Stephen Bales and Wendi Arant KasparOct 12, 2023
The Sacred Library and Its Declericalization
Library Juice Press 2023
The Greco-Egyptian syncretistic god Serapis was used by the 3rd century BCE Ptolemaic pharaohs to impose Greek cultural hegemony and consolidate political power. The Alexandrian Serapeum, sometimes referred to as The Great Library of Alexandria’s “daughter library,” may be seen as an archetype for institutions where religion and secular knowledge come together for the reproduction of ideologies.
The Serapeum, however, is by no means unique in this regard; libraries have always incorporated religious symbols and rituals into their material structures. Very little research has been conducted concerning the sociocultural and historical impact of this union of temple and information institution or how this dynamic interrelationship (even if it may now be implicit or partially concealed) stretches from the earliest Mesopotamian proto-libraries to our present academic ones.
Stephen Bales and Wendi Arant Kaspar's book Serapis: The Sacred Library and Its Declericalization (Library Juice Press, 2023) explores the role of the historical and legacy religious symbols and rituals of the academic library (referred to as the “Serapian Library”) as a powerful ideological state institution and investigates how these symbols and rituals support hegemonic structures in society. Specifically, the book examines the role of the modern secular “Serapian” academic library in its historical context as a “sacred space,” and applies the theories of Karl Marx, Louis Althusser, Ivan Illich, and other thinkers to explain the ramifications of the library as crypto-temple.
Jen Hoyer is Technical Services and Electronic Resources Librarian at CUNY New York City College of Technology. Jen edits for Partnership Journal and organizes with the TPS Collective. She is co-author of What Primary Sources Teach: Lessons for Every Classroom and The Social Movement Archive.