The recent scholarly interest in communication processes and media has opened new approaches to the ways in which the so-called book religions have placed supreme authority in a certain canonic text, considered to be the unfallibly truthful message of the divinity. Sanctified by its long-duration transmission, the holy book becomes the object of a peculiar scribal culture, of complex procedures of exegesis and application as well as intense liturgic and popular veneration. The presence of the Book shapes ritual, law, education, social order, and, on a more profound anthropological level, the specific interaction between scribal, oral, and visual practices.
The present course will reflect the impact of scripturalism on religious culture on the basis of a succinct introduction to the content, historical origins and reception of the Bible and the Qur’an. In a chronological order, the overview will start with the social, cultural, and political conditions involved in the formation of the Hebrew Bible in ancient Judaism, and will then encompass the ensuing canonization processes in Christianity and Islam. Further sessions will explore the doctrines of revelation and canonicity, as well as the refined techniques of exegetic appropriation that were developed in all three religions principally during the Middle Ages. We will finally study the ambivalent effects that modernity had on the concept of the sacred text: since the Reformation, printing and mass education have tended to objectify scripture, enhancing its authority and encouraging literal readings and fundamentalist reform projects; but the same factors could also open it to methods of cultural accommodation and critical study as one literary document among others.
Throughout the class we will critically reflect on the use of scripture-related concepts and practices as markers of collective identity. Claims of cultural supremacy have often been inherent in the classificatory concept of “book religions”, from its qur’anic origins until the academic scholarship of the colonial age, but the same concept has also opened a vast field of comparative study between European and Asian traditions of the sacred text. In an exemplary manner, "Scripture and Authority" obliges to scrutinize the potential and the limits of the comparative approach.