Jon Skarpeid, Watts, James W. (ed.): Sensing Sacred Texts. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing, 2017. 195 pp. ISBN 978-​1-​78179-​576-​7. Price: £ 22.95 in:

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Anthropos, Volume 115 (2020), Issue 1, ISSN: 0257-9774, ISSN online: 0257-9774,

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words without consideration for the physical media and performative affects surrounding those words. Using cross-cultural examples and drawing heavily on ritual theory and rhetoric, Watts emphasizes the material con‐ texts surrounding people’s uses of scriptures – such as what the books look like, and how they are displayed and ritualized – resulting in an analysis of how these us‐ es generate and maintain different forms of social pow‐ er. Many of the chapters in this volume were previously published by Watts between 2004 and 2015, but have been extensively revised and updated with examples from and references to recent scholarship in anthropolo‐ gy and religious studies. Three chapters were especially written for this volume to further expand upon previous ideas and to address current issues in book studies, such as digital texts. Watts’ seminal article outlining a theory of the ways that scriptures generate meaning and authority, influen‐ tial since its original publication in 2008, is “The Three Dimensions of Scriptures.” Expanded into the first three chapters of this volume, Watts explains how books mat‐ ter through their semantic, expressive, and iconic di‐ mensions. The semantic dimension involves direct con‐ tact with the words of texts through reading and inter‐ pretation. The expressive dimension was identified as “performative” in Watts’ earlier publications, but now is clarified as presenting a written text mentally, orally, vi‐ sually and theatrically as words and images (14). The iconic dimension, or attention to the “physical form, rit‐ ual manipulation, and artistic representation of scrip‐ tures” (15), is the area that has received the least atten‐ tion from scholars (and readers in general) who tend to focus on the semantic dimension, and thus it receives the most attention as the expanded subject of chapter 2. Watts’ theory of scriptures draws upon his expertise as a scholar of the Hebrew Bible, rhetoric, and law, and incorporates the functions of ritual as elucidated by ritu‐ al theorists such as J. Z. Smith, Catherine Bell, and Roy Rappaport. While all books have the three dimensions to some degree, writes Watts, they are typically ignored until they are given attention in ritual. “Scriptures are books or writings whose use in all three dimensions has been ritualized,” according to Watts. “The otherwise trivial practices involved in reading a book are, in the case of scriptures, given sustained attention” (17) and thus set apart from ordinary use, identifying their sacred status. These ritual uses of scriptures then create and maintain social power, conferring a sense of social au‐ thority, inspiration, and legitimation to the texts and their users (22). After Watts lays out the basic framework of how scriptures work in societies, the remaining chapters ap‐ ply the theory of the three dimensions to specific exam‐ ples. They cover topics that have received media atten‐ tion in recent years such as digital texts (chap. 4), the deliberate desecration of other people’s scriptures (chap. 5), disputes over the display of “Ten Commandments Monuments in the U.S. Constitution” (chap. 7), and the changing role of libraries in contemporary societies (chap. 10). Topics of more specialized academic interest are ritualized ancient texts (chap. 6), anti-materialism and anti-ritualism in religious traditions and scholars’ attention (chap. 8), and the relationships between mass literacy, increased access to texts, and scholarly exper‐ tise (chap. 9). The wide range of topics addressed and examples used in this volume demonstrate its usefulness to scholars in multiple fields that deal with in how and why the phenomena of books and texts, especially those with the status of scripture, exert influence and authori‐ ty in individual lives and social groups. For those who are already familiar with Watts’ writing, this volume adds additional nuance to his previous studies and the numerous illustrations act as a helpful resource for fur‐ ther investigations. Dorina Miller Parmenter ( Watts, James W. (ed.): Sensing Sacred Texts. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing, 2017. 195 pp. ISBN 978-1-78179-576-7. Price: £ 22.95 “Sensing Sacred Texts” is one of several anthologies with new and interesting approaches to holy books. In the introduction, editor James W. Watts writes that “Sensing Sacred Texts” “adds to previous collections of iconic books,” and he points to “The Death of Sacred Texts” (Myrvold 2010) and “Iconic Books and Texts” (Watts 2013). “Sensing Sacred Texts” consists of ten chapters and the contributions cover The Christian Bible, The Hebrew Bible, The Torah, The Qur’an, Bud‐ dhist Texts, Confucian Texts, and, the authoritative En‐ cyclopedia Britannica. Watts informs the reader that in the call for papers they omitted the sense of hearing since this aspect has been getting much attention in previous research on sacred texts. This may explain why Hinduism, a major religious tradition, is not covered in this anthology. In Hinduism, sacred revelations are not primarily texts, but sound, recitation. Nevertheless, the auditory aspect is present in a couple of the contributions. In her “Engaging All the Senses. On Multi-Sensory Stimulation in the Process of Making and Inauguration a Torah Scroll,” Marianne Schleicher does cover the hearing aspect by pointing to the sound made during the process of making the Torah Scroll. Yohan Yoo in his contribution “Neo-Confucian Sensory Readings of Scriptures. The Reading Methods of Chu His and Yi Hwang,” explains the importance of sens‐ ing the sound of what is being recited. The first chapter is different compared to the others. Instead of presenting rituals of religious followers, S. Brent Plate treats artistic approaches to sacred and au‐ thoritative texts. In her entry, “What the Book Arts Can Teach Us about Sacred Texts. The Aesthetic Dimension of Scripture,” one of the examples is the burning of all the volumes of Britannica. According to Plate, this burning represents a farewell to the notion of books and their content as something lasting. Plate’s last example is that of artist Meg Hitchcock who challenges our con‐ Book Reviews 285 Anthropos 115.2020 cept of what a sacred book is. Hitchcock has cut letters from an English translation of the Qur’an, and put them together to form the English words of “The Book of Revelation.” From a Christian Bible she used letters to produce the “The Throne Verse” of the Qur’an. She ar‐ ranged these two texts so that the Qur’anic verse forms a mandala surrounded by “The Book of Revelation.” Apart from the theme of sensing of sacred texts, there is nothing in particular that unifies this anthology. How‐ ever, the book is heterogenic in a positive sense, and it would probably not be a good idea to restrict the cover‐ ing of different religions into very specific concepts of sensing. In the end, most of the contributions deal with ideas and practices reflecting a sort of magic status of sacred scriptures. Some of the authors are also compar‐ ing religious traditions. This is the case with Cathy Cantwell. In “Seeing, Touching, Holding, and Swallow‐ ing Tibetan Buddhist Texts,” she notices that kissing the scripture, which is a way of demonstrating respect and love in Orthodox Christian traditions, would be inappro‐ priate in Buddhism. Katharina Wilkens points to simi‐ larities since “ingesting words” is not a particular Islam‐ ic tradition but is a practice used in other religions as well. In fact, her “Infusions and Fumigations. Literacy Ideologies and Therapeutic Aspects of the Qur’an,” is only one of three chapters covering rituals where sacred texts are swallowed. The swallowing can be both direct and indirect. In the Islamic tradition that Wilkens exam‐ ines, the ingesting is rather indirect. Verses of the Qur’an are written on paper that is put into water that is subsequently drunk. The drinking ritual described by Christian Frevel in the article with the heading “On In‐ stant Scripture and Proximal Texts,” is also indirect. Water that has been in contact with paper containing verses from the Book of Numbers in the Torah is being drunk. The swallowing of scripture Cathy Cantwell points to in Buddhism is direct in the sense that the pa‐ per containing verses from mantras or scriptures is eaten in a ritual called “Lettering to Eat.” Most of the articles in this anthology deal with sever‐ al aspects of sensing sacred texts. In what is the longest chapter (33 pages), “Touching Books, Touching Art: Tactile Dimensions of Sacred Books in the Medieval West,” David Ganz points to “tactility,” “touching the divine,” “sleeping,” “kissing,” “swearing,” “networks of hands [healing],” and “the book as a seal.” Some of the contributions lack an explicit treatment of theory or methodology. The reason for this might be the diversity of topics included. It may also be difficult to analyze all the aspects based on a single theory, let alone a single method. In addition, there is a limit as to how long the chapters should be. Since this anthology covers little known aspects of religious texts, the emphasis should be to present the different habits and rituals related to the sensing of sacred scriptures. This being said, around half of the chapters do explicitly discuss theory. Dorina Miller Parmenter gives a hint already in the title: “How the Bible Feels. The Christian Bible as Effective and Affective Object.” In order to analyze the attitude to‐ wards the physical side of scripture, Parmenter employs “affect theory” which defines why an object is consid‐ ered as “good.” She claims that an affective attitude among (Protestant) Christians towards the Bible, comes from the fact that through this book “salvation [is] available” (34). For those interested in theory, Schleich‐ er, Wilkens, and Watts contain the most extensive theo‐ retical discussions. The second paragraph in Schleicher’s article is quite long and entirely devoted to theory. She borrows the concept of “transitivity” from Brian Malley, but em‐ ploys the semantics level while dealing with the materi‐ al side of holy scriptures. Schleicher combines the “hermeneutic and artefactual uses.” She argues that the sensory experiences of smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing in the production of a Torah scroll create a “transitivity” to the semantic side of the scripture and the rituals. Like Schleicher, Wilkens discusses the chal‐ lenge of relating the semantic content of the text with the sensory function. Wilkens uses literary theory and Kathryn Woolard’s “codeswitching” to connect sensing and semantics. The editor, Watts, in his chapter “Scrip‐ tures’ Indexical Touch,” employs both the sign theory of C. S. Pierce and the ritual theory of Roy Rappaport. Watts claims that people’s engagement with the material element of a sacred text, “indexes a person as faithful to the beliefs and practices that are commonly associated with that scripture” (175). Watts does not refer to a par‐ ticular religious tradition, but uses examples from sever‐ al traditions. His chapter seems like an appropriate way to conclude the anthology. To sum up: I enjoyed reading this book. “Sensing Sacred Texts” is an important con‐ tribution to the study of sacred texts, both on a descrip‐ tive, analytical and theoretical level. This collections of essays will likely appeal to scholars entrusted in reli‐ gious practices relating to the sensing sacred texts and how the sensory element relates to the semantic dimen‐ sion. Jon Skarpeid ( Were, Graeme: How Materials Matter. Design, Inno‐ vation, and Materiality in the Pacific. New York: Berghahn Books, 2019, 211 pp. ISBN 978-1-78920- 201-4. Price: $ 120.00 “How Materials Matter” is a wonderful contribution to the expanding and exciting field of material culture studies. With its particular regional focus, it is also a novel addition to the anthropology of the Pacific. The beautifully printed book is structured around three parts. These parts encompass seven chapters that each present a case study based on Graeme Were’s ethnographic re‐ search in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and New Zealand, and his in-depth analyses of Melanesian objects in mu‐ seum storage facilities in the United Kingdom and Aus‐ tralia. Through these case studies, which are embedded in engaging theoretical debates, Were argues and shows how materials can transform people’s lives through de‐ sign and innovation. 286 Book Reviews Anthropos 115.2020

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Anthropos is the international journal of anthropology and linguistics, founded in 1906 by Wilhelm Schmidt, missonary and member of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD). Its main purpose is the study of human societies in their cultural dimension. In honor of Wilhelm Schmidt‘s legacy, the cultivation of anthropology, ethnology, linguistics, and religious studies remain an essential component oft he Anthropos Institute – the organizational carrier of the journal.


Anthropos - internationale Zeitschrift für Völkerkunde wird vom Anthropos Institut St. Augustin seit 1906 zweimal jährlich herausgegeben. Ursprünglich als Sprachrohr für katholische Missionarsarbeit geplant, gilt sie heute als wichtige Fachzeitschrift der allgemeinen Ethnologie. Sie behandelt sowohl kulturelle als auch sprachliche Themen in mehreren Sprachen, mit Schwerpunkt auf den Völkern des gesamtamerikanischen und afrikanischen Kontinents.