Zum Inhalt springen

The Dynamics of Material Text Practices and the Somatics of Sacred Scripture (1/2)

Panel Chairs: Isabel Laack, Katharina Wilkens | Tuesday, August 25, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

The semantic interpretation of religious texts is a central endeavour of religious studies, shaped by Bible studies, philologies and the comparative concept of sacred scripture. The fact that people in many traditions relate to religious texts in material, sensory and somatic ways is only gradually coming into academic focus. The panel seeks to overcome judgmental divisions in the discourse of religious experts and in academic thinking such as literate vs. oral cultures, reading vs. seeing/feeling, text vs. image, “intellectual” text interpretation vs. “superstitious” text practices and religion vs. magic. In order to develop this field of study we use the perspectives of material/visual religion and aesthetics of religion. Analysing material from diverse regions and epochs, theoretical questions of efficacy, literacy and somatics of material text practices are discussed. The panel explores the worlds of sensory phenomena in text practices and considers the dynamic constellation of religion, sensation and materiality.

Kristina Myrvold

Drinking the Guru’s Transformative Words: Uses of Amrit in Sikh Religious Practices

In Sikh religious traditions there are various practices of using amrit, that is, sweetened water that has been consecrated by recitations of compositions from the scripture Guru Granth. Usually the term refers to the blessed nectar-water given to neophytes during the initiation ceremony of Khalsa, when a person adopts a normative Sikh identity. However, in living practices it also implies a whole range of consecrated waters that are attributed transformative powers. This paper examines how different types of amrit are believed to produce various effects on people, depending upon textual and contextual factors during the process of transforming ordinary water to nectar, including the identity of the agent preparing amrit, ritual spaces and instruments, and dispositions among recipients. The transformative powers ascribed to particular waters are intimately connected with semantic properties of the recited scriptural hymns or what these hymns have come to represent in the broader Sikh tradition.

Hanna Nieber

The Body Reading the Dissolved Qur’an

When Qur’anic verses, sometimes supplemented with certain names, drawings, or numbers, are written with saffron ink and then washed off with water, this water in Swahili is referred to as kombe and healing powers are attached to it. The written word – the picture of the text – which has taken considerable time and knowledge to prepare is not legible to the eye anymore, but the body can absorb the liquid and then be affected by it. The body “reads” a “formless script”. This paper, based on ethnographic fieldwork in Zanzibar, views the practice of drinking kombe as a sensational form and investigates how different actors value or disapprove of this practice due to its sensuousness. It aims to highlight how the afflicted body is conceptualized in the argumentations with respect to its relation to the imbued script. The paper draws on the materiality both of the body and of text in its specific Swahili context.

Katharina Wilkens

Drinking the Qur’an as Modern Practice

Protection and healing have been sought through a number of material text practices throughout Islamic history. Efficacy is guaranteed by the sacred reality of the Book embodied through air and water. While these practices (classified as sihr, permitted magic, in Islamic theology) have been discussed as contagious magic in academic literature, I am interested in relating the interconnectedness of scriptural and medical practice with a view to such questions as popularity, efficacy and viability over time. The comparable Alpine Catholic tradition of swallowing small paper copies of a miraculous Madonna at a pilgrimage site did not survive into the second half of the 20th century. Qur’anic scriptural practices can thus be interpreted within the framework of multiple modernities in which medicine and scripture do not present an insurmountable antinomy.


B  C  D 
E  F  G  H 
I  J  K  L 
M  N  O  P 
Q  R  T 
U      V      W     XYZ 


A  B  C  D 
E  F  G  H 
I  J  K  L 
M  N  O  P 
Q  R  S  T 
U      V      W     XYZ 


Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)