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Sensing Sacred Texts

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All the human senses become engaged in ritualizing sacred texts. These essays focus especially on ritualizing the iconic dimension of texts through the senses of sight, touch, kiss, and taste, both directly and in the imagination.

Ritualized display of books engages the sense of sight very differently than does reading. Touching gets associated with reading scriptures, but touching also enables using the scripture as an amulet. Eating and consuming texts is a ubiquitous analogy for internalizing the contents of texts by reading and memorization.

The idea of textual consumption reflects a widespread tendency to equate humans and written texts by their interiority and exteriority: books and people both have material bodies, yet both seem to contain immaterial ideas. Books thus physically incarnate cultural and religious values, doctrines, beliefs, and ideas.

These essays bring theories of comparative scriptures and affect theory to bear on the topic as well as rich ethnographic descriptions of scriptural practices with Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and modern art and historical accounts of changing practices with sacred texts in ancient and medieval China and Korea, and in ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures.

Published: Oct 5, 2018


Section Chapter Authors
List of Figures James Watts
Chapter 1
Introduction James Watts
Chapter 2
What the Book Arts Can Teach Us About Sacred Texts: The Aesthetic Dimension of Scripture S. Plate
Chapter 3
How the Bible Feels: The Christian Bible as Effective and Affective Object Dorina Parmenter
Chapter 4
Engaging All the Senses: On Multi-sensory Stimulation in the Process of Making and Inaugurating a Torah Scroll Marianne Schleicher
Chapter 5
On Instant Scripture and Proximal Texts: Some Insights into the Sensual Materiality of Texts and their Ritual Roles in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond Christian Frevel
Chapter 6
Touching Books, Touching Art: Tactile Dimensions of Sacred Books in the Medieval West David Ganz
Chapter 7
Infusions and Fumigations: Literacy Ideologies and Therapeutic Aspects of the Qur'an Katharina Wilkens
Chapter 8
Seeing, Touching, Holding and Swallowing Tibetan Buddhist Texts Cathy Cantwell
Chapter 9
Neo-Confucian Sensory Readings of Scriptures: the Reading Methods of Chu Hsi and Yi Hwang Yohan Yoo
Chapter 10
Scripture’s Indexical Touch James Watts
End Matter
Author Index James Watts
Subject Index James Watts