Altar mosaic, Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal

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About Iconic Books

By “iconic book,” we refer to a text revered primarily as an object of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. Consider the following examples from contemporary political and religious life:

  • Politicians and judges around the world take their oaths of office while placing their hands on Bibles, Qur’ans, or national constitutions.
  • Wealthy Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and Muslims pay large sums to support dedicated scribes to hand copy the scriptures of those traditions, even in this era of computerized publishing.
  • Prominent artists devote years of their careers to illustrating collector’s editions of Christian Bibles and Buddhist sutras.
  • Worshipers of various traditions clothe their scriptures in vestments like those of a guru or priest.
  • The U.S. government displays a hand-written copy of its constitution in a national shrine, the rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and protects it in a bomb-proof vault.

In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. Works of art, commercial logos, and especially university public relations departments utilize images of books to evoke connotations of learning, knowledge and wisdom.