DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Bible – An Icon in Visual Culture

Written by: on September 14, 2013

In his book The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice, David Morgan connects art and religion. Morgan’s vision is to extend the horizons of our perception of religion to include a consideration of the influence and impact of images.  The first part of his work contains descriptions of the convergence of the basics of visual theory with religion. Several examples are cited on the use of images in various religious traditions including Buddhism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the use of masks in West African traditions.

In the second section the author goes deep into iconoclasm and idolatry. This section was of particular interest to me as one living in a context that is dominated by visual culture and the widespread practice of idolatry. For over 85 percent of the population of India idols cannot be separated from their faith, beliefs and religious systems and practices. Religion and faith without idols for them would be an anomaly. Idols in this setting are not just visual reminders or a representation of the gods and goddesses that are worshipped. They are considered and worshipped as gods themselves with divine power and influence upon the lives of the worshippers.  Animists believe that images and objects they worship and talismans that are worn are indwelt by spirits of the gods.

To some extent this disposition transfers to the acceptance of the Bible as an icon among new believers embracing the Christian Faith.  Where they are expected to abandon images and icons of any kind for fear of idolatry, the Bible becomes an icon.  This tendency to iconize the Bible is observed especially among the marginalized and oppressed subaltern groups that are turning Christward.   The Bible enters into a subaltern world that already has a long history of iconizing material objects, that preserves and manifests magical and mysterious sacred power.  One might find even a totally illiterate believer carrying the Bible as a protection from evil spirits.  The Bible is often placed bedside of the sick for healing.  People keep the Bible under the pillow at nights.

The Bible is also an important symbol in the process of conversion and discipleship as it is used in expounding the Christian faith.  So it is seen as a ‘The Book with power to transform’, somewhat comparable to a ‘Talisman’ for the Subaltern.   The access to and possession of the Bible is also a mark of liberation to these people for whom any access of the Hindu Vedas is forbidden.

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Sam Stephens

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