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.)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

SHARP theme, "Religions of the Book," Antwerp, September, 2014

The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP) has announced the theme for its September 17-21, 2014, annual conference in Antwerp, Belgium, as "Religions of the Book." The Call for Papers casts a broad net, inviting submissions that explore
the relationship between any religion(s) and the production, distribution and consumption of books and texts, in whatever form (manuscript, printed or digital), in any region or any period of time.  Religious and anti-religious censorship, iconography, spiritual literature, preaching practices are only a few of the many possible approaches. Moreover, participants to SHARP’s 22nd annual conference are invited to explore the more metaphorical dimensions of its central topic. We warmly invite proposals relating the theme to bibliophilia (a religion devoted to the book?), cult books, the role of authors as high priests, reading as a trance-provoking practice, the sacral status of the printed book in Enlightenment ideology, the strong belief in the freedom of the press… One may even consider the cultural apocalypse some pessimists see ensue the on-going process of digitization, or, inversely, the imminent salvation promised by internet and tablet gurus. 
The conference planners have even produced a U-Tube video about it.

Paper and panel proposals are due November 30, 2013.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Print and Personal Religious Identity

It is exciting to see the many new studies of the impact of book technologies on histories of religions. In some cases, history is recast in new ways and what we thought happened ends up looking a little different in retrospect. In other cases, attention to the materiality of books bolsters already argued histories, but shows the origins of an event to be not so much intellectual as physical: ideas are constrained and disseminated in printed and bound forms, just as the ideas would have been impossible without the resources of writing and print.

Kathleen Lynch has recently published an essay at the Martin Marty Center's Religion & Culture Web Forum with the provocative title, "How does the fixity of print become a problem for religious identity?" Lynch is Executive Director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library and knows a few things about the power of books. Her 2012 book, Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World, (Oxford UP) argues that the genre of Protestant autobiography was bound up with print, and with the trans-Atlantic book trade.

Lynch's recent essay on the fixity of print supplements Protestant Autobiography, and focuses on Sarah Wight's 1647 publishing "sensation," The Exceeding Riches of Grace. Because of its existence as a bound book, the conversion story becomes fixed, in spite of any future doubts and questions Wight might have had. Even with new editions published over the following two decades, addenda were relegated outside the narrative proper, leading Lynch to suggest: "Despite the multiple opportunities and anecdotal prompts, the continuation of the story is resisted, with the material constraints of the number of sheets at least bolstering, if not precisely establishing, a conceptual boundary."

Print itself makes it seem that religious identity is secure, "the physical properties of the book helped shape the model of godly selfhood that was being advanced in this narrative." Stories of conversion are fixed in print, while the personal early-American gospel of an interior-focused religiosity is spread through thoroughly external, material means.