is the first book to present an eclectic, cross-cultural, and comparative investigation of Bible use. Moreover, it models an important movement to outline a framework for how scriptures are implicated in organizing social structures and meanings, with specific foci on gender, ethnicity, agency, and power.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bibles sell well in garage sale

My wife just staged a three-day garage sale of household items left from her parents moved to a smaller apartment. Among the many pieces of small furniture, dishes and books were around a dozen Bibles. All the Bibles sold quickly, though ten boxes of other books were left over.

The iconic book maintains its appeal even in this bargain-hunting context.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Giant Wooden Qur'an

In Palembang, South Sumatra (Indonesia), it took six years for a team to carve a giant Qur'an on wooden planks 177x140 cms. The Arabic letters appear in gold against the dark tembesu wood, reports the Jakarta Post.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Manipulating Mobs with Desecration Charges

In Gorja, Pakistan, 100 Christian villagers were burned out of their homes and 8 killed by mobs angry over rumors that Qur'ans had been desecrated. I have written here already that scripture's iconic dimension can exert a particularly powerful effect on popular sentiment and that charges of scripture desecration easily lead to mob action. This is especially true in Pakistan with its draconian laws against insulting Islam, the Qur'an, or Muhammed.

The news now that the attacks were orchestrated by extremist groups underscores the point, except with a twist. It demonstrates that the iconic dimension of scriptures provides a convenient lever for manipulating mob sentiment. But in this case, the organizers were no doubt aiming at a larger political audience and are depending on media coverage to get their message across.

August 9: Kunwar Idris, writing in Dawn.com, traces the origins of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws and, especially, their capital penalties to the policies of General Ziaul Haq (President, 198 ).

Relevant to the Gojra episode would be the two sections he added to the penal code (295-B & C) which made the offences of defiling the Quran or the name of the Prophet punishable with life imprisonment or death. Ziaul Haq’s aim in enacting these laws was to exploit the religious sentiments of the people for his own power and glory. The fanatics have used them to persecute the minorities and dissidents, the politicians to promote their political ends.

Dying at the hands of fanatical mobs for (allegedly) defiling the Holy Quran or Holy Prophet have been a hafiz-i-Quran at one extreme and an old Hindu woman at the other. The toll runs into hundreds. Then there is the instance of four brothers who languished in jail for five years until a judge found they were maliciously accused of blasphemy or desecration by a villager who coveted their land and the headship of the village. Though acquitted, fearing mob violence they sought asylum abroad. The false accusers got what they had desired.

Sad stories of innocent victims and vile motives of their tormentors abound. A fact hard to deny, however, is that no one has ever been imprisoned for life or hanged under Zia’s laws but a large number have fallen victim to mob fury

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Program for Symposium

The Iconic Books Symposium will take place just one month from now (September 4-6). The program has now been posted online. Go there also for the list of panelists, and information on registration and housing. We hope to see you then!

What Kindle can't do

Andrew Piper on the Book Report lists all the "booky" things a Kindle can't do or provide, including its visual and ritual functions:

The Kindle is not a visual experience. We are only just now remembering how visually significant the book and its history are. The Kindle takes almost two millennia of book design – from bindings to illustrations to typeface and layout — and ends the aesthetic experience of reading. ...

What do you buy when you buy a “book” on Kindle? This is a big question (with a nice recent scandal). As Baker says, “You buy the right to display a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use.” This too underthinks the way books have functioned as social objects throughout history. We share books, we excerpt from books, we quote books, we display books, we perform rituals with books. Kindle is not interested in any of this. Kindle relies on one feature of the book – that it is consumable – and makes that principle universal