Books as Sacred Beings


  • James W. Watts Syracuse University



books, religious experience, souls, resurrection, theophany


Research on the ritualization of sacred texts highlights the common cross-cultural analogy between books and people or other beings. In this essay, I argue that this analogy stems from a reader’s experience of using books and the effects that books seem to exert on readers. Three different effects can arise from ordinary book use: an out-of-body experience, an experience of transcendence through the resurrection of ideas, and a transformative encounter that encourages religious description as a theophany. These three effects correspond to the ritualization of books in the semantic, expressive, and iconic dimensions. This correspondence raises questions about the influence of literacy on religious experience. It also opens the possibility that ordinary book use may provide a new avenue for analyzing religious experience.

Author Biography

James W. Watts, Syracuse University

James W. Watts is Professor of Religion at Syracuse University. He is the author of Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture (Wiley Blackwell, 2017) and the editor of Iconic Books and Texts (Equinox, 2013) and Sensing Sacred Texts (Equinox, 2018).


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How to Cite

Watts, J. W. (2019). Books as Sacred Beings. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 10(1-2), 144-157.