Clothing Sacred Scripture (Zurich 9-11 Oct 14)

Zurich, October 9 – 11, 2014
Deadline: Feb 25, 2014

In a traditional perspective, book religions are seen as agents of
logocentrism, establishing a sharp dichotomy between scripture and
aesthetics, religion and art. This judgment was based primarily on
dogmatic assumptions and posterior idealizations, however. In the light
of their material, performative and artistic practice, religions of the
book show a surprisingly strong tendency to evolve their
own »aesthetics of inlibration«. Especially in pretypographic
cultures, »clothing« sacred texts with precious materials and ornate
forms was a powerful instrument for creating a close relation between
the divine words and their human audience.

The questions this conference aims to address grow from a comparative
and transcultural approach to religious book culture. Whereas
traditional research on book art has focused on single textual
communities within exclusive religious frameworks, we propose to look
beyond these boundaries. Our discussion of various strategies for
clothing sacred scripture shall include objects and practices from all
Abrahamic religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam developed
different approaches to the aesthetics of inlibration. By analyzing and
comparing these practices of religious book art, we aim to better
understand their cultural and historical specificity within a broader

To which extent the choice of materials, book formats, and artistic
patterns mark religious difference and shape religious identity is one
of several questions this conference will address. Yet »Clothing« the
book could also produce the contrary effect. Since it was based on
practices of circulation and exchange between different religious
cultures, it could also undermine claims of religious identity and
absolute truth.

Furthermore, addressing questions of materiality and mediality should
not obfuscate the conflicts and tensions that arise at times between
the visual and tactile dimension and the invisible and intangible
dimension of sacred books. In this respect, the activity of adorning
holy scripture appears to be located between two extremes that
characterize the concept of the book. On the one hand, the book is a
visible and tangible container of God’s animate speech, on the other,
the book is a threshold that leads to the invisible and immaterial
realm of God’s holy words.

This conference will explore both sides of the nexus between sacred
scripture and art. How did art shape the religious practice of books,
and how did the central importance of religious books shape the
evolution of artistic practices? The organizers welcome contributions
from a wide range of medievalist research, discussing topics such as:

– the spatial and temporal structure of books. How do books articulate
the process of opening, unfolding, and closing, and how does their
physical or visual structure contrast exterior with interior spaces,
beginnings with endings? How do these elements create different spheres
and times of revelation?

– the performativity of book rituals. Which kind of ritual activities
(in the broadest sense) involve sacred books? How does book art answer
to the dynamics of animating the letter by reading, singing,
displaying, carrying, illuminating and writing or burying books?

– materiality and its transformation. Which materials were chosen for
creating sacred books, which semantic values and transformative forces
were ascribed to them, and in which ways did these materials contribute
to mediate between human and divine spheres?

– ornament and its rejection. Analyzing the art of sacred books can
lead to a more nuanced understanding of ornamental practices. In some
contexts, traditional ornament is rejected in favor of scripture in its
purest form, thus generating a kind of anti-ornamental décor for the
book. So when was ornamentation considered merely a mundane practice?
And which arguments were put forward to propagate ornament as evocation
of divine beauty?

– iconicity and aniconicity of decorated books. Recent scholarship has
underlined analogies between the cult of books and the cult of images.
This approach has opened new avenues of thought for perceiving books as
objects and not just as texts. Some book religions tend to contrast
books with images, however, and treat books as alternative solutions
for worship. How is the clothing of books related to these contrasting
principles of iconicity and aniconicity?

Please send Please send proposals of up to 300 words for 30min papers
and a short CV to:
David Ganz ( and Barbara Schellewald
( by February 25 2014

Reference / Quellennachweis:
CFP: Clothing sacred scripture (Zurich 9-11 Oct 14). In: H-ArtHist, Feb
5, 2014. <>.

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