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Interdisciplinary Iconic Book Symposium begins Oct. 1

September 17, 2010

Donna Adamo
(315) 443-5172

The Interdisciplinary Symposium on Iconic Books takes place Oct. 1-3 at Syracuse University. William A. Graham, the Murray A. Albertson Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, kicks off the symposium with the keynote address, “”Winged Words: Scriptures and Classics as Religious and Cultural Icons,” Friday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. in room 500 of the Hall of Languages. The symposium is sponsored by the Ray Smith Endowment of The College of Arts and Sciences and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation in New York City.

bookThe three-day symposium culminates 10 years of research that began on the SU campus and has now spread to involve more than 20 scholars from five countries in a variety of disciplines. The symposium will address a large gap in humanistic research on the iconic functions of books and other texts.

Iconic books are books that hold power and reverence well beyond the information of their texts. “While written texts obviously serve as devices for storing and spreading ideas to those who read them, they also symbolize learning, education and knowledge to those who see them or see them represented through some visual medium, or who read or hear references to them,” says James Watts, department chairperson and profession of religion at SU. “But scholarship has traditionally focused on texts’ contents rather than on their iconic roles in various societies, past and present.”

Papers will be pre-circulated and introduced by panelists for general discussion. During the symposium, panelists will take a closer look at the function of iconic books in rituals, images, social power structures, and book production and sales, as well as discussing theories and methods for studying them.

“This project and symposium aim to launch the interdisciplinary study of iconic texts to increase understanding of books in religious rituals, political ceremonies, legal conflicts over religion, artistic and media depictions of books, the development and preservation of library collections, and even library architecture,” says Watts.

SU panelists will include Watts; Joanne Punzo-Waghorne, professor of religion; Philip P. Arnold, associate professor or religion; and Karl Solibakke, assistant dean of The Colleges of Arts & Sciences. Two SU alumni and one graduate student will also be panelists in the event: Yohan Yoo G’05, assistant professor at Seoul National University; Dorina Miller Parmenter G’09, assistant professor at Spalding University; and Jason Larson, visiting assistant professor at Bates College (SU Ph.D. ABD).

Enabled by a bequest from Smith’s estate, the College established a symposium series in the humanities in 1989. Recent Ray Smith symposia have taken on such subjects as “Postmodernism, Culture and Religion: The Politics of Love;” “Rethinking Michelangelo;” and “Art Works: The Role of the Arts in U.S. Workers’ Struggles.” The Iconic Book Symposium is one of two Ray Smith Symposia this year.

Smith (1899-2007), an Auburn native, graduated from SU after serving in World War I. He earned his master’s degree at Columbia University before teaching in Central New York schools. Following retirement, Smith relocated to Florida, but continued to enjoy spending summers at Tupper Lake. He was 88 when he died in Clearwater, Fla.

The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation was established in 1976 and supports programs in humanities, research libraries and the performing arts in New York City. Delmas, a successful broadcast journalist on French national radio, and her husband Jean Paul Delmas, a successful publisher and businessman, assembled a small but select rare book collection, a choice collection of modern art, and were interested in excellence in scholarship and the arts.

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