2 Twisted

The Book and the Gene


  • Ann Burlein Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious




Western modernity, scriptural metaphors


Why do we speak so insistently of the genome in terms of the Book—even going so far as to literalize this language? Drawing on Bakthin’s insight that our thought begins when we double-voice the words of others, using and re-accenting, this article argues that double-voicing religion is how the scientific secular is made. The insistence on treating scriptural metaphors as somehow real (even though we have long known better) arises from the need to use and thereby re-accent “internally persuasive words” in order to create new ways for words to mean. This article investigates two kinds of dialogue between the science of the gene and the book. Internally, invoking scriptural metaphors enables medical genetics to represent itself as having at long last sutured the gap between thought and being that Foucault deemed central to Western modernity. Externally, invoking the biblical signifier enables medical science to stabilize its popular reception by using “the family” to colonize affect.

Author Biography

Ann Burlein, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious

Ann Burlein is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Hofstra University.


Abu El-Haj, Nadia. 2005. “The Descent of Men: Genetics, Jewish Origins and Historical Truths.” Paper Presented at The New School for Social Research, NYC, November 30.

Aries, Philippe. 1981. The Hour of Our Death. Trans. Helen Weaver. New York: Knopf.

Bakhtin, M. M. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin; University of Texas Press.

Beck, Ulrich. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.

Cook-Deegan, Robert. 1994. The Gene Wars: Science, Politics, and the Human Genome. New York: W. W. Norton.

van Dijck, Jose. 1989. Imagenation: Popular Images of Genetics. New York: New York University Press.

Dreger, Alice. 2000. “Metaphors of Morality in the HGP.” In Controlling our Destinies: The HGP from Historical, Philosophical, Social, and Ethical Perspectives, ed. Phillip R. Sloan, 155–74. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is There a Text in This Class? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1970. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage.

———. 1973. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Vintage.

———. 1978. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.

———. 2000. Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954–1984. Vol. 3. Ed. James Faubion. New York: The New Press.

———. 2003. Abnormal. Trans. Graham Burchell. New York: Picador.

Franklin, Sarah. 2003. “Ethical Biocapital.” In Remaking Life and Death: Toward an Anthropology of the Biosciences, ed. Sarah Franklin and Margaret Lock, pp. 165–92. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Galison, Peter. 1994. “The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision.” Critical Inquiry 21: 228–66. doi:10.1086/448747.

Haraway, Donna. 1997. [email protected]_ Millennium. New York: Routledge.

Jackson, David. 1995. “Template for an Economic Revolution.” In DNA, The Double Helix: Perspective and Prospective at Forty Years, ed. Donald Chambers, pp.356–65. New York: New York Academy of Science.

Jasanoff, Shiela. 2004. “Ordering Knowledge, Ordering Society.” In States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order, ed. Shiela Jasanoff, 13–45. New York: Routledge.

Kahn, Susan. 2005. “The Multiple Meanings of Jewish Genes.” Culture, Medicine, Psychiatry 29: 179–92. doi:10.1007/s11013-005-7424-5.

Kay, Lily. 1999. “In the Beginning was the Word?: The Genetic Code and the Book of Life.” In The Science Studies Reader, ed. Mario Biagioli, 224–33. New York: Routledge.

———. 2000. Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Keller, Evelyn Fox. 1995. Refiguring Life: Metaphors of Twentieth Century Biology. New York: Columbia University Press.

———. 2000. The Century of the Gene. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kevles, Daniel. 2006. “What’s New about the Politics of Science?” Paper presented at the Politics and Science Conference, New School University, February 9.

Lewontin, Richard. 2000. The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lindee, Susan. 1994. Suffering Made Real: American Science and the Survivors at Hiroshima. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Marsden, George. 1980. Fundamentalism and American Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marx, Karl. 1967. Capital. Vol. 1. Trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. New York: International Publishers.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1994. On the Genealogy of Morality. Trans. Carol Diethe. Ed. Keith Ansell-Pearson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2001. The Gay Science. Trans. Josefine Nauckhoff. Ed. Bernard Williams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oyama, Susan. 2000. The Ontogeny of Information: Developmental Systems and Evolution. Rev. and expanded. Durham: Duke University Press.

Povinelli, Elizabeth. 2006. The Empire of Love: Toward a Theory of Intimacy, Genealogy, and Carnality. Durham: Duke University Press.

Rabinow, Paul. 1996. Essays on the Anthropology of Reason. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Rose, Nikolas. 1994. “Medicine, History, and the Present.” In Re-Assessing Foucault: Power, Medicine and the Body, ed. Colin Jones and Roy Porter, 48–72. New York: Routledge. doi:10.1177/02632760122052020.

———. 2007. The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Rothman, David J. 1991. Strangers at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision Making. New York: Basic.

Vattimo, Gianni. 2006. Dialogue with Nietzsche. Trans. William McCuaig. New York: Columbia University Press.

Voloshinov, V. N. 1973. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Trans. Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik. New York: Seminar Press.

Watt, David Harrington. 2002. Bible Carrying Christians: Conservative Protestants and Social Power. New York: Oxford University Press.



How to Cite

Burlein, A. (2008). 2 Twisted: The Book and the Gene. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 3(1), 31–56. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v3i1.31