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Ritual Writing Contexts: New Perspectives on Manufacturing a Kosher Torah Scroll

May 7, 2021
(by Annett Martini)

Annett Martini’s book “‘Arbeit des Himmels’: Jüdische Konzeptionen des rituellen Schreibens in der europäischen Kultur des Mittelalters. Eine Studie zur Herstellung der STaM vor dem Hintergrund der christlichen Schreibkultur” will be published this year in the series Studia Judaica at De Gruyter, Berlin. The book is a revised version of her postdoctoral thesis (Habilitationsschrift).

The study deals with the production of ritually pure scrolls, the so-called STaM (Torah Scrolls, Tefillin, and Mezuzot), changing the perspective on this crucial issue of Jewish manuscript tradition from a mere textual, codicological, and paleographical to a more complex cultural view. To this end, Martini suggests a general distinction between the holy scrolls and other writings of the Hebrew manuscript tradition since only the copying of the STaM is regulated by a tightly meshed network of religious laws.

By analyzing almost completely neglected rabbinic, mystical, philosophical, and exegetical sources dealing with the manufacturing of holy scrolls in terms of ritual, memory, and the cultural environment, the study shifts the focus from the material artefact to the recipients. The outcome of this investigation is a whole new perspective on the function of (especially) a Torah scroll as a medium of memory, demarcation and identity within Jewish diaspora.

At the same time, Martini calls into question the image of Jewish diasporic existence as a self-contained, secluded minority with atavistic features, which persevered its identity within a Christian dominated society by rites of demarcation. Rather, she is able to prove that the enormous religious and social function ascribed to the holy books within Christian society as well as the tremendous affinity for all kinds of consecrations in Latin Europe are but some aspects of a complex social, religious, and political system – a system serving as a trigger of ritual dynamics which changed the way Jews manufactured and handled holy scrolls and books.

“Teaching Religion and Literature” – collection of essays by Routledge

April 27, 2021

It is our pleasure to recommend “Teaching Religion and Literature” published by Routledge in October 2018. This useful collection of essays edited by Daniel Boscaljon and Alan Levinovitz provides a practical engagement with the pedagogical possibilities of teaching (a) religion courses using literature, (b) literature classes using religion, and (c) Religion and Literature as a discipline. With this threefold approach, the book is helpful for anyone interested in providing interdisciplinary education within the field of Religion and Literature.

For more information, including the book’s Table of Contents, click here!

New Book by Daniel Vorpahl – Aus dem Leben des Buches Jona: Rezeptionswissenschaftliche Methodik und innerjüdischer Rezeptionsdiskurs

March 2, 2021

Daniel Vorpahl’s Aus dem Leben des Buches Jona: Rezeptionswissenschaftliche Methodik und innerjüdischer Rezeptionsdiskurs (SBR 17, De Gruyter 2021) provides an innovative method for the study of reception in between the fields of literary and religious studies, and gives an illustrative example of its practice through analysis of one of the strangest books of the Bible.

In order to distinguish from terms like history of effects or history of interpretation Vorpahl puts forth a new approach to the definition of reception and its methodical study. He combines premises of the New Historicism with exegetical procedures and analytical terms from religious studies into a comparative literary study of the dynamics of traditions. In an exemplary examination of the early Jewish and rabbinic receptions of the prophetic book of Jonah, Vorpahl contextualizes their sources in terms of discourse analysis and scrutinizes them in a comparative manner along uniform analysis categories. In this way he succeeds in portraying narrative-dynamic negotiation processes of the intra-Jewish reception discourse on the book of Jonah, and proves the potential of his method for the study of reception.

Daniel Vorpahl’s book stands betwixt and between the academic fields of Biblical Studies, Religious Studies, Jewish Studies and Literary Studies, while contributing a methodological enrichment for all of them.

New project on Religion & Literature (“R&L”) by Cooper Harriss

February 8, 2021

This is to inform you that Cooper Harriss, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University and Founding Co-Editor (with Sarah Imhoff) of the journal American Religion, received an IU Presidential Arts & Humanities Award for the project “R&L”, which he describes as follows:

“Scholars working across religious and literary studies have much to offer one another, yet they (and their work) confront a disciplinary divide. […] ‘R&L’ is a series of workshops that bring together scholars working at the nexus of religion and literature in a wide range of literary and religious traditions in a variety of historical and geographical contexts: from contemporary poetics of the Black Sacred to those underlying Chinese Confucianism, from colonial Latin America to medieval Europe and Japan, from poetry, plays, and novels to picture books.”

A future workshop will be held this year with further plans still in process. To find out more about the project, click here!

We Welcome our New Member

December 4, 2020

Please let us introduce you to our new member Daniel Vorpahl:

Daniel Vorpahl studied Jewish Studies, Religious Studies and Comparative Literature and is working interdisciplinary within these three academic fields. He received his PhD from the University of Bamberg with a study on the inner-Jewish reception discourse on the biblical book of Jonah.

Daniel Vorpahl is research assistant at the Chair of Hebrew Bible and Its Exegesis at the University of Potsdam. His field of research contains literary constructions of gender roles and identities, religious topics and motifs in children and youth literature, methods of discourse analytical reception research, and the reception of biblical themes and motifs.

HolyLit now in RelBib

November 3, 2020

Hello everyone! 

We’re so glad to announce that we are now part of the RelBib project! RelBib is a comprehensive online bibliography for the study of religion. It is available to interested users free of charge (Open Access), worldwide and without login. Starting this week, you can find our posts in RelBib, too. But, of course, we’re here to answer any of your questions, as usual. 

RelBib is published by Tübingen University Library and its content is supervised by the Subject Information Service for Study of Religion (FID Religionswissenschaft). The bibliography represents a special view of the underlying data pool of IxTheo (Index Theologicus) focussing on the field of the study of religion. It has its own web presence with the RelBib portal. A team specially for RelBib guarantees that the requirements and specializations of the study of religion community are adequately represented despite the common data pool.

In RelBib you will find

  • Monographs (“books”)
  • Articles and reviews from more than 200 journals of the study of religion
  • Free electronic journals and digital content
  • Databases, weblogs etc. relevant to the study of religion

Enjoy checking it out!
All best, Almut and John

New Book by Eric Ziolkowski – Religion and Literature: History and Method (Brill, 2019)

October 8, 2020

Eric Ziolkowski’s Religion and Literature: History and Method (Brill, 2019) provides a comprehensive and thoughtful assessment of the theoretical issues and approaches that have informed the study of the dynamic interrelationships among religious traditions, theological institutions and literary practices. As the Helen H. P. Manson Professor of Bible at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, Ziolkowski draws from decades of teaching and research experience to offer key insights into persistent themes in the field, including the dual aspects of religious texts as both sacred documents and literary works, the validity and limits of any definition of “religion,” the achievements of myth criticism and bible reception histories, as well as the determinant forces of institutionalization, internationalization, globalization, and pluralism.

In this way, Ziolkowski greatly expands the scope of the field, which Anton Bierl has defined as “the method of using religious materials for the comprehensive interpretation of literary texts,” emphasizing “the productive interdependence of religious studies and literature” and addressing “the question of how the subjects of religious studies can serve as a set of heuristic tools for understanding the structure and meaning of literary works in a historically appropriate way” (cited on p. 2). To what extent does “religion and literature” constitute a discrete discipline or field of study? And where precisely should it situate itself in the modern university system? Ziolkowski’s careful review of the specific histories and methodologies makes a vital step towards responding to these fundamental issues.

Literature and Humanities Calls for Papers on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania

September 30, 2020

Hello everyone,

In case you are not familiar yet with the Call for Papers website of the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania, you find the link here. The website is provided as a courtesy to the academic community, welcomes all kinds of literature and humanities calls for papers and has a very useful section on religion. If you have not come across it yet, it is definitely worth a visit, particularly for everyone interested in the study of interrelationships between religious traditions and literary traditions, both oral and written, on a global scale.

Secularism and Hermeneutics: New Book by Yael Almog

August 28, 2020

In her monograph, Secularism and Hermeneutics (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019), Yael Almog (Department of Theology, Goethe University, Frankfurt) offers a compelling account of the development of textual interpretation between the years 1750 and 1850 as reliant on earlier models of biblical exegesis. Almog marks the shift from a religiously motivated practice grounded in the private sphere of confessional belonging to secular approaches that are driven by literary education and scholarship. In doing so, she discloses the many tensions and overlaps that occur between literary criticism and faith-based reading, while attending to the latent political ramifications throughout. As David Sorkin (Yale University) writes: Almog “convincingly shows through original and detailed studies of such figures as Herder, Mendelssohn, Heine, Hegel, and Schleiermacher that the emergence of a new aesthetics derived from changing interpretations of the Old Testament and that, in turn, the advent of a new ‘reader’ was constitutive for the appearance of a new citizen.” A highly nuanced reassessment of the secularization thesis, Almog’s work provides fresh and intriguing opportunities to explore the deep-seated relationships between religious and literary sensibilities.

Current Issue of JRFM on «Religion and Science Fiction» and CfP on «The Materiality of Writing. Books in Religious Traditions»

June 3, 2020

Dear all,

We are pleased to inform you about the release of the current issue of JRFM, the Journal for Religion, Film and Media ( The thematic section of this issue deals with the manifold and fascinating interactions between «Religion and Science Fiction». It shows us, how often sci-fi deals with questions, which are essential for almost all religious traditions, and it helps us understand why so many people are attracted to sci-fi films: In sci-fi we explore far universes and use yet unknown technologies, in sci-fi the world we know is left behind. But, although the technical devices are impressive and the science advances in huge steps, the protagonists we identify with still search for God or transcendence. — Please, take a look at this precious issue of JRFM. For a first glance, you may want to refer to the short overview here! For further reading you may go to the journal’s website.

Please, take also a look at the exciting Call for Papers on «The Materiality of Writing. Books in Religious Traditions.» In this issue of JRFM, the religious role and significance of writing, books and scripture are discussed by focusing on their materiality and visuality. The journal welcomes contributions dealing with writing as a material activity and books as objects. The articles published in this issue will contribute to the reflection on questions like: How can the materiality of religious books be interpreted? – How does the materiality of writing and books shape religious traditions and practices, communities and individuals? – How does the materiality of books and scriptures affect the act of writing? – What practices are linked to the production, transmission and preservation of books? – How does the materiality of scripture influence reception and conservation processes? The issue also has an open section for articles on other topics linked to the profile of JRFM. The deadline for submissions is 31 August 2020. Contributions of 25,000-30,000 characters (including spaces) should be submitted online for peer review through the journal homepage Fore more information, click here.