Scriptures, Materiality, and the Digital Turn
The Iconicity of Sacred Texts in a Liminal Age
Keywords:Materiality, iconicity, digital culture, actants, scriptures
The “digital turn” witnessed over the past several decades has had a significant impact on the use of sacred texts, although the full extent of these developments is far from settled. This essay explores some of the social and cultural dynamics involved in converting or translating scriptures to digital formats, issues which take on heightened significance because of the sacred status of these texts in their respective traditions. Drawing on the notion of diverse functional dimensions of scriptures, this study highlights the complex way in which the use of sacred texts in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is being affected by the digital turn. Specific focus is placed on the iconic role of scriptures, an aspect often bound up with issues of materiality. I conclude with some theoretical reflections that build on Jonathan Westin’s “vocabulary of limitations,” which itself draws on the sociology of translation, to suggest that the material dimensions of scriptures in this liminal age highlights the role of these texts as objects which both embody and contribute to social and cultural values. These comparative perspectives offer suggestive possibilities for reflection on such material texts as “sacred beings.”
Al-Munajjid, Muhammand Saalih. 2007. “Is Purity Essential for Reading Qur’aan from One’s Mobile Phone?” Islam Question and Answer. https://islamqa.info/en/106961
Bell, Catherine. 1992. Ritual Theory and Ritual Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bennett, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press.
Bielo, James S. 2009. Words Upon the Word: An Ethnography of Evangelical Group Bible Study. Qualitative Studies in Religion. New York: New York University Press. https://doi.org/10.1177/00084298100390040603
Cantwell Smith, Wilfred. 1993. What Is Scripture? A Comparative Approach. London: SCM.
Cain, Sian. 2017. “Ebook Sales Continue to Fall as Younger Generations Drive Appetite for Print.” The Guardian. 14 March. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/14/ebook-sales-continue-to-fall-nielsen-survey-uk-book-sales
Clivaz, Claire, Paul Dilley, and David Hamidovi?, eds. 2016. Ancient Worlds in Digital Culture. Digital Biblical Studies 1. Leiden: Brill. https://doi.org/10.21071/mijtk.v0i3.10782
Connolly, William E. 2011. A World of Becoming. Durham: Duke University Press.
Drinkwater, Doug. 2013. “New Jersey Firefighters Sworn Into Office With iPad.” Mashable. 11 February. https://mashable.com/2013/02/11/new-jersey-firefighters-ipad/#mTNZPQIbsPq1
The Economist. 2016. “Donald Trump’s Nightmare.” Bagehot. 14 May. https://www.economist.com/news/britain/21698682-sadiq-khans-win-london-was-victory-enlightened-grown-up-indifference-donald
Flood, Alison. 2016. “Ebook Sales Falling for the First Time, Finds New Report.” The Guardian. 3 February. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/03/ebook-sales-falling-for-the-first-time-finds-new-report
Graham, William A. 1987. Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hanks, Henry. 2016 “Bible, Driver Survive After Car Bursts Into Flames.” CNN. 22 February. http://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/22/us/car-in-flames-bible/index.html
Hillerbrand, Hans J. 2006. “On Book Burnings and Book Burners: Reflections on the Power (and Powerlessness) of Ideas.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74: 593–614. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfj117
Holcombe, Madeline. 2017. “Amid the Tornado Wreckage in Mississippi, a Bible is Left Untouched.” CNN. 25 January. https://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/25/us/bible-survives-tornado-trnd/index.html
Hoskins, Janet. 2006. “Agency, Biography, and Objects.” In Handbook of Material Culture, edited by Christopher Tilley, Webb Keane, Susanne Kuchler, Micheal Rowlands, and Patricia Spyder, 74–84. London: Sage. https://doi.org/10.1080/08949460701424395
Hutchings, Tim. 2015. “E-Reading and the Christian Bible.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 44: 423–440. https://doi.org/10.1177/0008429815610607
———. 2017. “Design and the Digital Bible: Persuasive Technology and Religious Reading.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 32: 205–219. https://doi.org/10.1080/13537903.2017.1298903
Ibn Adam, Muhammad. 2010. “Qur’an Application on an iPhone: Can I Touch My iPhone Without Ablution?” Seekers Hub. 28 July. http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2010/07/28/quran-application-on-an-iphone-can-i-touch-my-iphone-without-ablution/
Ingram, Matthew. 2015. “No, Ebook Sales Are Not Falling, Despite What Publishers Say.” Fortune. 24 September. http://fortune.com/2015/09/24/ebook-sales/
Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
———. 1994. “On Technical Mediation.” Common Knowledge 3(2): 29–64.
———. 2007. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Le Miere, Jason. 2017. “Colorado Mosque Attack: Bible and Rocks Used to Smash Prayer-Room Windows.” Newsweek. 27 March. http://www.newsweek.com/mosque-attack-bible-colorado-muslim-prayer-574767
Levenson, Eric. 2014. “New U.S. Ambassador Swore Her Oath on an E-Reader.” The Atlantic. 2 June. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/06/us-ambassador-swears-oath-of-office-on-e-reader/371974/
Levy, Gabrielle. 2013. “Obama’s Inauguration: Everything You Wanted to Know About the 57th Inauguration and the 56 Before It.” United Press International. 21 January. http://www.upi.com/blog/2013/01/21/Obamas-inauguration-Everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-the-57th-inauguration-and-the-56-before-it/8011358757175/
Malley, Brian. 2004. How the Bible Works: An Anthropological Study of Evangelical Biblicism. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira. https://doi.org/10.1080/10508610701572887
McCann, Erin. 2017. “The Two Bibles Donald Trump Used at the Inauguration.” The New York Times. 18 January. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/18/us/politics/lincoln-bible-trump-oath.html
McGann, Jerome. 2014. A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Najafizada, Enayat, and Rod Nordland. 2011. “Afghans Avenge Florida Koran Burning, Killing 12.” The New York Times. 1 April. http://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/2011/04/02/world/asia/02afghanistan.html
O’Regan, Mark. 2016. “Solicitors Told to Carry Bible and Koran.” Irish Independent. 24 April. https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/solicitors-told-to-carry-bible-and-koran-34654171.html
Oster, Marcy. 2012. “Bishop Eddie Long Apologizes for Torah Scroll Ceremony.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 6 February. https://www.jta.org/2012/02/06/news-opinion/united-states/bishop-eddie-long-apologizes-for-torah-scroll-ceremony
Parker, David. 2003. “Through a Screen Darkly: Digital Texts and the New Testament.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 25: 395–411. https://doi.org/10.1177/0142064x0302500401
Parmenter, Dorina Miller. 2006 . “The Iconic Book: The Image of the Bible in Early Christian Rituals.” Postscripts 2 (2–3): 160–189. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v2i2.160
———. 2012 . “How the Bible Feels: The Christian Bible as Effective and Affective Object.” Postscripts 8(1–2): 27-38. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.32589
Plate, S. Brent Rodriguez. 2016. “Waving Bibles, Protesting Bathrooms.” Iconic Books Blog. 15 May. http://iconicbooks.blogspot.ie/2016/05/waving-bibles-protesting-bathrooms.html
Posner, Menachem. 2015. “Proper Disposal of Holy Objects.” Chabad. 30 July. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/475304/jewish/Proper-Disposal-of-Holy-Objects.htm
Preda, Alex. 1999. “The Turn to Things: Arguments for a Sociological Theory of Things.” The Sociological Quarterly 40: 347–366. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-8525.1999.tb00552.x
Rodriguez, Salvador. 2014. “Elected Official Takes Oath of Office on an iPad.” Los Angeles Times. 3 January. http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-politician-sworn-in-ipad-bible-20140103-story.html
Rubin, Alissa J., and Graham Bowley. 2012. “Koran Burning in Afghanistan Prompts 3 Parallel Inquiries.” The New York Times. 29 February. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/world/asia/koran-burning-in-afghanistan-prompts-3-parallel-inquiries.html
Savali, Kirsten West. 2013. “Cornel West: President Obama Doesn’t Deserve To Be Sworn In With MLK’s Bible.” News One. 20 January. https://newsone.com/2153928/cornel-west-obama-mlk/
Smith, Jonathan Z. 1987. To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0360966900040421
Suit, Natalia. 2015. “Enacting ‘Electronic Qur’ans’: Tradition Without a Precedent.” Material Religions. 18 November. http://materialreligions.blogspot.ie/2015/11/enacting-electronic-qurans-tradition.html
Watts, James W. 2006 . “The Three Dimensions of Scriptures.” Postscripts 2(2–3): 135–159.
———. 2009. “Desecrating Scriptures.” A Case Study for the Luce Project in Media, Religion, and International Relations. http://surface.syr.edu/rel/3/
———. 2010. “Disposing of Non-Disposable Texts.” In The Death of Sacred Texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in the World Religions, edited by Kristina Myrvold, 147–159. Farnham: Ashgate. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315615318
Weller, Sam. 2010. “Ray Bradbury: The Art of Fiction. Interviewed by Sam Weller.” The Paris Review 192 (Spring). https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6012/ray-bradbury-the-art-of-fiction-no-203-ray-bradbury
Westin, Jonathan. 2012. “Loss of Culture: New Media Forms and the Translation from Analogue to Digital Books.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 19(2): 129–140. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354856512452398
How to Cite
© Equinox Publishing Ltd.
For information regarding our Open Access policy, click here.