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Desecrating Scriptures
  • James W. Watts, Syracuse University
Document Type
  • scriptures,
  • religion,
  • ritual,
  • media,
  • icons,
  • Qur'an,
  • Torah,
  • Sikh,
  • Bible,
  • Guantanamo
Desecrations of books of scripture appear regularly in media coverage of religious and political conflicts. Twenty-first century news media have reported scripture desecrations in various Western, Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian countries. Though political tensions also arise from the desecration of sacred sites, objects, and persons, books of scripture have emerged as particularly potent objects of contestation. That is because, as a (very) old form of media themselves, scriptures encapsulate the religious experiences of many people who are used to handling the physical book with veneration. News of such a book’s desecration thus inverts a common religious experience and can arouse strong and widespread reactions. This case study describes the effects of ritualizing books of scripture and compares their ritualization in four religious traditions in order to contextualize the phenomenon of desecrating scriptures cross-culturally and explain the political furors aroused by media coverage of particular incidents.
Additional Information
A case study within a joint initiative between Syracuse University and the Henry Luce Foundation (
local input
Citation Information
Watts, James W. (2009) "Desecrating Scriptures." A Case Study for the Luce Project in Religion, Media, and International Relations.