The Sacred Library and Its Declericalization
Author: Stephen Bales
Expected: May 2021
The Greco-Egyptian syncretistic god Serapis was created by the 3rd century BCE Ptolemaic pharaohs as a way to impose Greek cultural hegemony and consolidate political power. The Alexandrian Serapeum, sometimes referred to as The Great Library of Alexandria’s “sister 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.
Serapis complements and extends the work done in a previous monograph written by Bales: The Dialectic of Academic Librarianship: A Critical Approach as well as the book chapter “The Academic Library as Crypto-Temple: A Guide to Theory and Practice,” published in the Library Juice edited volume, Class and Librarianship: Essays at the Intersection of Information, Labor, and Capital. The book 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 investigate 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 Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Ivan Illich, and other thinkers to explain the ramifications of the library as crypto-temple.
Stephen Bales is a Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian at Texas A&M University Libraries.