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Books as Bodies and as Sacred Beings

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Human cultures, especially religious groups but also secular artists and performers, often ritualize bodies as sacred books and books as divine beings. An international team of scholars addresses this theme of books as sacred beings in this volume through an impressively diverse range of primary material and perspectives. These studies show the wide variety of ways in which books, bodies, and beings intermingle in material sacred texts manipulated by human bodies, and also in literary and artistic depictions of transcendent textual bodies. The boundary between material immanence and spiritual transcendence turns out to be very thin indeed when people use books. The chapters on specific book practices in different cultures are bracketed by an introduction to the collection and by a concluding essay that extrapolates on the widespread theme of books as sacred beings.

Published: Oct 18, 2021


Section Chapter Authors
Front Matter
List of Figures James Watts, Yohan Yoo
Chapter 1
Introduction James Watts
Chapter 2
Performing Scriptures: Ritualizing Written Texts in Seolwi-seolgyeong, the Korean Shamanistic Recitation of Scriptures Yohan Yoo
Chapter 3
Embodying the Qu’ran Katharina Wilkens
Chapter 4
Scriptures, Materiality, and the Digital Turn: The Iconicity of Sacred Texts in a Liminal Age Bradford Anderson
Chapter 5
Being the Bible: Sacred Bodies and Iconic Books in Bring Your Bible to School Day Dorina Parmenter
Chapter 6
Body Building in the Hindu Tantric Tradition: The Advantages and Confusions of Scriptural Entextualization in the Worship of the Goddess Kali Rachel McDermott
Chapter 7
Saints’ Lives as Performance Art Virginia Burrus
Chapter 8
Aspiring Narratives of Previous Births: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Written and Visual Media in Ancient Gandhara Jason Neelis
Chapter 9
Daoist Writs and Scriptures as Sacred Beings Jihyun Kim
Chapter 10
Books as Sacred Beings James Watts
End Matter
Author Index James Watts, Yohan Yoo
Subject Index James Watts, Yohan Yoo


This collection challenges readers to think more expansively and daringly about books/texts and what beyond content-meanings they are about or, in my view of things, are made to mean or do. Such phenomenological interests are important in terms of making the attempt to fathom as widely and as deeply as possible the ongoing dynamics and effects of human-making. The volume will be of interest to scholars working in areas having to do with the history and theory and problematics of reading, of books, of embodiment and dynamics of sacralization.
Vincent L. Wimbush, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Signifying Scriptures