xbn .
Photo by Tom Woodward CC BY-SA 2.0

The Politics of Sacred Texts

For this symposium, we asked respondents to reflect on the question, “What are the political implications of naming a text sacred?”

Sacred texts, broadly understood, are replete in our collective political and theological imaginations. While sacred texts make political appearances in ways that we easily recognize, such as in oaths of office in which the official places her hand on a Bible, or Qu’ran, they construct our understanding and practice of politics in ways less often seen.

This symposium was inspired, in part, by the long-standing Politics of Scripture series hosted by Political Theology Today, the predecessor to the Political Theology Network. Over the last seven years, this series has featured rich, careful readings of both familiar and relatively-obscure passages of scripture that have focused on the political claims and resources of these texts. I’ve found this series to be unfailingly thought-provoking as both exegetical work and as one model of what engaged political theology might look like today. As I begin working with the Political Theology Network—excited to generate conversations that help to explore the breadth of what political theology can constitute—I continue to draw on this series as a great example of the payoff of the resources of political theology. It was with this series in mind that we organized this symposium, which that draws on some of the same concerns driving the Politics of Scripture series, albeit from a somewhat different vantage.

For this symposium, we asked respondents to reflect on the question, “What are the political implications of naming a text sacred?” The resulting pieces not only offer complex responses to to our organizing question, but also, I hope, help to continue some of the vibrant conversations already underway in the Political Theology Network.

Politics of Scripture editor Alastair Roberts’ “The Authority of the Book” asks us to step back from what is, for many of us, our usual scholarly stance, and consider sacred texts’ status not only as “texts” but as “books”. Through an exploration of Henry VIII’s Great Bible and the history of its publication, Roberts invites us to grapple with the tangible political significance of sacred texts as material commodities.

In “Nahodishgish, or The Midnight Monument”, John Howell reflects on the recent federal reduction of Bears Ears National Monument. Howell challenges us to consider what this case teaches us both about what might be construed as a “sacred text”, and the complicated implications of political invocations of notions of the sacred.

Finally, Silence in Jane Eyre” offers us the opportunity to consider a somewhat unconventional account of what it might mean to read a text as sacred. Author Vanessa Zoltan muses on how to read Jane Eyre in the era of the #MeToo movement, and how practices informed by notions of sacredness might help guide such a reading.




Symposium Essays

The Authority of the Book

…any consideration of the question of the political implications of naming certain scriptures ‘sacred’ will be severely limited if it is not attentive to sacred scriptures qua material (or digital) books.

Nahodishgish, or The Midnight Monument

Perhaps most crucially, one needs to know by whose authority any particular “text” is so named.

Silence in Jane Eyre

Like all sacred texts, Jane Eyre does not simply offer clear, direct answers to the questions I ask of it. It requires, rather, the work of exegesis.