Materializing the Bible. by James S. Bielo (Miami University)
Materializing the Bible
By: James S. Bielo (Miami University)
It is revealing that an organizing category for SPACES is “Grottos, Religious, Spiritual, Devotional, Mystical Environments.” Artistry and creative production are durable parts of religious life, in officially sanctioned and off-grid spaces. Given this, it is no surprise that SPACES bolsters a work I began in July 2015 that similarly gathers a diverse collection of places.
Materializing the Bible is a digital scholarship project that curates Bible-based attractions around the world. The site builds the argument that seemingly different attractions are all expressions of a distinctive genre of place. That genre is defined by transforming the written words of the Christian Bible into physical, experiential environments. With the research help of a student at Miami University, we created the project to be an interactive gateway for exploring the global spread of Bible-based attractions. See http://www.materializingthebible.com/.
Currently, the site is a portal to 194 attractions, organized by six sub-genres: re-creations of biblical stories; creation museums; biblical gardens; transmission museums; art collections; and, archaeology museums. Many attractions exemplify the SPACES conception of an art environment, such as the Desert Christ Park in Yucca Valley, California. Others mix the feel of an art environment with replications of a biblical past that strive toward historical authenticity, such as the House of Mary Shrine in Yankton, South Dakota.
As an anthropologist, I am most interested in what potentials these attractions promise for religious lives. In particular, how do they satisfy desires to experience and understand faith in ways that are materially oriented and sensuously engaged?
In March 2016, I visited the Garden of Hopein Covington, Kentucky. Completed in 1958 by an evangelical pastor, this small attraction sits on the backside of a working-class neighborhood. If you are not seeking it, you will not stumble on it. Situated atop a hill, the sound of I-75’s rushing traffic directly below saturates the soundscape as you realize an unencumbered view of Cincinnati’s skyline.