Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Iconic Books Blog

One of the highlights of the recent American Academy of Religion conference I attended was getting introduced to Jim Watts of Syracuse University. He, along with Dori Parmenter, are the motive forces behind the Iconic Books project:
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 link to the Iconic Books Project.
As soon as Jim and I started talking, it was clear we had been approaching the same field of study from differing but complementary trajectories. His project is an exploration of how the books we encounter become themselves objects of veneration and sites of worship. Hence the study of Iconic Books explores the sociological construction of these sites of veneration - that is to say, it looks at how the book exerts power and influence by its physical presence (as opposed to what is often thought to be the proper site of a book's power: "what it says" or "what it means"). I think this emphasis opens up fascinating possibilities for analysis, especially as we move into these questions of the "resurgence of the religious" in public life.

Material Scripture's complementary trajectory attempts to explore Althusser's claim that "ideology has a material existence." Where Watts's project looks at the physical object being transformed sociologially into an ideological signifier, Material Scripture looks closely at how theologies (as ideologies) are transformed into the layered materiality of "book-ness."

In both cases the question of materiality is paramount, but the methodologies are distinct enough to be generative of some deep conversations in the years to come. I am very thankful to my friends Tim Beal (who himself has a new book on the material study of the Bible coming out) and Wilson Dickinson for making sure Jim and I got the chance to meet.

1 comment:

AmberlyThrower said...
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