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Writing Faith

 

From ancient codices to modern print, my research investigates the technological legacies discernible in the history of religious books.

Monographs

Writing Faith. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2017. This book provides a novel reevaluation of Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive account of writing. Derrida’s various essays on writing's materiality in books, scrolls, typewriters and digital displays briefly touched on the question of religion. At times he directed his attention to the mediatic nature of Christianity. However, such comments have rarely been applied to formal aspects of religious texts. In response, this book investigates the rise of the Christian codex in its second-to-fifth-century-CE Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts. By better understanding the religious nature of this technical development, it becomes possible to reframe writing's coincidence with faith. 

The idea of a book, which always refers to a natural totality, is profoundly alien to the sense of writing. It is the encyclopedic protection of theology and of logocentrism against the disruption of writing, against its aphoristic energy.
— Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology
The revolution that has begun is, above all, a revolution in the media and forms that transmit the written word. In this sense, the present revolution has only one precedent in the West: the substitution of the codex for the volumen - of the book composed of quires for the book in the form of a roll - during the first centuries of the Christian era.
— Roger Chartier, Forms and Meanings

Essays

"Faithful Codex: A Theological Account of Early Christian Books." Heythrop Journal. vol. 57 no. 1 (2016): 9-28. This essay advances an interpretation of early Christian codex books, which goes beyond Catherine Pickstock’s critique of Jacques Derrida. Firstly, it summarizes Derrida’s deconstruction of Plato’s Phaedrus and introduces his understanding of writing as différance. Secondly, it outlines Pickstock’s After Writing in order to understand her emphasis upon the liturgical nature of platonic dialogue. It is here that an ambiguity emerges between writing and codex books in Pickstock’s account. In response, the insights of book historians such as Roger Chartier will be brought to bear in order to understand the longer history of the codex, which sees the printing press as a continuation of the early transition from roll to codex in the second century of the Common Era. It has long been noted that Christians of this period were early and pervasive adopters of codex binding for their sacred literature. By summarizing the reasons why, it will be shown how the codex expressed early Christian religious concerns.

"The Early Codex Book: Recovering its Cosmopolitan Consequences." Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches vol. 23 no. 3 (2015): 369-98. In 1933 Frederic Kenyon was one of the first to note the early Christian addiction to codex books. As later scholars confirmed, Christian communities reproduced their sacred literature in a way that differed from the largely scrolled Greco-Roman as well as Jewish bibliographic cultures of the first centuries of the Common Era. Book historians and scholars of biblical literature alike have developed a range of competing theories in order to better understand this peculiarity. By evaluating their claims, a number of clarifications can be made in order to demonstrate the codex's sensitivity to Jewish scribal practices as well as its capacity to include a cosmopolitan diversity of texts. Through these clarifications the codex book form itself can provide vital interpretative insights into early biblical literature and the longer history of the book today.


Presentations

"What Is This Strange Technological Thing Called the Bible." Paper presented at the Bible and Critical Theory Conference,  Auckland, New Zealand, September 1-2, 2012.

"Canon after Codex." Paper presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, October 30 - November 2, 2010. Paper re-presented at the Group for Religious and Intellectual Traditions Seminar at the University of Newcastle, Australia, May 24, 2011.

"The Return of the Scroll: From Codex to Google." Paper presented at the Valuing Theological Education Conference, The University of Oxford, January 4-6, 2010.


Funding

2018, Australian Religious History Fellowship (AUD$20,000), State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

2010, New Staff Grant (AUD$10,000), School of Humanities and Social Sciences, The University of Newcastle, Australia