What happens when the written words of biblical scripture are transformed into experiential, choreographed environments? To answer this question, anthropologist James Bielo explores a diverse range of practices and places that "materialize the Bible," including gardens, theme parks, shrines, museums, memorials, exhibitions, theatrical productions, and other forms of replication. Integrating ethnographic, archival, and mass media data, case studies focus primarily on U.S. Christianity from the late 19th-century to the present.
Composed as 20 short chapters that may be read in any order, the book is divided into three sections. Section I, "Variations on Replication," analyzes examples that recontextualize elements from the (actual or imagined) biblical past. Section II, "The Power of Nature," turns to the natural world associated with Christian scripture and how it is mobilized as a privileged media. Section III, "Choreographing Experience," examines lived interactions with the affordances of materializing the Bible.
Bielo argues that materializing the Bible works as an authorizing practice to intensify intimacies with scripture and circulate potent ideologies. Performed through the sensory experience of bodies, physical technologies, and infrastructures of place, Bielo illustrates how this phenomenon is always, ultimately, about expressions of power.